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TThis is literally one of the most beautiful corners of the Free State province. Famous for its golden sandstone sentinels, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a breathtaking destination for all those who love 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.
Loved for its unusual scenery and renowned for its golden aura as the sun lights up its sandstone cliffs and outcrops, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is central to Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein, making it the ideal escape if you long to stretch their legs, breathe fresh mountain air and let nature lift up your soul. Simply brilliant!
What gives this place its mountain magic is that fact that it nestles itself in the western foothills of the Maluti Mountains, close to the Lesotho border (a country known for its mountains). All this and the fact that the Golden Gate is South Africa's only grassland national park with more than a few bucks calling it home.
TThe 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.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
MMillions 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 – so it’s not surprising that 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, grassy pastures, while rare bearded vultures circle the skies above the lost pathways of the San hunter-gathers, who once dwelt in the park's caves.
Speaking of ancient caves, why not explore the largest of these, the Cathedral Cave, on a guided walk? It is here, in this cavern, where Basotho worshippers and Anglo-Boer war refugees once sought shelter in their own times.
Take a 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.
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is an outdoor paradise. It’s really got it all - amazing views, pristine hiking, ancient history and beautiful wildlife. A trip to the Free State isn’t complete without stopping here.