South Africa Free State Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Golden Gate Highland National Park

My fiancée, Annette wrote this entry. I took the photos.

Panoramic views everywhere you look.

We’ve been meaning to go to the Golden Gate Park and Clarens for the longest time, but it always felt just too far for a Saturday morning departure from Johannesburg if we had to be back at work on Monday morning. So when I got an extra day off for my birthday, and it happened to fall on a Monday, we decided to make a long weekend of it and head that way. Since it was a treat for my birthday Alex booked a place for us in the Highlands Mountain Retreat, a cluster of 8 log cabins high up in the mountains – but there are a couple of other options for accommodation in the park.

The view from our cabin

Because we wanted to spend as much time there as we possibly could, we slept over about 2 hours out of Johannesburg at the family farm on Friday night  and then took a slow drive for the last approx. 150 Km to the park on Saturday morning.

We stopped every 20 metres to take photos.

It’s hard to describe the drive or the park and surrounds without using all of the most clichéd and non-descript descriptions like spectacular, breathtaking, amazing or ‘just wow’ because that’s really what it looks like everywhere. The sandstone formations, hilly grasslands and mountainous cliffs form what must be one of the most incredible landscapes in South-Africa, which already has many landscapes to brag about. I won’t say much more about that because I’m running out of synonyms for beautiful and the photographs will give you a better idea of what a treat you’re in for.

To check in to the Highlands Mountain Retreat you have to go to the Glen Reenen rest camp, which is also where you’ll find the closest petrol station and bottle store. From there it’s a short drive up into the mountains on a pretty good road to the cabins–everywhere we went was fine for a normal car, but since it became very rainy later we were glad to be in a 4X4 for the muddier/potholey and generally less tarred stretches of road.

The cabins themselves are very simple but well-kept and clean with everything you need, from towels to teapots, a braai, TV with DSTV, a fireplace (with (wet) logs provided) and those aforementioned spectacular views all around. The 8 cabins are far enough apart that your neighbours won’t bother you at all but you will be aware of their presence–if you prefer total isolation you’d have to look a bit further.

Short summary of activities:

Once settled in we went to Clarens where we had a late lunch. There are plenty of places to choose from but we went to the Highlander which we really enjoyed. After that we wandered around the town and had a very long scenic drive until late afternoon.

There’s a vulture restaurant at the Mountain Retreat which we spent some time at, but, despite seeing a huge Bearded Vulture circle the skies earlier in the day, we only saw some smaller birds around sunset.

He's much bigger than he looks

On Sunday we had a late start before heading out to the Echo Ravine hike, a relatively easy 2,2 KM hike that would take most people to do about an hour or so, there and back. We spent a very long time exploring the ravine itself and when we walked out/back it was pouring with rain – really should’ve remembered our raincoats!

We headed back to Clarens for a late lunch, this time at The Artist café which we would also recommend for the food and service. It didn’t stop raining from when we went on our hike until we left on Monday at around noon, and was very misty, which was great for reading by the fire and relaxing indoors, but not so great for the views or the many other hikes we wanted to do.

All in all highly recommend a weekend in the park with a visit to Clarens, and if you’re travelling from Johannesburg make the most of it and add a day to your trip so you can relax properly rather than rush back again. It’s worth it!

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March 1, 2017, 11:27 a.m.
This is an excellent entry. Sounds like an amazing place