It may be known for breathtaking views of its sandstone mountains, but Golden Gate Highlands National Park hides another attraction within the rock. Paying a visit to Cathedral Cave is a must, says Wild Card programme manager Hein Grobler.
A visit to one of South Africa’s national parks is one of the highlights in a busy schedule for Hein Grobler, programme manager of SANParks’ Wild Card. When the chance came to visit Golden Gate Highlands National Park, he knew immediately what he wanted to do. Having read about Cathedral Cave in Wild magazine, Hein was determined to explore the cave for himself.
He headed to the park for a four-day trip and stayed in one of the Golden Gate Hotel chalets. “I had a wonderful response when I posted a picture on Facebook of the view from my room with the Brandwag Buttress in the background. A lot of my friends commented and said: ‘Wow! Is this SANParks’ accommodation?!’ That was great to hear.”
Although he’s visited the park on numerous occasions and in all seasons, he’d never set foot in Cathedral Cave – an attraction park management offers as a strictly guided walk to protect the cave’s natural beauty. “I think too few people are familiar with Golden Gate – a park situated in the centre of South Africa. Because the park’s colours constantly change it is picture perfect in any season. The cypress trees turn red in autumn, the sky is much bluer in winter and then there’s the beautiful sandstone all year round … Every season promises a different charm,” says Hein.
“Our walk began at the Noord-Brabant farmhouse [located 6km from Glen Reenen Rest Camp]. From here you walk south for about 45 minutes, down a kloof and into the first cave. We took photos and spent quite some time admiring the cavern walls. The circular cave has a deep pool of water and the only way to get to the second cave is through the water. It was getting late and we had to head back before nightfall, but I just could not leave without setting eyes on the second cave. I thought: ‘I’m here now. I will have to swim’.”
Unlike in Kruger where you have to remain in your vehicle, at Golden Gate Highlands National Park you can roam free. The scenery is ever-changing – from early morning until sunset.
– Hein Grobler
Cell phone camera in hand to capture the moment, Hein braved the icy water, swimming to the ladder on the opposite side and making his way to the second cave. “The water was incredibly cold but it was absolutely worth it. I wanted to sleep there that night, make a little fire to stay warm … One has a deep sense of how things were millions of years ago. This is a sacred, sacred place.”
A visit to Cathedral Cave is just one of the park’s many attractions. Although visitors to Golden Gate won’t see the Big Five, they can gaze upon eland, black wildebeest, blesbok, springbok, oribi and Burchell’s zebra. But the landscape, says Hein, is undoubtedly the hero. “This park will be any landscape and nature lover’s dream. You just never get tired of the views. Here a walk is not just a walk.
“SANParks is also planning on implementing more adventure activities like mountain-biking routes within the park. From the Basotho Cultural Village to the cave – there’s so much to see. And the park caters to a broad spectrum of visitors, from camping at Glen Reenen to luxury living in the hotel.”
For photographers that especially enjoy landscape and macro photography, this is a top destination. “Unlike in Kruger where you have to remain in your vehicle, at Golden Gate Highlands National Park you can roam free. The scenery is ever-changing – from early morning until sunset”.