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 Post subject: Warming up in Golden Gate
Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2010 11:01 pm 
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Location: European spring
An early morning landing at OR Tambo on Saturday 12th December, and our month long trip to South Africa was finally under way after almost a year of planning and anticipating. First stop, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and after a relatively short trip along the N3, with one stop at a farm stall for a few supplies, we were soon leaving Harrismith on the road to the park. Spectacular scenery awaited us as we headed up into the mountains.

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We received a very pleasant welcome at Glen Reenan reception and were soon making our way back up the road towards our cottage for our three nights at the Highlands Mountain Retreat. Turning off onto the Oribi Loop, the grasslands were looking very beautiful under warm sunny skies. Swallows and martins swooped low over the meadows and cisticolas were singing from perches everywhere.

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Levaillant's Cisticola

The road up to Highlands is single-track with passing only possible by carefully pulling in on the grass, and it is steep at the top (maybe tricky in winter), but fortunately you don't meet too much traffic as there are only eight cottages. An abundance of beautiful flowers can be seen on route, although I managed to forget to photograph them. :redface:

The view from the cottages is amazing, and it needs greater photographic skills mine to do it justice, but I hope this gives you some idea.

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We were in cottage number 5, which was well-appointed and very cozy inside.

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Tired after the long flight from Europe, we setted down to enjoy a quiet afternoon in the sunshine. On the plateau below many grazing animals could be seen, although not close enough for photos: black wildebeest, blesbok and zebra. Once the braai was lit, it had to be monitored continuously of course (that view was just too good to abandon).

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 Post subject: Re: Warming up in Golden Gate
Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 20, 2010 8:39 pm 
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Location: European spring
At 4.45am, clouds hung like mist in the valleys below and an apricot glow suffused the horizon. This really is the view from the eagle's eyrie.

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The sun was soon up, and the hillside above was a radiant gold as we drank our morning coffee.

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The evening before we had seen zebra on the hill top, a bit strange when your previous experience of them is on the flat plains of the lowveld.

There are two loop drives at Golden Gate, the Oribi Loop (4.2km) and the Blesbok Loop (6.7km). As we were starting half-way round the former, any drive out tended to cover both loops. Scenery is similar on each but the Blesbok is higher and has a couple of side roads, including one to the Langtoon Dam where ducks and other water birds can be seen. Long-tailed and Red-collared Widowbirds were seen displaying everywhere, and the flash of a Red or Yellow-crowned Bishop was commonly seen at the vleis on route. Amongst the many other birds seen today were White-necked Raven, Common Quail, African Stonechat and Jackal Buzzard.

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Long-tailed Widowbird
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The park shop at Glen Reenan has basic groceries, but for more interesting fare a visit to Clarens was called for. This is a beautiful little town with lots of cafes and many interesting shops selling arts and crafts, delicious foods and wines, and a host of other things. It proved to be very popular on a hot Sunday in the holidays, and it alone is a good enough reason to visit Golden Gate.

Mammal sightings were not so common on our drives in the park, so this young Black-backed Jackal, hunting for small creatures along the Blesbok Loop was a wonderful sighting that evening.

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By now the weather had turned and it was cool, overcast and breezy. Back at Highlands, the cottage was now in the clouds and by next morning nothing could be seen beyond the balcony railing.


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 Post subject: Re: Warming up in Golden Gate
Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 20, 2010 11:08 pm 
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Location: European spring
A brief break in the weather came mid-morning, and a Cape Vulture could be seen circling far below. So we were able to drive around the loops one more time, but the wind kept both animal and bird out of sight. Our friendly jackal was still around, but looking just as chilly as us.

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A return to the cottage, and to a cozy fire and cups of tea, was called for.

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Even in the mist some birdwatching was still possible with a visit from some Ground Woodpeckers.

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Mountain Wheatears and Red-winged Starlings were constantly around at Highlands, but even these noisy birds were subdued in the gloomy atmosphere.

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Sadly we were not to see the sun, or even the sky, again at Golden Gate, but although we packed up in a cool and damp mist the next morning we were warmed up ready for the rest of our holiday (Drakensberg, iSimangaliso, Kruger).

Highlands Mountain Retreat is very nice place to stay and has spectacular views, but animals are not so easy to see from the drives and even in midsummer the weather is unpredictable. Golden Gate has many hiking trails which we did not have time for on this visit, but would certainly like to try on a future trip.


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