With new luxurious state of the art facilities, Golden Gate Hotel now has a classy and modern decorating theme, 'African seasons', visible throughout the hotel and compliments the natural surroundings of the Park. Bright yellow illustrates the warm African summer sun, while white and dusty blue depicts winter. Exciting greens enhance the splendor of the spring rooms, and that exclusive Eastern Free State autumn is visible in the warm orange, earth brown and rich red of the autumn rooms' décor.
View more information on the Golden Gate Hotel & Chalets.
The Glen Reenen Rest Camp is situated close to the Golden Gate Hotel & Chalets and offers rondavels, longdavels and guest cottages. For nature lovers who prefer to get a bit closer to the natural environment, caravan and camping sites are also on the list.
View more information on Glen Reenen Rest Camp.
Highlands Mountain Retreat is the perfect getaway for visitors craving a secluded setting. The wooden cabins, tucked into the mountainside, offer unbelievable vistas of the surrounding Maluti's, that seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. A great escape for the mind, body and soul... Highlands Mountain Retreat, is a luxury camp that is home to eight log cabins.
View more information on Highlands Mountain Retreat.
Be transported back in time when you visit the Basotho Cultural Village Rest Camp, which mirrors an 18th century Basotho village. An amazing architectural sight with stunning settings and decorations that will colour a soothing and relaxing backdrop for the visitor.
Guests can rest assured that the self-catering accommodation will be nothing short of comfortable and cosy. The natural surroundings serve to only enhance this picturesque little setting in the park, where safe game viewing can be happily enjoyed without the effort of embarking on an actual game drive.
View more information on Basotho Cultural Village.
Located 6 km from Glen Reenen Rest Camp, this rustic little farmhouse provides a comfortable setting for guests. It gives the visitor a "prehistoric" feeling and eastern Free State awe while they're relaxing in the surrounding environment.
View more information on the Noordt Brabant Guest House.
This well maintained centre, has been offering professional and outstanding educational programmes for over 20 years, includes a large hall with kitchen and accommodation for 92 people.
The stunning natural surroundings of the mighty peaks of Ribbokkop and Snow Hills ensure a charming stay, with the added bonus of ancient rock art just a few minutes' walk away. This is the ideal spot for youth groups, as they can learn about the history and secrets of the neighboring environment while experiencing it first hand.
View more information on the Wilgenhof Environmental Education Centre.
An educational programme aimed at cultural heritage awareness through tracing the footsteps of the first occupants by visiting the historical sites of Qwa Qwa. This guided is offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Its duration is seven hours. The price is R40.00 per person.
Walk a wilderness trail with the village traditional healer who explains in detail all the medicinal herbs on the trail. A guide will then continue with the tour towards the caves to view San rock art. This guided trail is offered only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Its duration is two hours. The price is R40.00 per person.
A depiction of the architecture and life style of the Basotho people from as early as the 16th century to the present day. This tour is conducted seven days a week, and takes 45 minutes. The price is R40.00 per person.
Other Attractions near Golden Gate Highlands National Park:
Other attractions near Golden Gate Highlands National Park include: Golf, Shooting, Arts and Crafts, White Water Rafting, Quad and Motor Bike Trails, Zip Lining, Paint Ball Shooting, Archery, Fly Fishing, Game Farms, Rock Art, Trip to Lesotho, Katse Dam, Snow Boarding, Skiing.
For more information:
Tel: +27 (0)58 256 1542
It is only 55km from Harrismith and the N3. It is sited along the Maluti Drakensburg Route only 350km from Pietermaritzburg, 330km from Bloemfontein and 320km from Johannesburg.
The village is only 42km away from the renowned Clarens, a tourist Mecca of the Free State Province through the scenic Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
The gates in Golden Gate do not close. The road running through the Park is a public road which does not allow for the installation of any boom gates. Gate control is done at both receptions (Golden Gate Hotel and Glen Reenen Rest Camp) on arrival.
