Lesotho and Golden Gate


Many names have been used to describe the huge massif of volcanic basalt which crowns Southern Africa with its highest mountains. This great highlands comprises nine-tenth of the 30 500 square kilometer state of Lesotho, home of the Basotho. They know the area simply as Maloting – meaning a place of mountain ranges. To Europeans, it is the Switzerland of Africa, the rainy roof of Southern Africa and the principle watershed of the country where the Orange, Caledon and several other large rivers have their source.
The basalt highlands came into existence about 150 million years ago. At the end of the long period of deposition of the Karoo System, nature suddenly switched her tools of creation, substituting fire for water.
The Karoo sediments had been laid down under water, and their final phase was a vast swamp inhabited by dinosaurs. The caprice of creation produced on part of the surface of this primeval bog two totally different rock systems: first yellow-to red cave sandstone; above this sandstone, from the 2 000 metre level, a layer of material of entirely different composition was thrust forth by a large-scale eruption, and a mass of dark, molted basalt, nearly 1 500 metres thick, covered the cave sandstone in a fairly level, roof-like slab.
On to this roof came rain and snow. Basalt is crumbly and easily eroded by beautiful, remnant is left. It is roughly triangular, with its apex in the north on the summit of Mont-aux-Sources, where the borders of Lesotho, Natal and the Orange Free State meet. From the apex to the southern base of the wild, eroded mountain landscape, laced with deep gorges through which streams find their way to rivers in still deeper gorges.
The eastern side of this basalt is the Drakensberg; the western side is the Maluti (‘the range’). The two sides of the basalt mass diverge and eventually are separated by more than 200 kilometres of valleys and mountain spurs such as the Thaba-Putsoa and the Central Range. In this mountain jumble are waterfalls, gorges, deep pools, long stretches of white-whipped water rich with trout, cattle posts, trading stations and missions linked by bridle paths.
In autumn these great heights are crimson with red-hot pokers. Winter brings snow, and the waterfalls turn to stalagmites and stalactites of ice. In spring the mountains ooze water and immumerable jewel-like springs glitter in the sunshine. Summer is the time of thunderstorms, when great rumblings reverberate from one rock face to another and flashes of lightning stab the deep valleys.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Water has modeled the cave sandstone of the upper valley of the Little Caledon River into spectacular formations – steep cliffs, great caves, rock shelters and many bizarre shapes – and has interacted with iron oxides to produce a brilliant range of yellows, oranges and reds.

A national park was proclaimed in 1963 to conserve 4 792 hectares of this remarkable landscape.  In the park is the Golden Gate, a cast cliff face, vividly coloured, which catches the rays of the setting sun.  Gladstone’s Nose is another unusual cliff formation, and the valley contains many large caves.

Eland, red hartebeest, springbok and gnu live in the valley, as well as many birds, including the huge vultures known as lammergeyers, with wing-span of 3 metres.
There are also black eagles, jackal buzzards, blue cranes, secretary birds, rock pigeons, guinea fowl and many smaller birds and water fowls.

Plant life includes arum lilies, watsonias, fire lilies and red hot pokers.  Wild willow trees grow along the banks of the river and provide shady picnic sites.
The Nation Parks Board has created various facilities and walking, climbing, fishing and horse riding are among the favourite pastimes here.  A big must for every traveler!