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 Post subject: Buglette Golden Gate to Happiness April 2012
Unread postPosted: Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:40 pm 
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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Joined: Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:09 pm
Posts: 88
Location: Cape Town, sometimes Jo'burg
I haven't seen too many travel tales on Golden Gate National Park so I thought I'd write something about our trip there even though it happened last year (August 2011).

For those who wish to know more about this special, but perhaps lesser-known, park please join me as I recall some happy memories of our time in the Free State.

Load up with popcorn because here we go . . .

:popcorn:

_________________
Buglette's Trip Reports:
Introducing a Rookie to the KNP
Red Dust and Diamonds (Mokala)
Tinkering in the Tankwa
Loerie Stalking in the Wilderness
Scratching the Bottom of Africa
Golden Gate to Happiness
Rambling Round the Richtersveld


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 Post subject: Re: Golden Gate to Happiness
Unread postPosted: Wed Apr 11, 2012 5:24 pm 
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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Joined: Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:09 pm
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Location: Cape Town, sometimes Jo'burg
To me, Golden Gate has always sounded like the name of a Chinese Restaurant, the kind with shiny gold tablecloths and clusters of red lanterns hanging everywhere. In China several years ago I actually came across just such a place. The neon sign across from my hotel flashed Golden Gate to Happiness all night and threw rainbows across my walls, making sleep a disturbed and colourful experience.

So, when my partner SB (alias Stink Bug) suggested we go to Golden Gate, I immediately started salivating at the thought of a delicious Chinese meal. Turns out he was referring to the SANparks reserve in the Free State. Actually, I had no objections to spending a long weekend there so we booked for August last year.

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The week before we left, SABC news showed stunning photographs of the area covered in a deep blanket of snow. That could be fun, I thought, and filled my suitcase with warm, snuggly woolen garments. However, by the time we got there all that remained were sporadic white patches on the uppermost ridges of the Maluti Mountains. Gone was the winter wonderland scene of postcards and calendars.

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Unfortunately, the road surface on Lichen’s pass was iced over and shortly before we arrived a taxi went over the edge. A monstrous red truck was sent to haul up the wreckage from the bottom of the gorge and the road was temporarily blocked off.

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After checking in at the Glen Reenen offices, we managed to squeeze past the rescue truck and a gathering of spectators and make our way to the Basotho village where we’d chosen to stay.

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Since we’d be living in a Basotho hut for the weekend, I expected the accommodation to be rustic but I was pleasantly surprised on opening the door to see it was luxuriously kitted-out with everything we could possibly need, including an oil heater. Turns out we hardly needed that as the sun came blazing out and melted away the last vestiges of snow and ice. Only the early mornings were a little frosty.

Our hut overlooked a vista of golden grasslands which came alive with herds of antelope each morning. As the sun rose in the clear grey sky, columns of blesbok would mysteriously emerge from the other side of the mountain, coming over from all different directions. They moved slowly at first but as their limbs warmed up they would begin to trot, converging en masse to cross a dry river bed before dispersing on the other side. It was like watching our own mini-migration. Herds of red hartebeest would sometimes join them and eland could be seen dotted in the distance.

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Drives through the reserve brought us to small clusters of Burchell’s zebra and the more appealing of the wildebeest species, the long-tailed black variety. We also came across a trio of glossy green birds, with long red beaks, I hadn’t seen before. Consulting the bird book, we discovered they were Bald Ibises. I thought the Afrikaans name of Kalkoen (turkey) Ibis was rather apt.

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On the Blesbok Loop, we found several dams tucked away between the mountains, their turquoise water a pretty contrast to the surrounding yellow grass. Selecting a spot overlooking a dam we picnicked on left-over braai food before taking a brisk walk up a long, steep hill to get an even better view.

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On the way back to our village we stopped at the Van Reenen family cemetery just off the main road. I am always fascinated by the untold stories that lay beyond the names carved on tombstones. In this graveyard were the tombstones of two young people, a man and a woman barely in their twenties, who had both been struck by lightning at Mount-aux-Sources in 1932. What’s worse is it happened on December 18, a week before Christmas. What heartbreak this must have brought for the families involved.

