The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains of the north eastern Free State. The most famous asset of the Free State is The Golden Gate Highlands National Park. An initial core area of 1 792ha, which included the farms Glen Reenen, Wodehouse and Melsetter, was proclaimed in 1962 as the Golden Gate Highlands National Park on 13 September 1963.
That same year the Glen Reenen rest camp was developed by utilising an old farm building as tourist accommodation.
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.
For more information on this park visit www.sanparks.org/parks/golden_gate/
Special Features of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park
- The van Reenen family graveyard
- Vulture Restaurant
- Cathedral Cave (Guided Walk)
- Spectacular lookout points and viewpoints such as Zuluhoek lookout point; Generaalskop viewpoint the third highest point in the park; Oribi Basin and Drekensberg view.
(Glen Reenen Rest Camp)
Tel: +27 58 255 0909, Fax: +27 58 255 0901
(Golden Gate Hotel and Chalets)
Tel: +27 58 255 1000, Fax: +27 58 255 0980
A Golden Promise
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111
Fax: +27 (0)12 426 5511
Travel Trade Reservations:
Tel: +27 (0)12 426 5025
Fax: +27 (0)12 343 2006
Golden Gate Highlands National Park Activites
Ribbok Hiking Trail
The more adventurous should follow the 28 km Ribbok Hiking Trail where black
wildebeest, blesbok, burchell’s zebra, eland, red hartebeest and springbok are often
seen, as well as the rare bearded vulture, bald ibis and black eagle. Some 200 bird
species have been identified in the park.
Cathedral Cave Hike
Duration 4 Hours Guided Hike with a low difficulty grading. Minimum Group Number: 5 Advance Booking Essential Route available from December to October.
Duration ± 4 Hours Unguided Hike with a high degree of difficulty. Start and End: Glen Reenen Rest Camp.
Mushroom Rock Hike
Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided hike with a low level of difficulty. Suitable for young children. Start and End: Glen Reenen Camping Site
Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided with a medium level of difficulty. Suitable for Children. Start and End: Glen Reenen Rest Camp.
Boskloof Hike – Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided with a medium level of difficulty. Start and End: Glen Reenen Rest Camp.
Holkrans Hike – Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided Hike with an easy to medium level of difficulty. Start: Hotel Parking area End: Hotel Chalet Area.
Brandwag Rock Hike – Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided loop hike, suitable for accompanied children with medium degree of difficulty. This hike has a chain to help with a steep accent. Start: Either from the Hotel or Glen Reenen End: Either Glen Reenen or the Hotel.
Ribbok Overnight Trail Unguided with an easy start and a challenging second day. Includes: Rustic Hut, donkey shower, mattresses, fire wood and coal stove. Bring your own cooking facilities, food, utensils and sleeping bags.
Activities that require pre-booking may be booked at any rest camp Reception.
Tel: +27 (0)58 255 1000
The Park has two SELF-DRIVE loops that are tarred and well maintained. Four-wheel drive vehicles and NOT required for these drives.
REMEMBER to observe the speed limit of 30 km/h
1. Oribi Loop – (4.2 km) Attractions on this loop include the Vulture Feeding Project and magnificent views of the Drakensberg. Cost: FREE to permit holders.
Start: 2.4 km East from the Glen Reenen Petrol Station (LEFT).
2. Blesbok Loop – (6.7 km) Apart from breathtaking scenery, attractions on this loop include the Generaal’s Kop viewing point. Cost: FREE to permit holders.
Start: 1 km East from the Glen Reenen Petrol Station (RIGHT).
- Horse Back Riding (Gladstone Stables) Guided rides that are dependant on the weather. Pre-Booking is essential. Helmets are provided. Note: Our horses have a rest-day on Mondays.
- Canoeing (Gladstone Dam: 4 – 20 Guests) Guided by experienced guides. Pre-Booking (24Hrs) is essential.
- Abseiling (Wilgenhof Environmental Centre) Guided by certified guides. Pre-Booking (24Hrs) is essential.
- Swimming in the Natural Rock Pool Situated in the hills behind Glen Reenen.
