Golden Gate Highlands National Park safari | Travel guide

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Golden Gate Highlands National Park derives its name from the golden glow on its sandstone rocks in the late afternoon with spectacular sunsets on offer for visitors. Its appeal lies mostly in the dramatic scenery and hiking opportunities. 

The park is home to a variety of animals adapted to highland grassland habitat, including several unusual antelope species.

The park’s most notable features are its golden, ochre, and orange-hued, deeply eroded sandstone cliffs and outcrops, especially the Brandwag rock. Another feature of the area is the numerous caves and shelters displaying San rock paintings.

Why visit Golden Gate Highlands National Park?

Golden Gate Highlands National Park safari

Golden Gate is not the best safari wildlife destination, and the focus lies more on the scenery. There is, however, quite a variety of grazers that are well adapted to this specialized environment. 

Red hartebeest, blesbok, eland, mountain reedbuck and springbok are just some of the antelope to look out for. Black-backed jackal is quite common, and caracal is present as well, but rarely seen.

Ribbokkop, the highest point in the Golden Gate park, reveals a breathtaking tapestry of red, yellow and purple hues as its warm shades merge with the cool mountain shadows towards evening, a superb spot to view the wildlife and surrounding landscapes from. 

Animals

As safaris in South Africa safaris go, visitors will find that Golden Gate is not a prime wildlife destination. None of the Big Five is present, but it is home to several species that thrive in the highland habitat. 

The endemic black wildebeest, with its distinctive white tail, can be seen grazing together with Burchell’s zebra, blesbok, mountain reedbuck and oribi. Predators are rarely seen, except for the black-backed jackal.

The dainty endangered oribi can be found single or in pairs on the aptly named Oribi Loop. Grey rhebok is another mountain special, not to be confused with the more widespread and common steenbok, which is the smallest antelope in the park.

Birds

With more than 250 species recorded, Golden Gate is an excellent birding destination. It offers many grassland and montane (forest on mountains above 1006m/3300ft) specials including several endemics unique to South Africa. 

It is one of the more reliable sites to find the sought after and rare bearded vulture. Indeed there is a ‘vulture restaurant’ providing food for these endangered birds, as well as for Cape vultures. Migratory birds are present from November to April.

Notable birds that can be found here include the Cape vulture, bald Ibis, Jackal buzzard and the Martial eagle. 

Trees

Most of the park consists of highland grassland with patches of forest in gorges and ravines, where it is protected from very cold conditions and fire. This is the only grassland national park in South Africa, and 60 different species of grasses have been identified. 

The impressive Brandwag Buttress sandstone rock formation is a photogenic landmark in the afternoon glow of the setting sun.

Other activities at Golden Gate Highlands National Park 

Other activities in South Africa that visitors to Golden Gate Highlands National Park can look forward to on their trip: 

  • Game drive: Explore the incredible Golden Gate Highlands National Park wildlife with spectacular views of the open scenery and wildlife
  • Nature walks: Walk with professional guides at a peaceful, relaxed pace through the extraordinary Golden Gate Highlands National Park where you can see birds, wildlife and beautiful tree species.
  • Cultural tours: An educational programme aimed at cultural heritage awareness through tracing the footsteps of the first occupants by visiting the historical sites of Qwa Qwa and Basotho cultural village.
  • Herbal trail: 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. 
  • Museum tour: 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.

Other attractions near Golden Gate Highlands National Park include: Golf, Shooting, Arts and Crafts, White Water Rafting, Quad and Motorbike Trails, Zip Lining, PaintBall Shooting, Archery, Fly Fishing, Game Farms, Rock Art, Trips to Lesotho, Katse Dam, Snowboarding, Skiing.

How to get to Golden Gate Highlands National Park?

By Plane 

To get to South Africa and indeed to the park, visitors can fly to one of two airports: Cape Town International (CPT) or O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg. 

From there, most visitors will access the park via car. A South Africa will likely also be required per the latest entry requirements. 

By Road

Golden Gate Highlands National Park is situated 320km/190mi from Johannesburg. It is a self-drive destination rarely visited in isolation, but more likely as part of a tour through the country.

