This artistic little town is situated 130 kilometres south of Bloemfontein as you head along the N6 highway and was one of the first Free State towns to become “fashionable” – in about 1992 - with the Joburg crowd intent on finding a weekend bolt-hole to get away from the Big Smoke. The place still offers a good diversion and although places such as Clarens or Ficksburg might be a little more “with it” in terms of tourism infrastructure, Smithfield certainly has its own brand of charm.
It is the first (and only) Free State town with its own UFO Research Institute. What’s very special about this UFO centre is that it is located next to the town’s PadstalDeli restaurant. There’s certainly something intriguing about buying a bottle of home-made jam and listening for aliens as part of one journey. The large satellite dishes on the front lawn of the UFO Research Institute are a dead giveaway that you’ve landed in just the right place. The UFO Research Institute is run by Henk Swanepoel, who is part of a network of radio astronomers intent on investigating life on other planets. Who knew?
Apart from making history as a UFO centre, the town has a special history of its own. Smithfield is the third-oldest town in the Free State, and Sir Harry Smith (Governor of the Cape Colony) founded the place in 1848 on a farm known then as Waterval.
The scenic town with its hilly landscape is a combination of historic buildings, art galleries, delis and quaint accommodation aimed at the local traveller looking for a pretty place to stay and a spot of rural life. Smithfield is still known for its great food and there are numerous restaurants in town that serve hearty fare, including the PadstalDeli, as well as Trading Places and the restaurant at Ashton Manor.
Smithfield is known for good old-fashioned country living and walking and horse-riding are an option in terms of activities. Bird-watching is popular in this part of the world and ornithologists from around the country enjoy the clear skies and abundant birdlife.
There are numerous artists and art galleries in town where you can buy local artworks, arts and crafts and locally made curios. Herb Cottage Studio is one of the local galleries where it’s worth stopping over to see what artist Lynden Lund has been up to. Fresh Paint is another arts and crafts gallery that is definitely worth a visit.
For history buffs, a trip to Beersheba Farm outside town might be of interest. The place was once a French mission station.
The Caledon River Museum depicts the history of the southern Free State and is pretty interesting for history buffs. There is also the Basotho War Memorial and General De Wet House, as well as Ou Grietjie – a genuine ship’s cannon used during the Basotho Wars.
Look out for
The UFO Research Institute is the first of its kind and an absolute must. Visitors are invited to come for a look-see without an appointment.
Art galleries: like Clarens down the drag, there are numerous art galleries, so go shopping for authentic local works of art.
Historical sites and buildings are a must, so include the following on your visit: Caldeon River Museum, where you can experience the history of the Free State; The Basotho War Memorial; The mission stations on Beersheba Farm and at Carmel. (Carmel is by appointment only).
Don’t miss the San Rock Art in the various caves surrounding the area.
Mountain-bike enthusiasts will love the fantastic single-track mountain bike track around the mountains of Smithfield, maintained by the Smithfield Mountain Bike Club.