Sandstone cliffs and rolling grasslands, painted in the warm golden glow of a Free State sunrise.
The Free State Province of South Africa has a reputation for being flat and featureless, and for the most part that is true. But in the east of the province the Maluti and Drakensberg mountain ranges rise to dizzying altitudes, and it is in the foothills of these majestic peaks that the Golden Gate Highlands National Park was proclaimed in September 1963.
Golden Gate is another of our favourite South African nature destinations and after a relaxed four hour drive from Pretoria we were overjoyed to be back at the quaint Glen Reenen Rest Camp, our home-away-from-home for three nights at the end of December 2012.
The mountainous landscape and grand sandstone rock formations, hundreds of millions of years old, is what Golden Gate is most famous for – with the iconic Brandwag Buttress standing guard over the Park being the star attraction.
This is a summer rainfall area and there was water in abundance throughout the Park during our visit – water as fresh, cool and crystal clear as only a mountain spring can produce.
As with all mountain areas one needs to be mindful that the weather can change very quickly and misty mornings are a regular occurrence, making for hazardous driving along the Lichens Pass that snakes through the reserve.
There are numerous scenic hiking trails of varying length and difficulty along which the park can be explored, and horse-trails are on offer for both novice and experienced riders. Two short, tarred game-viewing drives loop across the plateaus near Glen Reenen, while a recent addition that should prove very popular in years to come is a photographic hide built at the Park’s vulture restaurant where carcasses are laid out to supplement the diets of two endangered vulture species that occur in the Park: the Cape Griffon and the Bearded Vulture.
Of course, the Park also harbours a variety of other birds and animals, all adapted to the highlands environment.
While at Golden Gate we posted some pictures on a daily basis – have a look if you’d like to see more:
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park will remain close to our hearts for as long as those mighty golden cliffs and grassy peaks tower over the wooded valleys, rolling fields and crystal streams in their shadow below!