Judging by the primitive stone tools and rock paintings found at various places throughout Golden Gate, the first inhabitants of the area were the Khoisan (Bushman/Hottentot group). There is no doubt that they lived under the many overhangs which offered excellent shelter.
After the arrival of the Basotho and the Europeans (hunters, cattle farmers and Voortrekkers) on the scene, the bushman moved away during the first decade of the 19th century. In the 1830s, the first European settlers colonized the area joining Golden Gate. Many Voortrekkers trekked through this land when it was still savage and raw.
On the afternoon of 23rd September 1837, a number of Voortrekkers under the leadership of Piet Retief came into the well-known Liebenberg’s Kloof. As they were planning to stay there for six days, Commandant Coenraad Meyer and some of his men asked Retief’s permission to shoot game in the narrow passes which separate Golden Gate and the surrounding area. They returned to the laager with nine wagons loaded with venison and hides. This gives us an idea of how plentiful game was.
During this time, bands of marauders and assassins sent out by Shaka and Dingaan of Natal, and Silkaats, chief of the Matabele in Transvaal, massacred or scared away almost all of the black tribes in the north-eastern parts of the Free State.
After the European farmers moved into the area, many Natal people left their homes and settled in the area west of the Drakensberg —some in the vicinity of Golden Gate. Because there was no real boundary, clashes between the Free Staters and Basothos occurred mainly in this area.
The Free State Volksraad refused to appoint a border patrol, but Sir Percy Wodehouse, the governor of the Cape, was asked in 1846 to erect beacons on the Rooiberge. The first of these was erected on a very high mountain top (the present Wodehouse-kop), and a second one on Bakenkop behind the Wilgenhof Environmental Education Center.
The area came under British rule for the first time when the area between the Orange and Vaal rivers was
proclaimed by Sir Harry Smith. After the Battle of Boomplaas, Golden Gate remained under British rule for six more years.
During this time, the problem with stock theft surfaced again. Moshesh (pictured) lead a surprise attack on Seconyella and conquered the area in which Golden Gate lies (Casalis, 1997). The Orange Free State became an independent republic in 1853, and after this numerous Basotho wars were waged. The era after the second Basotho war is of importance for Golden Gate because the farms which later became the park were incorporated into the OFS as part of the area which was conquered by the joined forces of the Transvaal and OFS.
The battles of Naawpoortshek, and the role played by Paul Kruger later in the war, lead to the founding of the town of Clarens (named after the town in Switzerland where Paul Kruger died in exile). The area south and east of the Rooiberge were given to Moshesh—in other words, the area where Golden Gate is situated was still a part of Basotholand. Though Moshesh honoured the agreement, some of his followers still clashed with the inhabitants of Bethlehem. President Brand persuaded the Free State Volksraad to declare war in 1865. After the treaty of Thabo Bosio in 1869 it was decided to give all the boers who fought in the second Basotho war the opportunity to buy land along the Caledon River in order to protect the border. A.G.P van den Bosch, the surveyor-general, determined the areas of three farms, namely Noord-Brabant, Vuurland and Witsiesoorsprong.
In a historic review of the farms which later became the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Dr. A.P.J. van Rensburg related that the farm Vuurland was sold in December 1869 to Jacobus Charl Bender for R460. When it was later found that Bender did not have the full amount to buy the farm, it was confiscated by the Free State government and used as compensation for farmers who suffered stock losses during the Basotho wars.
The van Reenens bought the Vuurland farm in the valley in 1878. When moving to their new farm, the van Reenens reached the valley in the late afternoon just as the sun was setting behind two magnificent sandstone cliffs. The sun’s rays casting soft and delicate shades against the sandstone cliff-face inspired the name Golden Gate.
Van Reenen named his new land Golden Gate. He was so impressed with the neighbourhood that after repeated attempts, he bought a section of Noord-Brabant (58 Morgen) in 1880 from his neighbour for only R50. In 1890, Abraham Albertus Cilliers divided his farm between his two sons, and one portion of the portions was named Gladstone which is currently where the admin and staff accommodation is located. In 1928, the young Cilliers who owned Gladstone divided the farm further and named the other half Wilgenhof. This is where the Environmental Education Centre is situated.
