Category Archives: Free State Province

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

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).

Advertisements

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.

Up into the Echo Ravine again

The last time we walked the Echo Ravine Trail from Glen Reenen, Joubert was still a bit too young to join. This time around Marilize and I could finally share this beautiful walk with our son, something we’ve been looking forward to for some time.

Let nature come to you at Glen Reenen

Glen Reenen Rest Camp is one of our favoured options for an overnight stay when visiting Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The camp has an amazing setting surrounded by the magnificent mountains, with two crystal clear mountain streams flowing past and converging at one end, and is frequented by an equally impressive diversity of wildlife – we showed you the antics of the baboons yesterday, as well as the ground woodpeckers that call Glen Reenen home – just one of many kinds of birds that you’ll find there, and at night you may be lucky to see a jackal or various kinds of antelope roaming between the huts and campsites. It is also a fantastic base from which to explore the Park, be it on foot, horseback or in your own vehicle.

Glen Reenen, and Golden Gate Highlands National Park, is managed by the South African National Parks and is an easy 350 to 400km drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria.

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

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

 

Baboon antics in Glen Reenen

People will always find the primates entertaining, and the baboon troops in Golden Gate Highlands National Park is no exception. However, when they come foraging between the accommodation units and in the camping site at Glen Reenen Rest Camp they can really cause havoc. They’ll inspect every open window to see what’s inside a car, tent or hut, and will help themselves to whatever they find that even vaguely resembles food, while the naughty little ones can cause quite a lot of damage to property and structures with their rough-and-tumble play.

Ground Woodpecker

Geocolaptes olivaceus

Glen Reenen Rest Camp in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is one of the best places in the country to go searching for the Ground Woodpecker, a bird that occupies open, rocky hillsides in arid scrubland, fynbos and grasslands and occurs only in upland parts of South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.

With a length of 30cm and a weight up to 130g, this is the largest woodpecker in South Africa. They can usually be found in pairs or small family groups, and unlike other, more well-known, woodpeckers search for food (mostly ants) on the ground and among rocks rather than in trees. They are always to be found near water, and usually very conspicuous thanks to their load calls and habit of using high vantage points to watch for danger. Most breeding takes place in early spring, when 3 eggs are laid in nesting chambers at the end of tunnels excavated in vertical soil banks. Some of these tunnels are occupied year-round and not only during the nesting season.

Ground Woodpeckers are common over most of their range and not currently considered to be under any threat to their survival, as their preferred habitat is mostly inaccessible and largely unsuited to human habitation or agriculture.

The Victor and the Vanquished (Duel at first light – the series)

Early into our December holidays, we came upon two black wildebeest bulls squaring off in a territorial tussle near the Basotho Cultural Village in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. At the onset they appeared evenly matched, sometimes wrestling each other right to the ground with their horns interlocked, entirely oblivious to the human spectators. Reasonably quickly one triumphed and sent his rival running, the entire fight lasting all of one exhilarating four minute long round.

Golden Gate has a substantial population of black wildebeest, and is one of the best places to go searching for these endemic South African creatures.