Of Sandstone Behemoths and Golden Gates…

Of Sandstone Behemoths and Golden Gates…

What makes a town/village “special” to you? For me, it’s the characters residing there, a quirky or unusual feel about it and, ideally, some nearby natural attraction. The town of Clarens has all of this, and its natural attraction is Golden Gate. More specifically, the incredible sandstone formations that define the area. 

The first inhabitants of this area are said to be the Khoisan people, who lived under the many overhangs, leaving a legacy of rock art – and some stone tools scattered about. Around the first decade of the 19th century, the Khoisan people moved away as the Basotho and the Europeans arrived. The first Europeans settled the area in the 1830s. At this time, the game was still plentiful. One anecdote recalls how a group of Voortrekkers needed meat, and they obtained Piet Retief’s permission to hunt in the narrow passes that separate Golden Gate from the surrounding areas. They returned with NINE wagonloads of venison and hides, which gives you some idea of just how plentiful game used to be in the area.  

The origin of the name relates to 1878, when the Van Reenens bought the farm ‘Vuurland’. Moving to their new home, they arrived late in the afternoon, during what photographers know as the ‘Golden Hour’. The sun was setting, and the rays cast a soft, gold glow on two magnificent sandstone cliffs – which inspired the name Golden Gate.

Golden Gate was purchased and handed over to the National Parks Board in 1962. In 1963, the 4,792Ha were declared a National Park and in 1981 it was enlarged to 6,241Ha. In 1983 the park was enlarged to its present size, a total of 11,630Ha, which borders the Qwa Qwa National Park and Lesotho.

In terms of vegetation, Golden Gate can be divided into grassland and woodland/forest. The Afromontane forest is limited to the sheltered ravines and gorges, as this is where the necessary moisture levels are maintained and it is protected from both unfavourable weather conditions and fire. Whilst isolated patches of Protea woodland also occur, Leucosidea sericea (ouhout) woodland dominates the valleys and some of the south-eastern aspect of the slopes (refer to our previous article on ouhout a couple of weeks ago – detailed below). It is interesting to note that no fewer than 117 species of beetles belonging to 35 different families associate with the “oldwood” in the park!

This spot is currently the only grassland National Park in South Africa, containing over 60 species of grasses. Beyond their inherent biodiversity value, grasslands contain the majority of our water source areas, and also the rivers that feed our major cities and provide water for food production. In terms of avian importance, this is one of the last refuges of the rare bearded-vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), more colloquially known as the “lammergeier”. Weighing between five and seven kilograms, with a wingspan of up to 2.83m, this rare bird is a worthy tick!! The vulnerable southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvus) is endemic to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, and is known to breed annually in Cathedral cave within this park.

A full list of fauna and flora can be found on the link listed below – we were lucky enough to see black wildebeest, Burchell’s zebra, some foraging chacma baboons and a black-backed jackal on a mission. They were all a bit bedraggled, thanks to the ongoing rain – but looked really healthy. Some of the more interesting mammal species in this park include porcupine, aardwolf (rare), African wildcat (vulnerable), caracal, silver fox, Cape clawless and spotted-necked otter, striped polecat and the South African hedgehog (rare).

On your next journey, should you be going anywhere near this park, we highly recommend that you visit! It takes ten minutes to pop in to their office (located near the fuel station) and pay the nominal fee required (support of National Parks!), which rewards you with two lovely routes to drive.

Happy Travels!!

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

#Clarens #GoldenGateHighlandsNationalPark #LocalIsLekker #TravelLocal #SouthAfricanTourism


Golden Gate Highlands National Park:

Ouhout / Oldwood Link:

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