Museum Tour – depiction of the architecture and life style of the Basotho people from as early as the16th century to the present days. This tour is conducted 7 days a week, and takes 45 minutes. Please phone for a price per person.
Herbal Trail – walking 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 2 hours. Please phone for a price per person.
Cultural Route – an educational programme aimed at cultural heritage awareness through tracing the footsteps of the first occupants by visiting the historical sites of QwaQwa. This guided route is offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Its duration is 7 hours. Please phone for a price per person.
Tel: +27 (0)58 255 1000
Other Facilities and Attractions
Glen Reenen general dealer and filling station, Brandwag curio shop, licensed restaurant, coffee shop and ladies’ bar.
Sporting activities 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.
Call Clarens Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)58 256 1542
Fax: +27 (0) 866 474 142
• Short Nature Trails
• Guided Horse Trails
• Swimming Pool
• Holiday programmes are conducted during the April and December holidays
• Cultural tour at Basotho Cultural Village
Accommodation Golden Gate Highlands National Park
GLEN REENEN REST CAMP
Guests can choose from Rondavels, Longdavels and Guest Cottages with either one double and two single beds or two single and one stack bed, bathroom (shower) and kitchen with basic equipment. The alluring shaded grounds at Glen Reenen offer perfect caravan and camping sites. Ablution and barbeque facilities are provided, as well as a scullery. A maximum of 6 person, one caravan/tent and one vehicle or one auto villa is permitted per site.
GOLDEN GATE HOTEL AND CHALETS
Within the park, Golden Gate Hotel offers visitors a wide range of services and facilities and has luxury hotel accommodation and fully equipped self-catering chalets. A restaurant, ladies bar, coffee–shop, curio-shop, conferencing & banqueting venues are all available for guests.
HIGHLANDS MOUNTAIN RETREAT
• Log cabins situated 2200m above sea level.
• 4 log cabins have a double bed and a sleeper couch.
• 4 log cabins have a double bed and two single beds.
BASOTHO CULTURAL VILLAGE
• Is a cultural jewel of the Free State.
• Located about 14km from the Golden Gate Hotel.
• The rest camp has two and four sleeper self–catering rondavels with stunning views of the mountains.
TRAVEL / HOW TO GET THERE
With a public bypass road running through the park day visitors are welcome to drive through the park.
Fuel Stations: Petrol/ Diesel
Vehicle fuel is available in all parks (or is available on the park periphery):
- South African legislation stipulates that fuel stations will accept legitimate petrol/fuel/garage/credit/debit cards or cash as a form of payment for any fuel purchase.
Contact Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Golden Gate Highlands (058) 255 0000
Tel: +27 12 428 9111
Fax: +7 12 343 0905
For more information on this park visit www.sanparks.org/parks/golden_gate/
Monday to Sunday 07:00 – 17:30.
- To ensure a safe and joyful trip through our parks, kindly adhere to the Rules and Regulations as stipulated by South African National Parks.
- The use of drones inside (and over) our national parks is strictly prohibited.
Facts about the Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Golden Gate Highlands National Park was officially proclaimed on the 13 September 1963. Golden Gate was proclaimed during the period in which national parks were proclaimed for pristine area protection of which Golden Gate has much geological significance, aesthetic beauty as well as representing the threatened grassland biome.
- Golden Gate derives its name from the sunrays of the setting sun that casts a soft shade on the
west facing sandstone cliffs and turns them into a glowing gold colour. This was what Mr van
Reenen observed in 1878 when he first moved to his new farm Vuurland, while coming down
the pass at the western entrance to the park. In awe of this magnificent sight, he named his new
land – Golden Gate.
- Golden Gate is currently the only proclaimed National Park that protects the grassland biome
which is the most neglected biome from the point of view of conservation.
- The first inhabitants of this area were the San, judging by the stone tools and rock paintings
found at various places throughout Golden Gate. They no doubt lived under the many
overhangs in the area. After the arrival of the Basuto and European hunters, farmers and
trekkers the Bushmen moved away out of this area.
- Wodehouse peak was named after Sir Percy Wodehouse, the governor of the Cape in the
1840’s, who was responsible for the erection of beacons on the Rooiberge to create some
border system. The first beacon was erected on Wodehouse kop.