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To be continued . . .

_________________
Buglette's Trip Reports:
Introducing a Rookie to the KNP
Red Dust and Diamonds (Mokala)
Tinkering in the Tankwa
Loerie Stalking in the Wilderness
Scratching the Bottom of Africa
Golden Gate to Happiness
Rambling Round the Richtersveld


Last edited by Buglette on Wed Apr 11, 2012 6:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Golden Gate to Happiness
Unread postPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:49 pm 
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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Joined: Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:09 pm
Posts: 88
Location: Cape Town, sometimes Jo'burg
Thanks Grantmissy, Sharifa, Pumba and PetraJ. So pleased to hear that others have enjoyed this special park as much as we did. For those that haven't thad the opportunity, hope you get to go soon.

And Rookie, I'm the guilty one for not flying the yellow ribbon. I woud've enjoyed meeting Sharifa and Duke but I wasn't an active Forum member at that stage. Don't worry, I'll be taking along that big ole ribbon for the next trip.

To get back to the bald ibises, here's one of SB's pics. Pity we didn't get all the birds together - there were four or five of them, as I recall. Would love to see them again one day.

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Last edited by Buglette on Wed Apr 18, 2012 1:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Golden Gate to Happiness
Unread postPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:02 pm 
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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Joined: Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:09 pm
Posts: 88
Location: Cape Town, sometimes Jo'burg
Now on with the show . . .

A few fun hours were spent at the Basotho Cultural Village. We were welcomed with ‘Kgotso’ (we greet you in peace) and taken on a tour by knowledgeable and friendly guides.

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The tour got off to a cheerful start as we shared sips of sorghum beer from a giant calabash with the village chief. Personally, when it comes to beer, which I drink infrequently anyway, I prefer the bottled variety.

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What did appeal to my taste buds though was a mixture of stone-ground corn, sugar and salt which the Basotho apparently mixed as travel food before setting off on long journeys. Very tasty indeed!

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Members from our small group were selected to be wrapped in traditional garb. For the ladies, this consisted of layer upon layer of cleverly-cut hides in different colours. I found them extremely comfortable if a tad heavy, but then buxom Basotho ladies of old were probably made of sterner stuff than me. The young boys in the group were chuffed to be given the chance to don the chief’s headdress as well as a variety of hats and shields used by Basotho men.

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The village is laid out with a series of huts showing how the designs progressively changed over the decades.

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Huts from the mid twentieth century were ornately decorated in bright colours, mimicking the wall paper found in European houses at the time.

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Kitchens were equipped with coal stoves and enamel dishes much like in my grandma’s time.

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A sangoma was on hand to ‘read the bones’ for those who were keen. At the outset of the tour, I’d decided to give this a go but I became doubtful when I noticed the sangoma sporting denim jeans and shiny patent leather shoes under his robe of skins. I’d expected somewhat more traditional attire. In the end, I reckoned the nominal fee of R20 wasn’t much to lose if the experience turned out to be a sham.

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I crept through the doorway into the sangoma’s smoky hut and knelt on the grass mat, as instructed. Spread before me was an assortment of stones, pods, shells, seeds and, yes, the odd bones. I was told to scoop these up into my cupped hands. As I attempted to do so, one or two pieces fell out and I tried to retrieve them. The sangoma shook his head - the pieces were to remain where they had fallen. After taking a deep breath and blowing onto the objects, I opened my hands and the pieces scattered before me. Our sage studied the pattern and then began discussing the key factors of my life – my family, partner, career, finances and health. He commented I hadn’t slept well the night before because a particular vertebra on my back was troubling me. This was spot-on and everything else he told me was so accurate it raised goosebumps on my arms.

I convinced SB, the biggest skeptic of all time, to also venture into the darkness of the sangoma’s hut. He was relatively impressed too. However, he did complain bitterly about not to being given the week’s Lotto numbers!


To be continued . . .

