Tag Archives: walking trail

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!

A special time at the Giant’s Castle

Spending Easter in a beautiful natural location is almost a given for the de Wets. Our original plans for this particular long weekend was to visit the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, and specifically the Cathedral Peak area, but a last minute change in reservations had us heading for the Giant’s Castle area of the Park instead. A special place to celebrate a special holiday!

While we had only three days to spend at Giant’s Castle, the weather made sure we experienced almost every climatic experience the Drakensberg mountain range can conjure (with the exception of snowfall). Dark thunder clouds one day gave way to heavy fog and a constant drenching drizzle the next, followed in turn by a day of glorious sunshine! Giant’s Castle must be one of the scenically most spectacular parts of the entire Drakensberg range, and you cannot help but stand in awe at the shear majesty of the landscape surrounding you.

Whether it rains or shines, Giant’s Castle’s grandiose scenery will keep your jaw dropping every so often. When that happens, and you bend down to pick it back up, take a moment to enjoy the magnificent juxtaposition of tiny beauties – pretty flowers, exquisite butterflies, delightful droplets, ornamental moss and lichens, and dainty insects – all around you!

It goes without saying that such a scenically attractive piece of earth wouldn’t be complete without a myriad of wildlife to round off the picture, even if, as at Giant’s Castle, they have to be content with taking a back seat to the surrounding landscape.

Giant’s Castle is one of our favourite destinations in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, and we can’t imagine that we’d ever get enough of it (our previous visit was also over Easter, in 2014). Excellent amenities in the camp (managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife) and a terrific network of short and longer walking trails ensures that every visit is a pleasant and fulfilling experience, one we can highly recommend!

Giant’s Castle Chalet #4, uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, April 2017

A walk in the Park

There’s no doubt that hiking is the biggest pastime enjoyed by visitors to the Royal Natal National Park. Walking through the mountains allows access to so many beautiful spots. We particularly enjoy the easy trails that lead from the Mahai campsite and visitor centre, like Otto’s walk and the trails to the Cascades and Fairy Glen.

This was the last installment on our December visit to Royal Natal National Park in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg. From here we travelled to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in Zululand, and from tomorrow we’ll be sharing some of what we experienced there.

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.

Summer at Golden Gate

Our New Year’s visit to Golden Gate Highlands National Park marked the final stop on our three-week long bush holidays. For this final leg, we were joined by Marilize’s parents and my sister and brother-in law at Glen Reenen Rest Camp.

Glen Reenen, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, December 2014

Glen Reenen, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, December 2014

This Park may have been proclaimed originally to safeguard the awesome mountain scenery, but the hills and valleys are also home to a pleasing variety of birds and animals. We found most of the game concentrated towards the east of the Park, around the Basotho Cultural Village.

Golden Gate’s magnificent scenery and hidden jewels are best enjoyed along the many walking trails traversing the area. Have a look at the posts we dedicated to the Brandwag, Echo Ravine and Mushroom Rocks walks, three shorter hikes that are ideal introductions to this mountain ecosystem.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park was another highlight of the trip and a perfect setting to conclude a wonderful holiday. Quality time spent with dear family saw us home in good spirits and strength for the year that lay in wait. And just to be sure the Park is still as beautiful as we remember it, we’ll return soon enough. We simply can’t stay away from a place this magical.


We didn’t think three weeks in the bush would fly past as quickly as it did. We started of with two nights at Chelmsford Nature Reserve, then three nights at Ithala Game Reserve, three nights at uMkhuze Game Reserve, three nights at Lake Saint Lucia, five nights in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, one night at Midmar Dam, and finally four nights at Golden Gate Highlands National Park. By the time we reached home back in Pretoria again, we had covered a distance of 4022km between and in some of our favourite South African wild places. An epic December bush holiday indeed.

Dec14 Bush Trip

Our route between 13 December 2014 and 3 January 2015 (map drawn from Google Maps)





Beneath the Mushroom Rocks

If the trail to the top of the Brandwag Buttress is the most popular of Golden Gate Highlands National Park’s walks, and the Echo Ravine trail the most spectacular of the short walks radiating from Glen Reenen, then the Mushroom Rocks trail is the easiest and least demanding. And that’s a good thing, because you can concentrate on finding the little jewels hiding among Golden Gate’s flowing green grasslands and gawk at the amazing scenery without using it as an excuse to catch your breath 😉 . The only challenging section of the trail is the crossing over the Little Caledon River, especially in summer when the Park experiences most of its rainfall and even more so when lugging a couple of cameras, binoculars and water bottles along…


Up and into the Echo Ravine

What better way could there be to ring in the first day of a new year than exploring new places? Especially after ending 2014 on a literal high atop the Brandwag Buttress? That’s why Marilize and I decided to undertake the Echo Ravine trail at Golden Gate Highlands National Park that day (Joubert was out exploring other pastures in Golden Gate with his grandpa), a walk we’ve not done before. We were not disappointed that we did, the scenery on the way to, and inside, the ravine is simply awe-inspiring and in our view this is one of the best short (taking an hour or two to complete) walks in the Park. It’s not an easy walk, requiring you to clamber over boulders at several stages, especially as you near the head of the ravine, but the rewards are entirely worth the effort.

Getting to the top of the Brandwag

We wanted to do something special to end 2014. We couldn’t think of any better way to spend the last morning of the year than getting to the top of the Brandwag Buttress, the icon of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, even if the weather did not play along as nicely as we had hoped.

The walk to the top of the immense Brandwag (Afrikaans for “sentinel”) formation is the most popular of Golden Gate’s trails. You can walk the Brandwag route in less than an hour, but to us that would be missing the point; you have to take time to appreciate the scenery along the way and the grand views from the top. There are two routes to choose from; one starting at Glen Reenen Rest Camp and the other at the Golden Gate Hotel and Chalets, and combining the two; going up one way and down the other, really is the way to go.