Expert Reviews – Golden Gate Highlands NP
James is a travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guides, including senior author of the guide to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
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Big skies and mountains
Covering a glorious swathe of the Free State's eastern highlands, Golden Gate is one of South Africa's most underrated parks. Driving through, en route between the northern Drakensberg and the arty town of Clarens, you'll see antelopes bounding across the plains and mountains rising on the Lesotho border. The park's four-legged inhabitants include zebras and wildebeest, but its chief appeal is the opportunity to spot animals in such a stunning setting. Its name comes from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock. Two side roads loop right into this landscape from Rte 712, and a two-day hiking trail leads up Generaalskop (2732m), with views of the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains. There may be no Big Five here, but the shimmering grasslands and sandstone bluffs are a serene environment for appreciating the area's wide horizons.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Cliffs of gold
Set in the northern foothills of the vast and spectacular Drakensberg range, this park is another one set aside mainly for its scenery and excellent hiking opportunities. The focal point is the burnished sandstone formation for which the park is named, and this is seen to best effect is the soft light of early morning or late afternoon. The opportunities for day walks are limitless, and while it isn’t exactly a Big Five reserve, Golden Gate does harbour plenty of less glamorous wildlife – it ids a great lace to see endemic such as black wildebeest, blesbok and grey rhebok alongside more widespread species such as the majestic eland and tiny oribi. Two charismatic birds associated with the park are the cliff-breeding southern bald ibis, a striking South African endemic, and the utterly spectacular including the rare lammergeyer (bearded vulture).