Golden Gate was not spared the ravages of the Anglo-Boer wars. Everything was razed to the ground during the Second Anglo-Boer War. Some 50,000 British troops entered Bethlehem and the Boers retreated into the Rooiberge. When the Southern passes were occupied by the British, the main Boer force retreated in the direction of Golden Gate. General Prinsloo eventually surrendered.
As the Boers retreated, they abandoned their heavy ammunition wagons. To avoid allowing the British to take the ammunition, they set the wagons alight. The intense heat from this fire scorched the earth, and there are some areas in the park which are still sterile. Even now, no grass can grow there. A good example of this can be seen near Mount Pierre.
A.A. Cilliers was sent to Ceylon as a prisoner of war, and Jan van Reenen was held captive in Ladysmith. All stock was raided, crops set alight and houses ransacked. The women and children were taken to concentration camps at Harrismith. However, Mrs. Cilliers and her children chose the dangers of the veld rather than the ‘mercy’ of the concentration camp and for many weeks took refuge in the hollow kranzes of Gladstone and Vuurland. Many groups have used caves for shelter.
In 1962, the government bought Golden Gate and handed the land over to the National Parks Board. In 1963, 4,792Ha were declared a National Park and in 1981 it was enlarged to 6,241Ha. In 1983 the park was enlarged to its present size, a total of 11,630Ha and borders Qwa Qwa National Park and Lesotho.
Bearded Vulture is the bird everyone associates with the high mountains of the area.
Other large birds that soar around the crags of Golden Gate include Black Stork, Bald Ibis, Cape Vulture, Verreaux’s (Black) and Martial Eagle, Jackal Buz za rd, Lanner and Peregrine Falcon and Rock Kestrel. Black and Alpine Swift are also common airborne species. Highland specials to search for in the park include: Grey-wing and Redwing Francolin, Mountain, Mocking Cliff- and Buff-streaked Chat, Sentinel and Cape Rock-Thrush, Orange-breasted Rockjumper, African Rock Pipit, Ground Woodpecker, Wing-snapping (Ayre’s), Wailing and Lazy Cisticola, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite, Greater Double-collared and Southern (Lesser) Double-collared Sunbird and Drakenberg Siskin.
Here is a brief account of the antelope species of Golden Gate Highlands National Park. See our full mammal list.
1. Black Wildebeest / Swartwildebees
The black wildebeest is much smaller than the blue wildebeest and is now only found in National Parks, reserves and some farms. Both the male and the female carry horns. They have a light coloured neck mane and long horse-like tail.
They advertise their presence with a very loud two syllable call which has been described as ‘ge-nu’. They feed on grasses and succulents. They are stocky yet swift. Lifespan: 20 years. Mass: 113-159kg. Shoulder height: 1.14m.
Damaliscus dorcas phillipsi
These territorial grazers have the characteristic habit of standing in groups with their heads towards the sun and their heads down. Both sexes have horns. Found mainly in the Highveld, they can withstand extreme cold. If disturbed, they run upwind in single file.
Blesbok can most frequently be seen on the plains surrounding Basotho Cultural Village. Bontebok, a more colourful relative, is not found in the park. Mass: 59-80kg. Shoulder height: 93cm. Lifespan: 10-12 years.
3. Common Duiker
Although mainly nocturnal, the duiker can often be seen in daylight. It is found singularly or in pairs, and is very shy. The name ‘duiker’ comes from the Afrikaans word meaning ’diver’. This is because the duiker looks like it is diving as it flees. It is mainly a browser, and can feed on fruits, leaves, grass and roots. It can be found anywhere in the park, and is common across Southern Africa. Mass: 12-16kg. Shoulder height: 60cm.
This gregarious animal is the largest of the African antelope. Even though they appear slow, they are excellent jumpers. They are also great wanderers, and move between the hills and valleys in the park. Both sexes have horns, although those of the females are often longer.
