Day 18 – Golden Gate

So seeing that our plans to R&R in Hans Merensky have gone down the drain we’ve decided to torture ourselves with a 630km drive to Golden Gate National Park. This was one of the highlights of our last holiday in 2008, so we booked for two nights. The road there was long but fortunately it was all on national roads which allowed us to keep up a good pace. Lucky for us Erica slept wonderfully, we had her awake time at Engen 1 stops where we dutifully checked tyres and filled up on Diesel and Wimpy, before setting off again in time for her next sleep cycle.
Erica loves the high chairs supplied by Wimpy, I think she must feel very important sitting in her own chair. She played with her very first balloon and loved banging it into our faces and plates. Very sweet to see her smiling and enjoying herself despite the hours in her torture chair.
Before Phalaborwa we drove past a religious centre called Zion City Maria. We saw hundreds of taxis parked as far as they eye can see.  What we thought was dorm accommodation were actually hundreds of buses sardined nose to tail. I feel sorry for the guy in the middle if he needs to go somewhere in a hurry! There were  hundreds of tents and cars, porta toilets, fires, security guards and followers as far as the eye can see.  I wonder if this is a regular Sunday event because the organisation seems very good.  If this is the case, it must be the largest religious gathering in the country.  Will definitely ask Google for more info on this.
We spent a total of R178 in toll fees from Phalaborwa to Harrismith! The roads at least were superb which meant we could fly down the blue roads (national roads are blue on the map). We stopped in Phuthaditchaba (ex-homeland capital) for fuel and wood. I learnt from some friendly locals that wood is called Bathi. I think thats how it’s spelt.
We finally arrived at Golden Gate after 6 driving hours and 3 rest hours. The best time to arrive here is just before sunset. This is when the true beauty of the sandstone mountains is brought to light in the long shadows created by the setting sun. Due to fires in and around the park, it was a particularly red sunset, and in some areas of the park the smoke was so thick you could look directly at the sun without straining your eyes.  We saw  zebra, wildebeest, springbokkies,and heard baboons shouting in mountains all night. For dinner we braaied the last of the Wildebeest steak and Eland kebabs from Kruger. We had no salad ingredients or potatoes so we settled for ripe tomatoes to go with the meat.
Our accommodation at Golden Gate was luxurious with two bedrooms and an en-suite bathroom and open plan kitchen. This always makes it easier especially for looking after Erica. All this and a fantastic direct view of the brightly-lit Brandvlei Gate peak for only R625.
Our plan was to do the two one hour walks today but more smoke from the mountain fire caused us to cancel our plans and get back on the road in search of clear skies. It was so bad that we could no longer see the mountains on the opposite side of the valley and ash was falling to the ground, so certainly not good for Erica.