Golden Gate in the Free State by Mary Walker

Under the theme “Know Your National Parks” South African National Parks (SANParks) in partnership with First National Bank (FNB) and Total South Africa opened the 12th official South African National Parks Week at Golden Gate Highlands National Park (GGHNP). The week, opened by the SANParks Chief Executive Officer, Fundisile Mketeni began on the 18th of September and will end tomorrow.

The official launch was held in GGHNP, which is an open system park and currently the only proclaimed National Park within the grassland biome.  It was proclaimed on 13 September 1963 at 4 792 ha, and today is 34 000 ha.  

"National Parks Week initiative was born out of the realization that the majority of South Africa’s citizens were not visiting parks, and with a plethora of activities and wide variety of accommodation to choose from, the week is an effort to cultivate a culture of awareness and pride of National Parks especially for those communities situated around the parks,’’ said Mketeni.


The week is also an opportunity to showcase all national parks as key and affordable local holiday destinations which offer unique experiences that families and individuals from all backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles and communities can enjoy.

Along with the Basotho Cultural Village and museum located on the eastern side of the amalgamated GGHNP, the Parks boasts a rich history with San rock art and primitive stone tools found at various places throughout Golden Gate. It hosts the oldest dinosaur embryo which was discovered in the area in the early century. 

The extensive Early Jurassic continental strata of Southern Africa yielded exceptional records of dinosaurs ranging from embryos to large adults, but it was only at GGHNP where the first and oldest known example in fossil record of an incomplete egg clutch including in-ova-embryos was discovered. Further this, plans are underway to build a world-class Dinosaur Interpretative Centre.

The Park is named after the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the Park's ever present sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock, and is nestled in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the north eastern Free State about 20km of the artistic town of Clarens. There are a wide variety of birds in the Park with more than 220 species recorded. 

The most important birds of prey are the Black Eagle and Jackal Buzzard, as well as the critically endangered Bearded and endangered Cape Vulture. The conservation of vultures in the Eastern Free State has been given a boost by the completion of the Golden Gate Vulture Hide and Restaurant in the park.

Free access to SA National Parks will be granted to South African day visitors 16 years and older upon presentation of a valid identification document and Mketeni underlines that “the week allows all citizens a chance to freely access something they might not have been exposed to. We especially want our young people to take advantage of this opportunity because this heritage will be under their protection in the near future.”