Camping at Glen Reenen Rest Camp, Golden Gate National Park

DSC07571Golden Gate, an awe-strikingly beautiful spot in the upper Drakensberg, is a free-and-easy National park and it was an adventure (of some unprepared moments included) of it’s own sort, as is with first world Africa. 

After having a short mid-week visit to Johannesburg, we decided to make the most of our trip with a weekend-getaway-and-on-our-way-back-home-the-long-way-around – Golden Gate is such an ideal place. Well-kept (and expensive) toll routes all the way from Gauteng makes the drive almost effortless, and we were most lucky to meet some summer rain on our way to the mountain. They say against death there is no remedy – it seems against Elnino’s draught also. We still met Golden Gates amongst greenish fields (although photoshop proved to be tempting to green it up some more), and the area was as beautiful as ever.

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The sandstone cliffs discolour through each type of gold – from whit to rose – as the sun sets.

Reception was friendly, and we were invited to “pick a spot” at the camping area. The trees at this camping spot are most inviting, and of course areas with electricity pointed us into the opposite direction. Camping areas are not clearly demarcated (most likely why they tell you to “pick a spot”), and you pick a spot with a braai that is in working order. And that is definitely what the first night at a camping spot is to me: setting up the braai and having one big CHILL session. No nothing! No cellphones, no birdwatching, no neat tricks or intelligent conversations, just a listen to the wind, watch the sky, peer at the surroundings kind of CHILL. As is almost now a standard to us, we were greeted by a SANParks ranger at the beginning of the evening and the local birds – all such nice hosts.

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No cellphones, no birdwatching, no neat tricks or intelligent conversations, just a listen to the wind, watch the sky, peer at the surroundings kind of CHILL.

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Unfortunately, even though highly recommended as a bucket-list camping spot by numerous websites and reviews, this is a most noisy kind of camping spot. The R712 is literally 30 meters from your camping spot, so noise levels are high. Throughout the whole day there is traffic, taxis and even the Ferrari or Porsche speeding between speed bumps only to come to a halt to prevent the underskirts of the car from scratching against the bumps. And chalet guests (on the other side of the road) might try to drown out their noises with some music. All in all, this is a busy, bustling area of a camping spot, and I think it to have been much different some decades ago when I was still a baby visiting the GG National Park for the first time.

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The campsite on the left and chalets on the right side of the road at Glen Reenen Rest Camp.

The area boasts some really nice day hikes: a few of an hour or so and one described as a 4 hour walk. Who are we talking to? We know how to hike! 4 hours yes, baby! So off on the Wodehouse trail we go, and this (as I remember correctly) was the last clearly indicated way of the Wodehouse:

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Please don’t just rely on the park’s trail maps – go online and check this guy’s great summary of the hiking routes in GG. I wish I had! Besides walking 18km instead of 11km, we went on our walk with way too little water, poorly indicated routes when you have no idea where you’re going or whether you’re going on the right path, and a map that (besides not being well scaled at all) and being a black and white copy of a copy of a copy of a copy is more misleading than necessarily helpful. Our saving grace was the medium sized Woolies fruit salad we packed for a light breakfast stop. But we walked the very steep Wodehouse trail, and may I just add that this “Wodehouse” is definitely not one of those shaded, windy, abandoned half-open wendy houses – don’t get your hopes up. It’s a memorial rock of a guy named Wodehouse – not much shade there.

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I’d still recommend doing the Wodehouse trail – but don’t think of it as a 2 hours and 2 more hours trail, rather, be prepared: Depart early, take enough drinking water, some light snacks, lots of sunscreen and a hat because you’ll be treading up to and on top of a mountain.

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It’s a beautiful route, and you can’t get to a spot like this in a car. Only your two feet will be able to get you to the amazing views. The area’s beauty cannot be captured with either a camera or words.

A nice brunch and shade-laze serves as a good power-up for a drive around the park to seek game and birds. It is in this park that I was reminded of how little I know of plant species and their significance that is not always accounted for by civilians. Need to sharpen those skills!

The park has a wonderful vulture conservation project, where we stayed for quite some time. We had some sweet visitors at the viewing hide, but the vultures were not visiting that day. The roads around the park provide a variety of views, and there is more to see than at first meets the eye.

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A weekend passed so quickly, and it seems the most enjoyable parts of the park was everywhere but the campsite itself. Besides the campsites and hiking routes that really need some attention and maintenance, the park is quite easygoing. You observe your surroundings, have a picnic at a viewing point, and if you’re like us talk away for hours whilst having a city-detox weekend.

The weekend was still well worth the “going-back-home-the-long-way-around”, and Golden Gate is a place I’ll easily visit again – maybe this time staying at the wooden cabin rather, and going for one of the guided hikes.

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Having our koffie-en-beskuit at an outlook point.

They have: Running water, some spots with electricity, hot water showers and baths, clean ablutions, communal kitchen (with stoves), taps betweens campsites, trees shady areas, grass cover and a well stocked essentials shop.

Make sure you take: Hiking shoes, a hat and your usual camping gear. They have a well stocked kiosk at reception.

Glen Reenen is listed on the Travelstart’s 25 Best South African Campsites – another tick on the list!

Book a camp site through SANParks.

Tel 012-428-9111 or reservations@sanparks.org.

Go read our other bucket-list camping experiences:

Camping at Tzendze, Kruger National Park

Camping at Massingir Dam, Mozambique

 

 

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