A two night getaway in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is just what everyone needs to be rejuvenated and reenergised.
The Gem of the Free State. The secret escape. Only three hours from Johannesburg, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park sits nestled between the Maluti and Drakensberg Mountains. The name of this national park stems from the glowing golden colour of the sandstone cliffs when the sun sets. The sandstone cliffs overshadow you throughout the park and it is a wonderful experience to sit beneath them contemplating the years of water and wind erosion that have happened to form these colossal structures with the various colourful layers. In the summer months, this park is covered in greenery of all kinds and the contrasting colours of the bright blue sky, the green grasses and the orangery yellow cliffs are a feast for the eyes and will spark anyone’s sense of adventure.
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The most commonly used route is to travel to Clarens from Johannesburg via the N1, R57, R26 and then on to the R712 through Clarens to Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
While passing through Clarens, why not stop over at Highlands Coffee – Voted the best coffee shop in Clarens on Trip Advisor. We must say, the coffee was amazing and we daydreamed about the chocolate croissants for days after eating them!
Where to stay
There are a few options for accommodation inside the park including the Brandwag Hotel, Glen Reenen Rest Camp’s chalets and the campsite. We stayed at the campsite and enjoyed spotless ablutions, beautiful views and our braai stand was cleaned in the morning after being used. The campsite sits beneath the sandstone cliffs of Mushroom Rock which keeps the campsite in its protective shadow. We also enjoyed some birding from our camping chairs and even has a jackal visit our campsite late one night.
Things to do
Whether you prefer to explore on wheels or on foot the park offers options for both. There are two one-way loops to drive allowing you to see beautiful views the park has to offer and the mountains throughout the surrounding areas. Numerous hiking trails wind their way through the National Park as well.
The Blesbok Loop boasts the beautiful Zuluhoek Lookout Point and vast fields where you could spot herds of the famous Black Wildebeest and Burchell’s Zebra, and maybe be lucky enough to see some Oribi and Eland.
Oribi Loop contains the Drakensberg View Point and the Vulture Feeding Project. We were disappointed to find the Vulture Feeding Site empty, except for a lonely White-necked Raven, when we were there but there was clear evidence of carcasses being eaten off quite recently – it really is a matter of timing such as with all wildlife sightings. The Vulture Feeding Site is one of the few places where one could spot a Bearded Vulture – if you do come across one while up there, please let us know!
The hikes in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park accommodate all levels of fitness, we completed three of the day hikes and found each one enjoyable for various reasons.
Mushroom Rock Trail: This hike takes around one hour to complete, round-trip. The hike is easy and does not require any prior hiking experience, ideal for children. The tail leads to the face of the sandstone cliffs overlooking Glen Reenen Rest Camp. The Boskloof hiking trail is also described as taking one hour to complete and perfect for introducing children to hiking – we did not complete this hike so we cannot speak from experience.
Brandwag Buttress Trail: This hike takes two hours to complete, round-trip. This hike takes you to the top of the iconic Brandwag Buttress. It is a steep climb and requires you to climb using a chain to pull yourself up the last part of the trail. The views from the top are really incredible. It is also super windy so be careful and don’t go near the edge.
Echo Ravine Trail: This trail takes between and hour or two roundtrip, depending how far into the ravine you go and how long you hangout in the echoing caves for. This trail leads you to a ravine that has been formed by wind and water erosion causing a chamber where rock walls surround you and the slightest noise echoes all around. The hiking trail involves crossing little streams, walking across wet rocks and is generally quite slippery and chilly. This hike requires an intermediate amount of hiking fitness with a few uphills and climbing over rocks.
The other hikes offered in the park include the Wodehouse Peak Trail which takes six hours to complete, Boskloof and Holkrans trails take one hour to complete and Ribbok Hiking Trail is the only overnight hike offered, taking two days to complete.
We make use of a SANParks Wild Card and are able to access the parks throughout the year without paying the daily conservation fee. If you plan to visit the various national parks and reserves in South Africa regularly, why not consider a Wild Card?
We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend away in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The scenery, the hikes and the open air made for a wonderful weekend of rest and restoration. We had wonderful greenery surrounding us after the weeks of rain across the country before we came but we can only imagine what this park looks like covered in snow – we might be back in winter but will probably be found in the chalets and not a tent, sleeping bags can only insulate you to a point, right?