Unlike most national parks in South Africa, Golden Gate Highlands National Park is not a place that is famous for its big game animals but rather for its outstanding natural beauty. It was named by a farmer when he witnessed the last rays of the sunset falling on the great golden-hued sandstone cliffs, and it is the park’s incredible rock formations and stunning landscapes that draw visitors. There is ample opportunity for excellent hiking and there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy exploring for at least a few days.
The scenery is what the park is all about. The great golden, ochre and orange sandstone rock formations, of which the most famous is the Brandwag Buttress, provide a dramatic backdrop to the many interesting hiking trails. The park experiences relatively high rainfall, supporting an abundance of plant species, and several flowers can be seen throughout the summer.
The park’s wildlife is not the main draw but that is not to say no animals are present. There are several species of large herbivores in the park, including zebra, eland and wildebeest, as well as seven species of snake. Sungazer lizards have also been reintroduced. The park also is known as an excellent location for birdwatching.
- Wilderness factor:
The park has some excellent walking trails and hikers will enjoy the chance to explore the park on foot. The park covers a large area and it is easy to head off into the wilderness to be close to nature.
This park is best known as a place to go for tranquillity and the chance to spend time close to nature. One of the main activities for most visitors is hiking on the many excellent trails. Guided and unguided hikes are available for all abilities and many are suitable for children. Some of the shortest hikes take only around an hour to complete while one of the longest hikes in the park, the 28km Ribbock Trail, can be done over two days. On this hike, it is possible to catch sight of many animals and birds, including black wildebeest, zebra, eland, springbok and bearded vultures. Not all of the trails are open year-round.
- Distinctive coloured sandstone rock formations, among which the Brandwag Buttress is the most famous
- Plenty of opportunities to witness San rock paintings
- Large park area with good hiking opportunities
- Over 200 species of birds
- Not known for spectacular wildlife
- Summers can be wet and winters can be cold
Apart from hiking, many other activities are available. The park has two game drive loops for self-driving, there is a natural pool for swimming at Glen Reenen Rest Camp, and horse riding, abseiling and canoeing are all possible.
There are also three guided tours available at the Basotho Cultural Village. The Cultural Route is a seven-hour walking tour of local historical sites and is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Herbal Trail is a two-hour guided tour with a traditional healer who will point out medicinal herbs along the way. The tour also includes a visit to see the San rock art and is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Museum Tour is a 45-minute introduction to the architecture and lifestyle of the Basotho people and is available every day.
The park can be visited year-round, with each season offering something different.
- From October to April, the park can experience thunderstorms and hail but this is also the warmest time of the year. At this time, many flowers are in bloom and the park is perhaps at its most attractive.
- May to August is the time when the weather is driest. Days are often sunny but this is the coldest time of year and snow is a real possibility.
While it is possible to enter the park as a day visitor, a stay of at least three or four days would allow you to attempt one or more of the hiking trails as well as take part in some of the other activities offered such as game drives and horse riding. One of the pleasures of visiting the park is simply to relax, unwind and be close to nature, and a stay of a few days would make for a very pleasant and rejuvenating break.
There are several accommodation options within the park. Hotel accommodation is available at the recently refurbished Golden Gate Hotel. Chalet accommodation is also available on the same site. Located near the hotel is the Glen Reenen Rest Camp, where guests can choose between rondavels, longdavels and cottages. There are also camping and caravanning facilities.
For those looking for more peace and tranquillity, the Highlands Mountain Retreat offers accommodation in secluded wooden cabins. Another option is to stay in the Basotho Cultural Village, a rest camp built in the style of a traditional 18th century Basotho village.
Not far from the Glen Reenen Rest Camp is the Noord Brabant Guest House, providing accommodation in a rustic farmhouse. There is also accommodation for groups in the park and the Wilgenhof Environmental Education Centre can sleep up to 92 people and includes cooking facilities.
- The park is known as an important site for palaeontology and many finds, including dinosaur eggs and skeletons, have come from the park.
- In the coldest months, the temperature has been known to drop as low as -10° to -15°C.
- Park office hours are 07:00 - 17:30.
- There is a picnic area for day visitors with washing and barbecue facilities.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park might not be the best safari destination, but is rather an area of outstanding natural beauty where it is possible to spend time close to nature. It is a place to relax and to enjoy the many outdoor activities available such as hiking and horseriding as well as learning about local traditional culture. The park is particularly suitable for families with children.