Although normally not vocal, they produce a clicking noise with their hooves which can be heard some distance away. They are mainly browsers and are fond of young grass in areas that have been burnt. Eland have an excellent sense of smell and good hearing. Lifespan: 15 years. Mass: up to 900kg. Shoulder height: 150-175 cm.
5. Grey Rhebok / Vaalribbok
This antelope lives on the flat-topped grassy mountains in the park. They can commonly be seen on the mountains from the Rhebok Trail. They live in small family parties up to about 12 individuals. Only the males have horns. When they are alarmed, they move off with a ‘rocking-horse’ movement, displaying a distinctive white tail as a marker to those that follow it.
Grey rhebok are active throughout the day (diurnal) and live throughout the Cape, Lesotho, KwaZulu-Natal, eastern Free State, Swaziland and southeastern Mpumulanga. The voice has been described as a sharp cough. They have good sight, hearing and sense of smell. Mass: 18-23kg. Shoulder height: 70-76 cm.
6. Mountain Reedbuck / Rooiribbok
Mountain reedbuck occur mainly in small herds of between 3 and 6 animals. Only the males carry horns. It lives, as the name suggests, in mountainous areas, using rocks as cover. They mainly eat grass, although will also feed on broad leaves and twigs. Mass: 22-27kg. Shoulder height: 63-76cm.
7. Oribi / Oorbietjie
Normally found in pairs or solitarily. Only the males have horns. The oribi is a swift, inquisitive antelope that lies in tall grass. They are most often seen around the ‘Oribi Loop’ in the park. They are smaller and redder than the rhebok. They have a short, black bushy tail which is visible when they flee. They are grazers, preferring short grass. Mass: 14-20kg. Shoulder height: 51-66cm.
8. Red Haartebeest / Rooihartbees
This social animal is found in large herds. They are grazers, preferring medium-high grass. Although they are capable of going without water for long periods, they will drink regularly in the park where water is available. Both sexes carry horns.
The illustration shows the ‘pronking’ posture adopted when alarmed. They can most commonly be seen on the way to Cathedral Cave. Mass: 150-160kg. Shoulder height: 120-137cm.
These animals live in large herds in the park and are most frequently found on the plains near Basotho Cultural Village. They are both browsers and grazers, and both sexes have the characteristic heavy ridged, lyre-shaped horns. When suddenly alarmed, springbok perform gigantic leaps which can carry them 2m off the ground. They have excellent eyesight. Mass: 36-50kg. Shoulder height: 78-84cm.s
Found throughout southern Africa, this large-eared antelope is the smallest that we have here in this National Park. It is a swift animal that zigzags as it runs, often stopping a short way off to look back. Normally found singly except in the breeding season when it is found in pairs. It is active by both day and night (diurnal and nocturnal). Mass: 12-14kg. Shoulder height: 50-56cm.
For more information about these antelope and other animals in the park, the following book is recommended:
Walker, C. 1996. Signs of the Wild. Struik.
Acknowledgment to the author for reference to his knowledge and pictures on this page.
Plant List for Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Structurally, the vegetation of Golden Gate can be divided into grassland and woodland/forest.
The climate is considered to be the major environmental factor that influences the floristic composition and distribution of the vegetation units. The Afromontane forest is restricted to the sheltered ravines and gorges where the necessary moisture level is maintained and the vegetation is protected from unfavourable weather conditions, as well as fire.
While in the valleys and on the south-eastern aspect of some of the slopes, the vegetation is dominated by Leucosidea sericea (ouhout) woodland. Isolated patches of Protea woodland (Protea caffra, P. roupelliae and P. subvestita) also occur.
The two dominant veld types are Highland-Sourveld and the Themeda-Festuca veld. When hiking through the park, one inevitably passes through stands of trees of which the flaking bark and silky-haired leaves are characteristic. These trees are called Oldwood (Ouhout), Leucosidea sericea, because of the ‘old’ appearance of the twisted trunks of the full-grown trees and because the wood burns like old, rotten wood. It is without doubt the most common tree in Golden Gate and belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). An interesting fact is that no fewer than 117 species of beetles belonging to 35 different families associate with the oldwood in the park.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park is currently the only grassland National Park in South Africa. The park contains over 60 species of grasses and you can find information and pictures on the dominant grass species in the park here.
