Pretoria - Golden Gate Highlands National Park has a plethora of activities to offer its visitors, but park officials have to literally put out fires on a weekly basis.
The park, nestled near the Maluti mountains of the north-eastern Free State, surrounded by breathtaking views and monuments offers tourists a five-star hotel, hiking trails, the cathedral cave, horseback riding and abseiling and mountain retreat cottages.
The park is on the border with Lesotho.
South African National Parks (SANParks) opened its doors for free from September 16 to 24.
The free entry week to most national parks including Golden Gate was extended to nine days to include two weekends.
The park is the Free State’s only national park and is more famous for the beauty of its landscape than for its wildlife.
Speaking to a media contingent during the mahala week, guide Kgalalelo Makwaeba, also widely known as Baks, said while the park boasted wildlife features that included mongoose, eland, zebras and more than 100 bird species, it was hindered by fires that were intentionally started by criminals.
She said criminals started fires in the park so that when officials respond to them they can go in the opposite direction to steal cattle that belong to farmers around the park.
She said the park was also subject to transfrontier crime from Lesotho.
“Farmers around here have livestock, but people from the neighbouring country, Lesotho, come here and burn a particular area so that we focus on that particular area while they go the opposite direction to steal livestock and cross the border into Lesotho.
“…And as soon as they cross the border we can no longer chase them because it would not be our jurisdiction,” she said.
She added that besides alien plants and erosion fires being their main challenge, they also made fires to rejuvenate the grass.
Asked what the management did to mitigate the park’s challenges, Makwaeba said they held environmental awareness campaigns to teach communities about conservation.
“We also engage law-enforcement (personnel) inside and outside the park and do patrols.”
Golden Gate is an open park with a national road that goes across it, accessing the small town of Clarens, and QwaQwa.
She said the park was proclaimed in 1963 and was owned by farmers at the time.
The place boasts a range of antelope, black wildebeest, cervals and black jackals.
It is also known for the existence of dinosaur fossils.
There are also remains of dinosaur eggs.
“Even though the park does not have the Big Five, it offers antelope and boasts three national symbols, the springbok, the protea flower and the national bird, the blue crane.”
She said if one explored the park and went on a hike they might find their own piece of history among the sandstone and crystals that lie everywhere in the area.
SANParks has also developed a Dinosaur Centre made to blend into the mountainous surroundings.