_________________
Buglette's Trip Reports:
Introducing a Rookie to the KNP
Red Dust and Diamonds (Mokala)
Tinkering in the Tankwa
Loerie Stalking in the Wilderness
Scratching the Bottom of Africa
Golden Gate to Happiness
Rambling Round the Richtersveld


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 Post subject: Re: Golden Gate to Happiness
Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:19 pm 
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Joined: Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:09 pm
Posts: 88
Location: Cape Town, sometimes Jo'burg
A stay at Golden Gate would be incomplete without a visit to the nearby village of Clarens. We ended up there after meandering through the farmlands to the Lesotho border post and finding we couldn’t continue on our planned day trip due to there only being border control on the South African side.

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The farmlands were pretty enough and Clarens provided adequate consolation with plenty of art galleries, craft shops and good restaurants to keep us entertained. One could easily fritter a day away there.

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For those with time on their hands, there is a knife-making course on offer as well as lessons in how to tie those spectacular multi-colored lures used for fly fishing.

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If you want a souvenir to hang on your wall at home, look-out for the two talented young painters on the green where the flea market takes place as their charming works capture the beauty of the area. Many feature the gorgeous sunshine-yellow poplar trees which were sadly devoid of leaves at the time we visited.

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We settled for a late lunch of plump German sausages, with an assortment of local breads and cheeses, and a beer tasting from the local brewery. Eight small glasses arrived on a tiny wooden tray with an assortment of lagers and ciders in various hues. SB pulled his nose up at most of them but I particularly enjoyed the rich nutty flavor of the stout. A bottle was purchased to take home for my dad.

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To be continued . . .


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 Post subject: Re: Golden Gate to Happiness
Unread postPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:53 pm 
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Joined: Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:09 pm
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Wanting to avoid heavy traffic on the way home, we’d opted to stay for an extra day. At the end of the long weekend the Basotho village rapidly emptied of cars and we virtually had the place to ourselves. We drove up to the Highlands Mountain Retreat perched at 2220 metres above sea level (after getting permission from the office as this is a residents only road) and that too was deserted. Seeing the spectacular views from up there, we decided that the cozy logs cabins would be the place to stay next time.

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Mind you, we’d popped into the Golden Gate Hotel earlier and that was enticing too. The old Brandwag hotel, named after the imposing rock formation opposite it, has been revamped and is looking very dashing these days. Sigh, so many choices!

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A drive on the Oribi Loop took us to the vulture restaurant. Well, we came across the sign for the place but weren’t sure exactly where to find it. After quite a walk and a climb up an embankment we spotted a heap of vulture leftovers, mainly bones and a few tufts of skin. Unfortunately there wasn’t a bird in sight, either in the air or on the ground. Better luck next time, we thought. We were consoled with views of some interesting rock formations though.

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Our last afternoon was spent hiking (or perhaps walking leisurely is a more appropriate phrase) to Mushroom Rock, that delightfully coloured formation looking very much like an enormous layer cake perched above the Glen Reenen campsite.

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The red layer was formed 200 million years ago when swampy rivers deposited mud-like sediment. Then 196 million years ago, the area dried up and became a desert, resulting in the yellow sandstone deposits. From 160-190 million years ago, volcanic activity capped the area with a basalt layer. The rocks have been sculpted into their current formations by the rivers and streams in the park.

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We followed a well demarcated path and the going was easy even though some patches were a little slippery with melted snow puddles. Up close the Mushroom towers over you, shrinking the presence of us humans on this big blue planet into perspective.

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We followed the track along the base of the Mushroom looking down on the grey strip of tar and the deserted campsite below. ‘So much more enjoyable than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way back to Jo’burg’, exclaimed SB.

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The following morning we left the 'Gate' behind us, those two yellow cliffs that face each other on opposite sides of the road, thinking that an extra day makes all the difference to holiday happiness. Our trip home was a breeze and we smirked at the thought of our colleagues already back behind their desks and hard at work.

I can imagine how spectacular the park must be in the green season so another visit has been added to the wish list. :D

_________________
Buglette's Trip Reports:
Introducing a Rookie to the KNP
Red Dust and Diamonds (Mokala)
Tinkering in the Tankwa
Loerie Stalking in the Wilderness
Scratching the Bottom of Africa
Golden Gate to Happiness
Rambling Round the Richtersveld


Last edited by Buglette on Wed Apr 18, 2012 2:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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