Nestled in the Maluti Mountains in South Africa’s Free State, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is well worth a visit. Whilst the park does not boast the big five, it is home to blesbok, eland, zebra, jackal and baboon. However, the main draw of Golden Gate is the spectacular scenery, with its ‘golden’ sandstone cliffs, and the wonderful walking trails. The opportunity for a long hike in Southern African parks can sometimes feel few and few between so it was great to be able to leave the vehicle behind for the day!
The park is in an area of rich highveld, and we found an amazing variety of wild flowers growing which were very beautiful. We also spotted babboon, who were happy to pose for us on the rocks, and some blesbok grazing in the distance.
Wodehouse Peak Trail – an 11km circular walking trail, that is maybe suited to the slightly more ambitious walker, due to the height gains, some scrambling is required! Effort is paid off though, and you are rewarded with stunning views of Echo Ravine about 500m below, and the sandstone cliff tops of Mushroom Rock and Brandwag Buttress. At a fairly leisurely pace (including all important snack stops) the walk will take you around 5 hours.
For a shorter walk check out the Mushroom Rock trail – an easy 1.5km trail. Or for a longer option the Ribbok Trail is supposed to be very impressive. It takes two days to complete, with an overnight stop at Ribbok Hut, and covers 27km and includes the highest point in Free State. Enquire in advance.
The park is around 200 miles from Johannesburg, so close enough proximity that it can be a good starting or ending point to a trip. Rather unusually for a national park the main, public road goes straight through the middle of the park, meaning that there is no gate closing/opening times. This does allow for more flexibility on arrival, which was good for us, as the drive took a little longer than we were expecting. However I would not recommend driving in the dark if at all possible.
The nearest town is Clarens, which unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit, but is supposed to good for coffee, cake and people watching!
Glen Resteen Camp
The site is quite large, and when we stayed in February it was pretty quiet. So long as you don’t require power, the nicest, shadiest pitches were at the far end – upon entering the campsite, turn immediately left and drive past both of the ablution blocks.
Ablutions were clean and modern and just across the road was a small, and relatively well stocked shop.
There is Golden Gate Hotel (also managed by SANParks) if you don’t fancy camping.