Famed for its golden-hued sandstone sentinels, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State province is a superb family destination for lovers of wide, open spaces. Located in the foothills of Lesotho's Maluti Mountains, the park is renowned for its extraordinary landscape and abundance of caves and shelters.

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Fossilised dinosaur eggs from the Triassic period were found in Golden Gate Highlands National Park in 1973.

Loved for its unusual scenery and renowned for its golden aura as the sun illuminates its sandstone cliffs and outcrops, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State province lies equidistant from Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein, and is the ideal escape for those longing to stretch their legs, breathe fresh mountain air and allow nature to restore their balance.

Situated in the western foothills of the Maluti Mountains, close to the Lesotho border, Golden Gate is South Africa's only grassland national park.

The park's most notable features, aside from its variety of resident grasses, are its extraordinary sandstone cliffs and outcrops – coloured in multi-hued bands and eroded by the sands and rains of time.

Millions of years ago, the area was a swampy delta ruled by dinosaurs. Later, wind and sand scoured the landscape to desert, and sculpted the park’s renowned golden-coloured cliffs. Finally, volcanic activity capped the landscape with dark peaks, known as Drakensberg basalt, and mineral-rich soils gave rise to the vast multi-species grassland biome for which the park was proclaimed – there are more than 50 species of grass in the park.

Today black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell’s zebra graze its wild, dappled pastures, and rare bearded vultures circle the skies above the lost pathways of the San hunter-gathers, who once dwelt in the park's caves.

Explore the largest of these, the Cathedral Cave, on a guided walk. In this cavern, where Basotho worshippers and Anglo-Boer war refugees once sought shelter in their own times, a colony of rare sacred ibis breeds.

Hike up the Brandwag buttress, or Ribokkop, the highest point in the park; spend the night in the wilderness on the two-day, one-night Rhebok Hiking Trail; visit the Vulture Restaurant; horse ride, mountain bike or go on a game drive; and make time to stop so you can absorb the park’s panoramic views and magnificent stillness.

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