Category Archives: Free State Province

Our experiences in the reserves of the Free State, South Africa

Autumn Highlands Holidays – Golden Gate

About time we started telling you about our autumn holidays in the mountains in detail, isn’t it!?

Our first stop was an old and familiar favourite: Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the eastern Free State Province, with scenery so unique that photos from there are instantly recognisable. Here in the foothills of the Maluti and Drakensberg ranges, rugged rocks, hillsides green with waving grass and crystal-clear streams of fresh water all beckon to be explored, and the de Wets just can’t resist!

Walking around Golden Gate is the best way to experience the variety of beautiful wildflowers adorning this special place.

And then while taking in the floral splendour you are bound to notice the astounding diversity of insects, amphibians and reptiles that have made this highland habitat home.

Golden Gate also boasts with a wonderful array of birds, many kinds of which are hard to find elsewhere in the country. During the 4 days we spent in the Park we identified 56 species of bird, just a small slice of the 180 kinds that have been recorded here since the Park was proclaimed over 50 years ago.

Golden Gate’s also home to a selection of mammals, both big and small, that are well adapted to the sometimes harsh climatic conditions of a mountainous abode, and these are often encountered while exploring the Park on foot, horseback or the comfort of a vehicle.

Glen Reenen is one of six SANParks-managed establishments offering accommodation to visitors at Golden Gate. On this trip we spent four nights in cottage 27, which has a lovely view from its veranda of the Mushroom Rocks and the glen from which the camp takes its name.

Golden Gate lies about 400km south of Pretoria. Our favourite route to the Park is over Sasolburg, Heilbron, Bethlehem and Clarens, though the quickest option is probably via Harrismith and the N3-highway.

Our favourite route to Golden Gate, via Sasolburg, Heilbron, Petrus Steyn and Bethlehem, a distance of about 400km from Pretoria (map drawn with Google Maps)

From Golden Gate we made our way to Royal Natal National Park in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, and we’ll be sharing some pictures from there in following posts.

 

Golden Gate’s Scenic Splendour

The three of us spent a bit of time today exploring another one of the hiking trails that radiate from Glen Reenen in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. This must be one of the most beautiful pieces of South Africa!

Standing watch over Golden Gate

The Brandwag (Sentinel) Buttress is the single most iconic feature of Golden Gate Highlands National Park, and a view we can never tire of.

Chasing butterflies at Golden Gate

This afternoon, Joubert and I went searching for butterflies in the grasslands around Glen Reenen Rest Camp in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, and we were not disappointed!

 

Heading to the Mountains

It’s the first day of our two-week autumn breakaway, and this is the view we’re enjoying this evening from the veranda of cottage 27 at Glen Reenen Rest Camp in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park

(you may click on the image for a clearer view)Mushroom Rocks from Unit 27 at Glen Reenen in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Rainbows in the mountains

While enjoying our December 2016 holidays in three of South Africa’s wild places, we experienced rainfall in varying degrees on a daily basis. In a country currently suffering through one of the worst ever recorded droughts, this was a real blessing, made even more special when the sun broke through the clouds at the end of a downpour to reveal beautiful rainbows, like this one at Golden Gate Highlands National Park (the photos really don’t do it justice).

Exploring Golden Gate

As wonderful a place as Glen Reenen is, and as terrific as the trails that lead into the mountains from there are, to really experience all the Golden Gate Highlands National Park has to offer you also must take a drive along the Lichens Pass road that leads through the Park all the way between the eastern and western boundaries, the gravel road to Kestell to the northern boundary, and the Oribi and Blesbok loops that meanders up and over two plateaus near the camp. Along the way you can appreciate magnificent scenery and you could encounter some of the almost 200 species of birds and 60 species of mammals that occur here, including the bald ibis, crowned crane, guineafowl, secretarybird, cape and bearded vultureblesbok, eland, hartebeest, oribi, grey rhebok, springbok, black wildebeest and plains zebra. Here’s just a few of the photographs we took while exploring the larger Park area during our December 2016 visit.