Monday, October 24, 2011

Golden Gate National Park S. Africa

Golden Gate

No not the one in San Francisco and we didn’t expire and go to heaven. Oh wait. That’s the Pearly Gate. Nevermind.

While in the Drakensberg mountains last year we decided to take a scenic route home and that led us to the Golden Gate National Park. Passing through it close to sunset the colors were vibrant and really lit up the sandstone cliffs as our portal through the park. Definitely coming back here we decided.

One of Sue’s school breaks, a 3 day weekend, was the perfect opportunity and probably about the right amount of time. An old adage, by Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac, is: “Fish and visitors smell in 3 days.” That was written in 1736 and has stood the test of time. And 3 days was just enough not to get tired of the Golden Gate area.

Golden Gate National Park was established in 1963 to protect the unique sandstone rock formations which once were shelters for the Bushmen.

More about Golden Gate Park

Our accommodations were at the Bosotho Cultural Village in the Free State area of South Africa. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, President Nelson Mandela expresses his feelings for the Free State as follows: ``The Free State landscape gladdens my heart, no matter what my mood. When I am here I feel that nothing can shut me in, that my thoughts can roam as far as the horizons. " Our lodge was modeled after the rondavel dwellings

While the museum and gift shop were interesting we weren’t in the mood to play tourist and pay a guide (required to visit the village). Visiting a tourist village like this makes me feel like a voyeur prying into the lives of people. Yup, I realize this is their fund raiser and I left a generous donation at the museum, but we were here for the mountains and tranquility. Then again, I confess I’ve visited Williamsburg.

The first evening was pure delight. Sitting on the deck of our lodge-room (inside was one big room comprising the kitchen, sitting and bedroom areas.) our vista was over a large meadow with Wildebeest, Springbok, and other critters way off in the background. The golden hue of the grasses with the blue sky background and the sandstone mountain range to the left was all the evening entertainment needed to be.

There is only one road through the Golden Gate area and we explored it from one end to the other with a nice diversion up a side road to a dam and view overlooking the area. We got to what was most like the area leading out of the sandstone cliffs, did a U turn, and saw a picnic area to our left when Sue says: “I think that’s Chris’ car over there.” Sure enough a couple of the teachers we knew had headed to a little town, Clarens, down the road for the week end and were exploring the area.

Backtracking we stopped at the local Glen Reenen camp area where we knew there were trailheads to the hiking trails. One looked interesting and went to the top of Brandwag rock, where just happened to be a Geocache according to some of the geocache sites I downloaded to my GPS. Score. Yup, we geocache (another word that’s a noun and verb me thinks). Won’t bore you with a long write up. You can read about geocaching and the history here.

History of Geocaching

or History of Geocaching II

Sue and I decided to trek to the top of Brandwag rock and set off with the standard supplies of some nibbles and more important water The trail wasn’t too difficult until we got right near the top where it looked as if we were staring at a straight up 30 foot wall to the top. Other hikers came and confirmed: “Yup, this is the only way to the top”. The only way was a steep incline requiring holding on to a chain railing complete with all the “use at own risk” signs.

We did it. Elevation was about 550 feet from where we started over about about 0.8 mile. Not strenuous, just a continuous hike and stop to catch your breath as the elevation here is almost 2,000 feet higher than Johannesburg (4,500 feet).

The view at the top was spectacular and everything it was advertised to be. Other hikers were either sitting enjoying the view, having a picnic lunch, or probably like us breathing a sigh of relief.

The next day we ventured out of the park toward Clarens, a village everyone said we should visit. I’ll let the “tourist bureau” wax eloquent:

The village has become know as the "Jewel of the Free State" - rich in beauty, with an aura of peace and tranquillity. Clarens is endowed with more trees than most other Free State towns - the fresh, light green willows and colourful blossoms of the many fruit trees are an unforgettable sight in spring time; whilst the magnificent autumn shades of the lombard poplars attract artists, photographers and nature lovers. The town is known for the many Art and Craft shops which offer the visitor a wide range of curios and original artwork. Another feature which adds to the picturesque atmosphere of the village is the many sandstone buildings. The popular Golden Gate National Park is located in the near vicinity of Clarens, and the area attracts many visitors. (Courtesy of Clarens Tourism)

One of the nice features of the village is that there is an actual village square, making a walk about the square visiting the various art galleries, curio shops, and whatnot stores quite an enjoyable walk. Shoulda brung me bike. The village and surrounding area looks like it would have been a nice area for an hour or so bike ride. As it were, glad we stopped.

Another one checked off the do list.

Some photos from the Golden Gate area. Click on any image to open slide show. Use the "X" on the slide show to return to blog. Don't X out your browser.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Pilanesburg, South Africa

At the beginning of each school year, there is a field trip for new teachers to sample the wilds of South Africa: Pilanesburg.

Last year as a new teacher Susan and I were treated to a set up tent, sleeping stuff, and each day a chauffered van to tour the park on a game drive. This year as no longer "newbies", we were on our own. Knowing this we brought our tent and vintage sleeping bags from the states. Vintage? Most sleeping bags today would almost fit in your back pocket. These suckers are the size of Rhode Island and then some.

Pilanesburg from the parks website: Pilanesberg Game Reserve is in the Bojanala Region of the North West Province, adjacent to Sun City. Set in the crater of a long extinct volcano, the Park ranks among the largest of the parks in South Africa (it is in fact the fourth largest park) and covers an area of 55 000 hectare.

The beauty of Pilanesberg is reflected in a large central lake, the Mankwe Dam.

Over time, wind and water have carved a spectacular landscape with rocky outcrops, open grasslands, wooded valleys and thickets.

Pilanesberg National Park accommodates virtually every mammal of southern Africa. Also home to the Big Five.

More About Pilanesburg CLICK HERE

Last year it was as if the park folks planted the big 5 right in our paths. As we entered the park there were two lions walking along a side road right towards our van. The two days ended spectacularly as we witnessed the birthing of a baby giraffe, okay maybe 42% of it. The hind legs and hind quarter were emerging and we ran out of time before the baby giraffe would drop to the ground. Later learned that if the mother giraffe doesn't help the baby get to its feet then the baby won't make it.

The best time to view game is early or late in the day, so up at 5 a.m. to be at the park entrance at opening time of 6 a.m. Each day when we thought we'd be skunked after driving and seeing nothing but springbok, wildebeast, springbok, wildebeast (yawn) all of a sudden there would be a rhino, warthog, elephant around the bend or on the side of a hill. For some reason this year, our sightings were mostly from afar unlike last year where a rhino walked within 2 feet of the van giving us the up close and personal hello.

That was until the last day as we were exiting the park. We turned a corner to find the road blocked by elephants, feeding alongside the edge. All the better was a baby elephant in the shadows of the mom. Good news. Bad news. Good to see a baby. Bad cause Mama be very protective. We had heard stories and seen photos of what an angry elephant can do to a car. Our car was to the rear of the way they were moving....we thunk. Cars on the other side suddenly started driving backwards as the herd moved down the road. Thankfully the gray giants turned left into the brush.

A peaceful two days of game viewing with restful nights under the star filled skies of the southern hemi. Twas a great start to the school year.

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