There are 3 main layers of rock in Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the characteristics of which have lead to the famous cliff formations present in the park today.
The red layer was created 200 million years ago when swampy rivers deposited the mud-like sediment. 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 rivers and streams in the park have carved the rocks into their present formations. The name ’Golden Gate’ originates from the two cliffs that face each other on either side of the road: at sunset, the yellow sandstone becomes a rich gold colour.
Formation: Many meters of silt and mud were laid down when the area was a wetland/flood plain around 200 million years ago. When rainfall in the area dropped, the mud dried out and over time has turned into rock.
Formation: This rock was formed when the area was a desert 190-196 million years ago. Sand dunes built up over time and the sand
particles were squeezed together to form a weak rock.
Formation: Over the years, water moving through the sandstone has caused a buildup of calcium
carbonate in some layers. The
calcium carbonate acts as cement and holds the rock particles
together making the rock harder.
Formation: The heat and pressure of the molten lava ‘cooked’ the sandstone layer underneath it and turned it into quartzite—a
metamorphic rock. The sand grains in the quartzite have melted
together making the rock much tougher than normal sandstone.
Formation: 183 million years ago, the area was volcanically active. Sheets of molten rock came out of the volcanoes and spread over the land before solidifying into basalt. This is a very hard rock, and does not erode easily.
The rocks of Golden Gate show variations in toughness. Caves and overhangs are formed when an area of soft rock is eroded/weathered more quickly than the hard rock around it. This can be caused by wind, water and salt crystallization
Dykes and Sills
When pressure built up beneath the earth’s surface, liquid magma was forced through the cracks in the rocks. These ancient magma-filled cracks, common in the park are called dykes and sills. They can be seen as lines of dolerite rock within the sandstone. When the magma was forced through cracks to the
surface, the vertical sheet is called a dyke. Sometimes magma is injected in a horizontal sheet, especially where there are flat-lying beds of rock. The horizontal sheet of dolerite is called a sill.
An example of a dyke can be seen at Rooidraai, where you can see the dolerite dyke and the effect of the heat on the surrounding rock.
And those black marks?All around the park you can see black stripes on the rock, even long after it has rained. These are areas where water seeps out of the rocks. Minerals from the top basalt layer (manganese dioxide) are carried in the water and these stain the rocks black. The water enables organisms like algae and moss to live on the rock as well.
Location: Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Maluti Mountains, Eastern Free State
Distance to nearest Towns: Clarens 22km, Bethlehem 53km, Harrismith 73km
Directions: N3 from JHB/ DBN – turn off at Harrismith onto the N5, 5km outside Harrismith on the N5 turn off onto the R712/711 towards Phuthadijhaba. Bypass Phuthadijhaba and continue to GGHNP, which is approximately 70km from the turn off at Harrismith.
34 Self catering Chalets: (One double bed & two single beds)
The unit is accessible for the mobility challenged. The rondawel features one bedroom with a double bed, two bunk beds and two bathrooms, each with a shower. The unit also includes a kitchen, communal braai lapa and a veranda with a Weber braai.
The unit is accessible for the mobility challenged. The cottage features one bedroom with two single beds, one bedroom with a double bed, one stack bed (sleeps two) and two bathrooms with a shower each (one bathroom is en-suite). The unit also includes a kitchen, braai facilities and DSTV (limited channels).
The unit is accessible for the mobility challenged. The family log cottage features one bedroom with two single beds, one bedroom with a double bed and two en-suite bathrooms, each with a shower. The unit has a lovely veranda with a Weber braai. It also includes a kitchen, fireplace and DSTV (limited channels).
Accommodation images may differ from the actual units as refurbishment of various accommodation types occur on an on-going basis.