- The highest loose standing peak in the Park, as well as in the Free State, is Ribbokkopkop at a
height of 2829 m above sea level.
- Golden Gate is situated in the upper catchment area of the Little Caledon River.
- Golden Gate lies on a watershed, which means that rain falling on the shed-area; either runs
down via the Caledon River into the Orange or via the Wilge River into Vaal Dam – Vaal River, all
the way to the Atlantic.
- Golden Gate is situated in one of the most important Water Catchment Areas in South Africa
and that more than 50% of the water supply of South Africa comes from this area.
- The first ever fossilized Triassic dinosaur eggs were found in the park at Rooi Draai in 1973.
- An array of examples of fossilized dinosaur bones, roots, ferns and footprints in the Park.
- Golden Gate has become an integral part of one of South Africa’s Transfrontier Conservation
Areas, the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Project.
- The Golden Gate Valley was one of the areas which was used as a route for the English and Boer
armies during the Anglo-Boer War (South African War) and there are several historical sites in
the park linked to this period. One such an example is when the retreating Boer army burned
their ammunition wagons near the Mount Pierre area in the park, to prevent them from falling
into English hands, where the severe heat of the burning/exploding wagons caused sterile
patches of land and bullet remnants that are still visible after 105 years.
- The caves and hollow kranzes of Gladstone and Vuurland, two old farms in the park, gave
shelter to woman and children who hid away there for many weeks to escape the concentration
camps, during the Anglo-Boer War.
- With the completion of Golden Gates Tourist facilities there would be a total of 526 beds
available in the park. (Three rest camps, hotel complex, guest house, environmental education
centre and overnight hiking hut)
- There is a Living Museum known as the Basotho Cultural Village situated in the park. A second
living cultural museum at Klerksvly is in the process of being established.
- Golden Gate has one of the best equipped Environmental Education Centres in the country and
can accommodate groups of up to 92 in total.
- The geological formations in Golden Gate form the upper part of the Karoo sequence. The
formations were deposited while the climate became progressively drier until arid desert
conditions set in. The sedimentation process was terminated when lava flowed out over the
desert 190 million years ago.
- Golden Gate has an example of one of the most spectacular forms of sandstone weathering in
South Africa known as the Cathedral Cave – a cavern carved over millions of years by water,
wind and variations in temperatures of some 250 metres in length and 50 metres in depth.
- The most scenic and best examples of the Clarens sandstone formations in South Africa can be
seen and experienced in the park.
- The park is one of the last refuges of the rare Bearded Vulture.
- The rare bald ibis annually breeds in the Cathedral Cave in the park.
- Golden Gate has 10 antelope species which are the Eland, Red hartebeest, Black wildebeest,
Blesbok, Springbok, Mountain reedbuck, Grey Rhebuck, Grey duiker, Stenbok and the
- At the turn of the century in 1800, the plains around Golden Gate teemed with game. In 1836 it
was noted by Cornwallis Harris that it sometimes seemed as if the whole landscape was one
moving mass of antelope which included thousands of blesbok, zebra and black wildebeest.
Attempts have been made to re-settle animals in the park but aspects such as the fact that
game that formerly occurred in the area was mainly migratory, has been taken into account and
re-establishment of animals is carried out in a scientific way that is informed by much research.
- The three main challenges to conservation management in the park are EROSION control, FIRE
management and ALIEN PLANT control.
- The willow is an alien plant species but is not removed from the main valley, due to the fact that
they form an integral part of the aesthetic-historical part of the area.
- The ouhout (Leucosidea sericea) is the most common tree in the park.
- The park harbours more than 50 grass species. Three of the most common species are the
Tambookie grass (Miscanthidium erectum), Red grass (Themeda triandra) and Thatch grass
- Lichens occur on sandstone. They can be identified as the irregular red, yellow or blackish
blotches on the sandstone. A Lichen consists of a colony of blue green algae which are capable
of photosynthesis and a fungus which attaches the lichen to the rock.
A Brief History
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 Golden Gate Highlands National Park was enlarged to its present size, a total of 11,630Ha and borders Qwa Qwa National Park and Lesotho.