GPS: S 28 30.080 E 028 34.747 elevation 1,823 m/5,981 ft
Golden Gate Highlands National Parkis just 20 kilometers east of Clarens and one of the Free State’s most fantastic sights. Its moniker comes from the two cliffs within the park that face each other and glow a rich gold at sunset. While hikers and nature lovers can spend days among the complex rock formations and expansive grasslands of Golden Gate without tiring of its beauty, the short drive on the N712 that cuts through the heart of the park is just enough to get a taste of the park's rich historical and
geological significance. The 200-million-year-old rocky overhangs still bear the primitive rock paintings from Khoisan bushmen who took shelter in the area, and during the Anglo-Boer wars, this land was witness to fierce battles and scorched earth tactics that have left sections of the park barren even today.
Warmer months paint the park rainbow with flowers, while winter blankets the landscape with snow, but most anytime of the year a thin veil of mist provides some camouflage for the wildebeest, eland, oribi and zebra that roam here.
Ribbok hiking trail, a two-day, one-night trail to the top of beautiful Brandwag Buttress, is the most popular of the park's multitude of hiking paths and dirt road drives. The trail ascends Brandwag from the Glen Reenen rest camp and passes remarkable rock formations and a bucolic stream, while at the rock's apex hikers have views all the way to Lesotho. The overnight accommodation at Ribbok Hut includes bunk beds, a braai and a bathroom. Advanced booking is necessary.
The Basotho Cultural Village is a small Sotho "show village" where actors in costume perform traditional daily village activities as visitors are guided through the village. The site also has a restaurant that serves authentic Sotho food. Visitors can take a guided hike to learn about medicinal and other indigenous plants in the area (adult R50, child R25) or stay overnight at one of the village's rondavels (s/d R525). The reception office of the village also doubles as a gift store and money from the purchases of gifts go back to crafters in real Sotho communities.
All accommodations in the park are administered by the national park service. For questions and reservations for the below accommodations, contact 058-255-0000 or www.sanparks.org/parks/golden_gate/.
Golden Gate Hotel is by far the swankiest accommodation in the park. A recent revamp and rename of the former Brandwag Hotel included ultramodern decor and an upscale restaurant and bar. Many rooms look straight onto some of the park's most beautiful rock formations.
Glen Reenen Rest Camp is the park's most popular stopover. In addition to accommodation, there is an onsite convenience store and gas station. Camping is available with or without electricity. Rondavels and longdavels for two or four people have beds, a bathroom, braai, TV and kitchen. Family cottages can accommodate between four and six people with similar amenities plus a fireplace. There is also a farmhouse that provides the same amenities as a cottage for the same price.
Highlands Mountain Retreat Rest Camp has log cottages that can accommodate four people, with multiple bathrooms and bedrooms, fireplaces and self-catering kitchens.