Golden Gate – Hiking Trail Medley
GOLDEN GATE – HIKING TRAIL MEDLEY
Without doubt, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park (GGHNP) must be one of the most iconic national parks in South Africa. It is very different to the lush green and rugged mountain terrain of the Western Cape that we are accustomed to. According to the SANParks brochure issued for the GGHNP, the reserve is tucked away in the Maluti Mountains located in the north-eastern Free State. The Park’s name originates from the display of different shades of golden sunshine cast off the sandstone cliffs. The most prominent of these cliffs must be the Brandwag Buttress, looming over the Glen Reenen Rest Camp. The GGHNP offers a variety of activities, including scenic drives, accommodation and, of course, several hiking trails. While we were there, there was a trail run underway as part of the Wild Series.
There are several hiking trails to choose from, namely:
- Wodehouse Peak Trail (6 hours)
- Echo Ravine Trail (1 hour – one way)
- Mushroom Rock Trail (30 min – one way)
- Boskloof Trail (1 hour – one way)
- Brandwag Buttress Trail (1 hour – one way)
- Holkrans Trail (1 hour – one way)
- Ribbok Hiking Trail (Overnight – 2 days)
How to get there
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park (GGHNP) is situated near the town of Clarens in the Free State Province. It is approximately 360 km from Johannesburg, in the Gauteng Province. There is a type of gated entrance to the Park, but it is not manned. The public roads inside the GGHNPA are tarred which makes navigating your way around the park so much easier than travelling on gravel roads. At the Glen Reenen Rest Camp you will find a shop and a petrol station which is very convenient if you have travelling a long way to get there. As these are public roads, the gates into and out of the Park do not close.
The Glen Reenen Rest Camp is located about 12 km from the entrance gate to the Park and offers a wide variety of accommodation options if you are intending to overnight in the Park.
The permit fees (as of October 2019) to hike in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park for the day for adults is R53, while children are charged R27. As a SANParks reserve, Wildcard (All Parks) holders get to enjoy the reserve for free.
Park Reservations: +27 (0)58 255 0000
Fax: +27 (0)58 255 0901
Email Address: [email protected]
SANParks Central Reservations: +27 (0)12 428 9111, [email protected]
You can also visit the Golden Gate Highlands National Park homepage here.
The Speedy Review
If you are passing through this part of the country, a stop at the Golden Highlands National Park is something worth doing. Whilst it was quite dry when we were there, the rock formations are beautiful and worth an up-close visit. The best way to do this is to enjoy some of the hiking trails in the park, most of which are not too difficult, however, they require a moderate to intermediate level of fitness. You can choose how little or how much time you want to spend on the trails, as there are shorter and longer distances to hike, depending on your fitness levels and how much time you have to spare. Remember that these hikes are all at around 2000m altitude, so if you are not used to hiking at that altitude, rather choose a shorter and less strenuous route.
Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, because dogs are not allowed in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Nina was staying with good friends of ours and having a ball.
The Nitty Gritty
Our hiking club, SAPSTAP (Police Hiking Club) had planned to do a few day hikes and one overnight trail, in the Drakensberg, towards the end of October 2019. We travelled through the GGHNP on the 20th of October and decided to do a few of the short day hikes, on the spur of the moment, on the way to the Drakensberg. After a short discussion with the SANParks official and a briefing on the hiking trail options, we decided to combine a few of the short day hike trails into a longer single hiking trail.
The Golden Gate Hiking Trail Medley, as we have dubbed it, started at the wooden bridge across from the SANParks Reception office at Glen Reenen Rest Camp and followed the Echo Ravine Trail, then incorporated the Brandwag Buttress Trail and finally the Boskloof Trail. The Trail Head (start) for all of the hiking trails is located across the tar road from the SANParks reception building. You walk across a grassed section and climb up a few cement steps on to a wooden bridge that takes you across to the yellow Trail Head sign.
We started hiking at about 08h00, after crossing the wooden bridge. We were a total of 17 hikers in the group. One of the hikers became ill quite quickly into the hike and made the wise decision to turn back. The trail is made up of a cement path that meanders up until you reach an intersection, about 5 minutes later, where the various trails go off to the left and right (260 m). We turned left and walked along for another 2 minutes where the trail split again. We followed the signs for Echo Ravine and turned right.
After taking the turn to the right, the trail began to climb quite steeply but was manageable on the cement pathway. The cement pathway ended after a distance of 450 m, and the path returned to a dirt track that we are used to hiking on in the Cape. We had climbed above the din of the trail running event, but we could still clearly hear the announcer on the public address system welcoming each of the runners’ home. One thing that you need to be aware of is that SANParks trail maintenance staff, or their contractors, have used horseshoe-shaped iron poles to secure the wooden poles in place for the inclines. However, some of the wooden poles are no longer there, leaving these horseshoe-shaped metal poles in the ground as very effective tripping hazards. Be on the look-out for these, as it will not be good luck to fall over them.
