Mountains that will take your breath away

I HAVE just seen the most beautiful mountains. In fact, they were so alluring that I could not resist climbing one of them.

And what a breathtaking view I had from one of the peaks of the Golden Gate in the Free State town of Clarens.

It felt as if I were dreaming when I overlooked the Brandwag Hotel, which is being renovated to accommodate more people because the place is overflowing with tourists.

The hotel will soon be renamed the Golden Gate Hotel and will now have 55 rooms instead of 34.

Manager Johan Taljaard was very excited about the influx of locals and outsiders. He said the weekend buzz at Clarens necessitated renovating the hotel.

Taljaard said the town slept during the week and woke up at weekends. The hotel is already fully booked for the Fifa 2010 World Cup.

"We are in the middle of everywhere - three hours from Johannesburg or Durban. So this is the ideal place to stay for the soccer piece. It's the ideal fan base," he said.

One of the most relaxing parts of the Golden Gate is the Mountain Retreat Lodge, where the breathtaking view consists of mountains, mountains and more mountains.

No wonder they call the drive through to Charismata the gateway to the mountains.

A retreat is where you escape to because you want to relax and unwind, so they should get rid of the televisions at the lodge. It spoils the peace and tranquility.

The place is ideal for getting up close and personal with nature and DStv defeats the purpose.

For years I have been meaning to ride a horse and I finally got a chance on this trip. I had heard how your backside hurts afterwards, but still, it was worth it.

For someone who has a phobia for snakes it is probably advisable to holiday here in winter, especially if you stay at the Basotho Cultural Village.

Basotho culture takes centre stage here. You get a good idea of how these people lived throughout the centuries. And when visitors stop over, they are welcomed by the king himself.

It is customary for the arrival of visitors to be announced to the king, who has to approve such a stopover. Visitors have to go into his hut, where they are served home-brewed beer.

I was fascinated to hear that the king's first wife is chosen by the community and the second by his first wife.

And when it is time to have a third wife, the king gets to choose her himself.

The park is a source of income to neighbouring township residents, who benefit by cutting the grass to make artifacts that they sell to tourists.

There are activities in abundance here, such as ab- seiling and canoeing.

And then we were taken to the caves where the first people who arrived in the area used to live.

I couldn't have wished for more than what we got when we were taken to a vulture restaurant where the birds get fed.

Park head of tourism Gabriel Motsei said feeding time was a spectacular frenzy.

"The feasting can go on for days, depending on the size of the carcass," he said.

Motsei explained that vultures do not prey on other creatures and generally depend on dead meat.

But when the birds get really hungry they can be dangerous to smaller animals.

"Otherwise they can go on for as long as a fortnight without a meal," Motsei said.

Our group was unfortunate. The birds were not fed while we were there so we missed the feasting frenzy.