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Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State

The 11600ha Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State Highlands was proclaimed in the 1960’s for the preservation of extraordinary scenery as opposed to the conservation of game.

Golden Gate is named after the ‘Brandwag’ sandstone formation that looms over the entrance to the park, one of the many beautiful sandstone formations that ‘glow’ in oranges, yellows and red in the sunset, and contrast dramatically with the surrounding grasslands.

Other features of the Golden Gate National Park include the Rooidraai archeological site, where intact fossilised dinosaur eggs were discovered in the 1970s, caves and sandstone overhangs that once sheltered San bushmen, many of them decorated with ancient rock art depicting the hunter-gatherer lives they lived, the animals they hunted and revered and their beliefs. Sacred to the San, Cathedral Cave is 250m across and 50m deep and has a waterfall. A cultural feature is the Basotho Cultural Village.

The Park’s beauty is not restricted to the sandstone formations. In summer, the grasslands erupt into fields of yellow flowers; in mid-winter the mountains are often covered in snow, and the park itself can get a good dusting. There are some antelope species, but many more bird species, include the Cape vulture, the rare Bearded vulture and the Bald ibis.

Campsites and facilities can be found at the Glen Reenen Rest Camp, self-catering African hut accommodation at the Basotho Cultural Village Rest Camp, and log cabins with grass roofs, cut into the mountain-side at the 2200m above sea level Highlands Mountain Retreat Rest Camp. The Golden Gate Highlands Hotel is situated at the Brandwag Gate, and there is also a small historic guest house.

Activities include hiking, horse riding, cycling and game viewing – though the latter is secondary to appreciation of the surroundings since Golden Gate does not have large herds of antelope, nor the large predators.  Animals you may see include Burchell’s zebra, the highly endangered oribi buck and various other mountain and grassland antelope and wildebeest. There are no off-road trails for 4×4 or mountain bikes in the Golden Gate, only tarred roads. Be prepared for snow in winter – take a look at SANPARK’s pics of Golden Gate covered in snow in July 2011 on Facebook.

For more on the Golden Gate National Park, Getaway Magazine did a great article in October 2010, posted on ShowMe.

For more info and to book accommodation and activities.

Getting there: The Brandwag Gate is situated on the R712 25km to the east of Clarens, just a three hour drive from JHB.

More on the quaint town of Phuthaditjhaba More on the Eastern Free State area

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