At about 08h25, we arrived at a split in the trail with a sign that said ‘Boskloof’, after covering a trail distance of 901 m, to an elevation of 2008 m. We turned right at the sign and followed the Echo Ravine Trail route which was not clearly marked as such. We continued up through a tunnel of rock until we reached the turnaround point of the Echo Ravine Trail indicated by a very large rock cairn in the middle of the trail. The distance covered to the turnaround point was approximately 1.39 km. The turnaround point is at an elevation of 2033 m. I say approximately because the trip meter of the Garmin GPSMap 64S that I was using was bouncing around inside the rock tunnel like it was a pinball machine, adding distance while we were stationary.
After a very short stop, we headed back the way we had come and arrived at the ‘Boskloof’ sign again at 08h42 and turned off to the right (1.80 km) and followed a type of contour path toward Brandwag Buttress. After hiking for about 10 minutes, we came to another split in the trail, after covering a distance of 2.19 km (elevation of 1997 m). We went straight on and the trail began to climb uphill. At about 08h58, the trail split again and we followed the Boskloof Trail off to the right. The distance to that point was 2.31 km. After 2 minutes, the trail split again and we went to the left (2.36 km). The trail took us right up against the rock face and we turned left and stopped for a group photo under the overhang.
This was actually indicated as the turn-around point for the Boskloof Trail (2.41 km), but we decided to follow the alternate route down that continued on the other side of the turnaround point. That alternate route took us back to the last split in the trail again at 09h11, in a type of lollipop-shaped loop (2.66 km). We continued on a downhill for about 5 minutes until the trail split again left and right. The left option, marked as ‘Echo Ravine’ takes you back along the route you have already hiked. We went right and hiked until we reached another trail signpost at 09h22 and turned right and followed the Brandwag Buttress Trail again. The pathway along that section was constructed of cement and led us across a small wooden bridge. It was there that we passed a uniformed SANParks Ranger with a bag full of rubbish that he had collected on the trail. We followed the trail as it became increasingly steep. At about 09h33, we stopped under an overhang and had a snack break, after covering a distance of 3.47 km and an elevation of 2012 m.
At 09h50, we put on our backpacks again and followed the trail as it hugged the rock face until it curved to the right. After about 5 minutes of walking, we reached the chain section. It can be described as a very steep climb straight up the rock face with chains mounted on top of steel poles, on your right, to aid your ascent. If you struggle with heights, just try not to look down while making your way to the top of Brandwag Buttress. At 10h00, we reached the top of Brandwag Buttress (3.95 km / 2091 m elevation) and turned left and made our way down to the viewpoint, below us.
As I stopped to make notes about our journey up to the top of the Buttress, a strong gust of wind snatched my ‘notepad’ (a folded A4 page) and took it out and over the edge of the viewpoint. I watched helplessly as all the meticulous notes that I had made about the trail performed somewhat impressive aerial manoeuvres as they headed to the bottom. From where I was standing, I was able to track the flight path of my trail notes and saw them land in a clump of trees near a retaining wall along the tar road. I informed the geocache enthusiasts in our group of the approximate location where my makeshift paper jet had crashed landed in the trees and they agreed to help me locate the wreckage. Fortunately, it had not landed in the river, located just metres from the trees where it had landed. The way down from the Brandwag Buttress is a little confusing. At 10h15, we headed back to the top of the Buttress, away from the viewpoint, and headed down at the Brandwag Buttress / Wodehouse signboard. The trail went down a long dip and just as it ascended on the other side, it turned toward the left.
At about 10h20, we descended a long staircase made up of cement block stairs until we reached another trail sign board (10h27) indicating that the path to the right was for the Ribbok and Wodehouse Trails. We continued on straight as the trail continued to take us downhill and toward the tar road in front of us. We crossed over another wooden bridge and reached the tar road at 10h35. We turned left on to the tar road and walked back toward the Glen Reenen Rest Camp. As we walked along the road, Brandwag Buttress, towered over us and it was difficult to believe that we were standing on it less than 30 minutes earlier.
We continued walking along the road until we reached the point where I had seen my trail notes make an emergency landing in the trees. It took 3 of us less than 10 minutes of searching to find it. Theunis was the first person to spot the precious piece of folded paper. It had sustained little to no damage and was quickly used to jot down the most recent events on the trail. We arrived at the end/start again at about 11h03. The total trail distance was difficult to work out because of the problems that the rock face tunnels and overhangs had given my Garmin GPS. I would say that the trail distance would average out to 5.7 km and it took us just over 3 hours to complete.
The Stats – Golden Gate Hiking Trail Medley
The total hiking stats for this combined day hike, according to an estimation of the readings of my Garmin GPSMap64S device (on 20 October 2019), were as follows:
|Total Distance||5.7 km|
|Total Time Taken||03h03m|
|Max Speed||5.6 km/h|
|Moving Average||3.0 km/h|
|Overall Average||2.2 km/h|
|Temperature||13°C / 29°C|