There’s no better way to enjoy the scenery South Africa has to offer than to explore it on foot. Megan Rich did just that through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Situated in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State offers dramatic mountain views, quiet solitude and adventure. While it’s certainly rewarding winding through the mountainous terrain by car, there’s something special about exploring it on foot.
Our small group decided to tackle the 11km Wodehouse hike. The well-marked trek took about five hours to cover, which included time to stop to capture the postcard views, breathe in the fresh mountain air and snack on our picnic lunch.
The half-day hike starts with a steep incline towards a series of impressive sandstone overhangs. Not long after this point, the path splits, giving hikers a last chance to decide if they want to turn around or continue onwards and upwards towards the increasingly majestic views.
At the summit, we spotted the rest camp and stream below us, a small herd of eland grazing on the rolling hills in one direction, and, in the distance, the main tar road snaking between two massive golden sandstone rocks – the Golden Gate. On the horizon lay the shadows of the big and bold Drakensberg Mountains. It was indeed a sight to behold.
From here, the trail descended sharply, which for us was a challenge to keep our legs from shaking. But as a reward for making it safely down the jagged path, you can enjoy a “shower” at the enormous red Mushroom Rock, where, if you’re lucky enough to visit during a rainy period, drops of water fall from the top of the cliff, giving you the opportunity to have an exhilarating “rock shower”.
Just four hours from Durban, Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a beautiful and accessible place to explore some of South Africa’s diverse landscapes. For newbie hikers, the area offers a few one-hour hikes, a five-hour hike and a more adventurous two-day hike. Remember your hiking shoes, a hat, sun protection, water, snacks, a rain jacket and a small first aid kit. If you see the dark clouds rolling in, it’s time to head for cover, as this could mean lightning.
And lastly, be sure to stop in at the Golden Gate Hotel for a stiff drink to celebrate your ascent, and, more importantly, to ease your aching muscles.