Week 20 - Part 2, Golden Gate.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa
Sunday 20th - Monday 21st
Sunday 20th - Hazyview to Golden Gate.
We woke earlyish on Sunday morning, showered and packed the car. Then because we had an hour or so to kill, we went for a hike through behind the chalets and walked a beautiful path past a stream and into the forest. The morning dew was still clinging to all the plants and was so pretty that Ben and I took this perfect opportunity to take loads of pictures. However, what with all the picture taking, we never made it far enough to the waterfall and instead turned back to the house. We said goodbye to Auriol and thanked her for a wonderful stay, then headed down to the hotel near the Elephant Sanctuary where we had booked ourselves in for sports massages. My neck was still causing trouble after eight weeks and the chiropractor and physio in Hoedspruit were fully booked so before setting out on the first of our big legs of the journey we decided to sort out our aches and pains. It was wonderful having a massage! I forgot how nice it was to have all the pain from my neck gone and finally be able to twist it all the way since that week off in Kruger when I turned it too quick to see an elephant. Oh crikey, with all the elephants in Addo I'm going to come back with a worse neck than when I left! Haha. Still anyways what with our ailments finally sorted, we stopped off at the lovely little restaurant that Ben, Candace, Dan and I had stopped off at during our last trip to Kruger, and had a quick breakfast before hitting the road. I had smoked salmon with poached eggs again, and it was just the perfect start to the eight hour car journey down to Golden Gate!
Ben and I decided to drive in shifts on the road (I couldn't believe he trusted me to drive the land rover!) and so I took the first shift from Hazyview, down through Nelspruit and onto the N4 where we finally crossed the first province border into Mpumalanga and it really finally felt like our road trip had begun. While singing along to the CD's we had put together I was quite content driving, though I was having a little trouble pushing the peddles all the way down…it appears they don't make land rovers for people who are only 5ft 2...humph. But anyway once on the highway it wasn't really that bad. We tried cutting cross country at one point so as to avoid driving through Johannesburg, and Ben's navigation skills left us going around in circles (sorry Ben!), but then again the road atlas was not the same as the roads in front of us, so we swapped round and I took over the navigating while Ben drive us the rest of the way to Golden Gate. Eventually we found the new highway that we wanted and got down to the Free State just as it was getting dark.
Ben who had worked at Golden Gate on a GVI program previously has a friend who is the manager of tourism at Golden Gate, so we were going to stop in on Victor and go hiking. Ben gave Victor a ring, and he told us to head straight to the accommodation that he had arranged for us and that we would see him tomorrow. We headed to this lovely village on the top of a small mountain just on the outskirts of the park, called Besotho Cultural village where the indigenous tribe have tourists come to visit and learn about their culture. The wind was so chilling up there and the night was so cold compared to the weather back in Limpopo that I felt like I was on another continent, I was only more than happy to get to the accommodation! The newly built accommodation was amazing, and they were built in the form of rondewals that on the outside are meant to look like the villagers huts. The inside of the rondewal though was more than I could ever have imagined. Not only did it overlook the most spectacular view of the park, the inside had the most amazing shower known to mankind.
The security guard showed us around the lavish chalet and brought us a small barbeque so that we could cook ourselves some dinner. While Ben cooked steak I cooked up some vegetables and laid out all sorts of things on the table so that we could have fajita wraps (we forgot to buy salad…oops), then we sat at the table just admiring how amazing the place was and listening to the gale that was going on outside. Eventually I could resist no longer and had a lovely hot shower, which was probably the bestest shower I have ever had…ever! and while Ben went to wash I snuggled into bed and started to read my book. However I soon discovered the bed was all toasty warm thanks to an electric blanket, and I fell asleep before I had even turned the page.
Monday 21st - Golden Gate
We woke up Monday morning to the most stunning view I had ever seen in my life. The Mountains and plains seemed to go on forever and the game that was grazing on the plains were dotted over the entire landscape. It was truly beautiful. We packed up and made our way to the reception in the center of the park where we met Victor Mokoena. He is a lovely guy and has so much passion for his job and just really cares about the future of the park, that it is really hard not to join in with his enthusiasm. We spent a while in the office while Ben and Victor caught up, then Victor took us to Mountain Retreat for a mini tour. The place was spectacular, all the way up a mountain there were these five star chalets with huge open fires in the sitting room and an even more amazing view than Besotho Cultural Village. I can see why they both love the place so much, the whole place just looked phenomenal.
So once we had got back to the reception, Ben and I said goodbye and promised to see Victor on our way back next week then decided to go on a short hike before heading to Durban. We decided to head up a route that took us to the top of the nearest mountain top, and slowly wound our way up the mountain. For some reason though we realised that we had taken a wrong turn somewhere and took a shortcut to the right path, just as we started to climb up to this lovely rocky outcrop that Ben used to teach geology to the school kids. We sat there for a few minutes before heading up the last part of the mountain, which for a person with short legs is pretty difficult! However, I did finally make it, and standing up on the top of the mountain I felt so proud of myself…if not a little bit dizzy too. So the two of us sat up there for a while admiring the view and taking pictures until finally it was time to get going.
As we walked down the mountain there were some very ominous clouds that started to appear and a distant rumbling of thunder, so we quickened our pace and just as we got to the bottom lightning started to flash across the sky. Thank goodness we were only a few minutes from the car, because as soon as we got to the car park the heavens opened and it started to pour with rain. We scrambled into the reception to say goodbye and thank you to Victor, then ran to the car and began on our way to Durban.
When we were out of Golden Gate and on the road, we decided to stop and fill up the car in Harrismith. For some reason though when Ben turned the ignition all the lights on the dashboard started lighting up and the power steering would not work as well as the brakes. We could not for the life of us think what had happened in the last five minutes to the car. I wondered if petrol had been put in the car instead of diesel, so Ben went to ask the attendant while I had a look under the bonnet (though I had no bloody clue what I was looking for!). Ben confirmed that it was in fact diesel and had phoned a workshop that was just around the corner, so while we waited we kept looking at the engine, and finally I noticed that the belt at the front of the car had come off. The mechanic turned up and said that a bearing had gone, and it was just one of those things that happen like a flat tyre, so they towed the car to the shop and we had to sort out a hire car before it closed for the day. At least they had a car available, although it cost a bloody arm and a leg to borrow for a day, while the mechanics tried to fix the car and we could decide what we were going to do.
I felt so sorry for Ben, after getting rid of the Chico for a reliable car, the thing breaks, and we just knew it would cost so much for Land Rover parts. However, we were able to get hold of Victor and get another night at Golden Gate BCV until we decided what to do - I said there is always a silver lining to everything! (it seems to have become a bit of a motto), and rightly so because when we got back to Golden Gate the game that we saw comin back into the park was phenomenal! There were Black wildebeest, red hartebeest, springboks, zebras with a tiny fowl and Blue cranes! It was so cool to see Blue cranes, I mean they are the national bird of South Africa! So we got put into another amazing room at BCV that evening, and while Ben made dinner I phoned Durban accommodation and started sorting things out. I think when things go wrong my OCD and the need to organise takes over, so by the time we went to sleep we had a new plan…and plan b!