In January when we visited the Golden Gate National Park the temperatures were nudging 30 degrees and the mountains were covered in a cloak of green velvet. Now, in July, things are very different indeed.
That’s one of the joys of this park in the northern Free State, on the border with Lesotho: things are never the same from one season to another. In autumn, trees and grasses form a mosaic of red and copper to complement the iron oxides that give the beautiful Clarens sandstone of the mountains around here its ochre colour. In summer you can enjoy afternoon thundershowers and in winter you might see the area transformed into a snowy wonderland.
Although there’s no snow now, it’s as cold as a witch’s tit. For some reason we’ve chosen to camp at the Glen Reenen campsite, which is marginally insane in temperatures of minus five degrees. It makes bath-time something of a challenge, and obviously there’s absolutely no desire to sit around on the lawn with a glass of wine in hand in the early evening, as we would in summer. And naturally bedtime means a double down sleeping bag, hot-water bottle, knitted mittens, scarf and beanie. It’s not a place for sissies.
But there’s a distinct upside too. Only two other campers have braved the cold so we each have more than our share of personal space. That’s not something you can expect in mid-summer where the rest of the world wants a piece of the outdoor action, turning guy ropes into twisted spaghetti as campers sprawl over each other in the battle for a gap just big enough to pitch a tent.
The other upside is that we have a splendid, uninterrupted view of a wonderful rainbow rock - red mudstone at the bottom, topped by golden yellow sandstone and then darker basalt above. Not for us the gentleness of green velvet grasslands; we’re made of sterner stuff and are thoroughly enjoying the crisp midday air, the rattling of dry leaves and the crunch of icy grass underfoot.
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