Most visitors fly into O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg and start their tour here, either on an organized safari or self-drive package.

Carrying a small amount of South Africa currency, the rand (ZAR) is advised for smaller purchases. 

Tariffs & Regulations 

Entrance fee

All Golden Gate Highlands National Park fees are payable at the gate at time of entrance. Park fees are valid for 24 hours.

  • Standard Conservation Fee (International Visitors): R240 per adult, per day & R120 per child, per day
  • SADC Nationals (with passport): R120 per adult, per day & R60 per child, per day
  • South African Citizens and Residents (with ID): R60 per adult, per day & R30 per child, per day

Regulations 

If you keep to park rules, you can stay with the animals as long as they are not disturbed by your presence. 

Accommodation at Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Tourists at Golden Gate Highlands National Park can choose from a number of different options when deciding where to sleep with accommodation ranging from luxury safari lodges to lower budget camping. 

Hotels & Chalets

With new luxurious state of the art facilities, Golden Gate Hotel offers 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.

The hotel offers 54 luxurious rooms, with twin singles, queens and kings or bathtubs for the rest. Visitors will be able to gaze out their windows and appreciate the remarkable views of the surrounding mountains. 

A cocktail and coffee bar lounge enhances the top floor, while the lowest floor has a spot bar with an upbeat décor. The Masutsa restaurant allows for sophisticated spaciousness and can seat up to 250 guests who can enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains.

A great alternative is the Highlands Mountain Retreat, the perfect getaway for visitors craving a secluded setting. The wooden cabins, tucked into the mountainside offer unbelievable vistas of the surrounding Maluti mountains.

Camping

Golden Gate Highlands National Park has Glen Reenen Rest Camp and other camps available to cater for guests. 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, this is the ideal spot.The camp sites offer communal ablution and kitchen facilities. 

Campervan 

Guests on a self-drive safari with a campervan can make significant savings by sleeping in their vehicle. 

Bars/restaurants/amenities

Lodges will typically have all meals and drinks included in the lodge package. 

Useful information  

Geography

The Golden Gate National Park is a Free State Nature Reserve in South Africa, located in the north eastern part of Free State and derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock.

Weather 

The cold of winter arrives in May and lasts until September, with average daytime temperatures that rarely exceed 17°C/63°F. 

Winter (May to September) and summer (October to April) in South Africa are experienced at opposite times compared to those seasons in Europe and North America. 

The sun shines most days, and snow falls on rare occasions. In summer, which stretches from October to April, the temperature gets a lot warmer. There’s also quite a bit of rain in the form of afternoon thunderstorms.

Best time to go

Understanding the best time to visit South Africa is important as this will impact accommodation, flight prices, availability and the weather that visitors can expect on their Golden Gate safari vacation. A South Africa visa for entry may also be required. 

The best time to visit Golden Gate is in the warmer months from October to May. The park is at the height of its beauty during the Wet season, when the skies are free from haze and dust, and the vegetation is green. 

April and May are particularly stunning when the poplar trees are in autumn foliage. Animals can easily be spotted in the open grassland at any time of the year.

Health 

There is no malaria in the park, so antimalarials aren’t necessary if you’re not traveling to other parts of the country where malaria is a risk.

Antimalarials and other vaccines for South Africa are advised, as well as covering up in the evening and using mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective).

It is recommended to visit a travel clinic before coming to South Africa. Several South Africa vaccinations are recommended and usually administered before your departure. 

FAQs 

Where is Golden Gate Highlands National Park located?

The Golden Gate National Park is a Free State Nature Reserve in South Africa, located in the north eastern part of Free State and derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock.

What animals will visitors see at Golden Gate Highlands National Park?

Visitors to Golden Gate Highlands National Park will find the endemic black wildebeest, Burchell’s zebra, blesbok, mountain reedbuck, oribi, black-backed jackal and the grey rhebok. 

How much is the Golden Gate Highlands National Park entrance fee?

The entrance fee for Golden Gate Highlands National Park for international visitors is R240 per adult, per day & R120 per child, per day.