MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK TO GARIEP DAM TO BLOEMFONTEIN TO GOLDEN GATE HIGHLANDS NP, SOUTH AFRICA—Sunday (afternoon) through Tuesday, March 9-11, 2014


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Africa » South Africa » Free State » Bloemfontein
March 10th 2014
Published: April 17th 2014
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Mountain Zebra National Park to Gariep Dam (245 km or 152 miles), Sunday afternoon, March 9th.

Left the Park behind and traveled on N-10/R32 named the Merino route for the breed of sheep raised in this area. The countryside in this part of South Africa seems very arid and reminds us of Utah, Montana, and Arizona with lots of butte type formations. Lots of sheep and cattle ranches. Seems strange to look out among the cattle and see an ostrich or two.

Lots of construction along this route. We were fascinated to watch the women personing the “right of way” haul a yellow plastic barrier on wheels back and forth across the lane to be stopped.

About 200 km into the day’s drive, near the town of Colesburg, we came to an Engen One Stop with a Wimpy’s. We pulled in to get fuel for the RV and for us plus check our e-mail. The connection was so good, I downloaded library books as well as we sending an e-mail and adding pics to Facebook. Valerie and I split a salad and a cheese and tomato grilled sandwich.

Took exit #8 following the signs to Gariep Dam on R-701. Pulled into Forever Resorts and found a place to park along one side of a block of four ensuite sites. We had a 7:00 pm meeting scheduled, but it was short as the wind was blowing sand and dirt at us.

Gariep Dam to Bloemfontein (215 km or 133 miles), Monday, March 10th. Blue skies. Drove 245 km yesterday and starting mileage is 64,396.

We left camp a bit later than usual, and drove 7 km to look at the dam. It was completed in 1971 and is the largest dam in South Africa. It can store nearly 6,000-million cubic liters, giving life and flow to the Great Fish, the Sundays, and the Orange Rivers. We went to a parking spot next to the dam for Valerie to take pictures and noticed a sign that would take us back to the N-1. We circled around following the N-1 signs and after crossing over the spill way we found an overlook where we could see the entire dam and its river outlet. Still following the “To N-1 signs, we then crossed a bridge in front of the spillway for a very nice view. Cormorants were hanging out on some rocks with other water birds.

Traced back the way we came the day before, and entered back onto the N-1 toward Bloemfontein, which became a toll road after about 170 km. Land here seems to be grassland with scrub covered hills and more sheep and cattle. Noticed, while waiting at a road construction site that the dump trucks here are called “tippers”.

We exited on Church Street toward the downtown part of the city of Bloemfontein, which is the Capital of the Free State Province. It is known as the "City of Roses" and is also the Judicial Capital of South Africa. Once on Church Street, we followed the brown signs to the Women’s War Memorial Museum. This place, I feel, is somewhat misnamed as the grounds contain more than just a monument to the suffering of women and children during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902.

The main monument consists of an obelisk about 35m in height and low, semi-circular walls on two sides. A central bronze group, sketched by Emily Hobhouse and depicting her own experience of May 15, 1901, is of two sorrowing women and a dying child in the Springfontein camp. The path leading up to the obelisk has stone placards set on each side that enumerates, by town, the death toll of women and children. In all, more than 27,000 Boer women and children died in British concentration camps during the Boer War. The POW’s and concentration camps were located in Bermuda, Sri Lanka, India, St. Helena, and Portugal. One bronze statue in a garden section depicts an old man and a young boy standing on the deck of a ship looking out toward their homeland as it (they) sail out of sight.

On the same grounds, across the parking lot are displays of wagons, tools, and British metal pre-fab command post and hospital. In back of the hospital, is a typical cemetery of the time, with cast-iron grave markers.

We did see some interesting birds on the lovely grounds. There was even a sign posted giving the names of the common birds to be found. One bird we enjoyed seeing was a Crested Barbet, a funny colored bird of yellow, orange, red, black and white we first though was a woodpecker as he was working away in the tree joint after insects.

After this sobering visit, we drove further into downtown Bloemfontein to look at the historical churches and buildings. There were so many people downtown you would think it was a Saturday shopping day. People, produce markets, people, cars, shops with people pouring out of them, delivery trucks, and more people in the streets, crossing the streets while ignoring us in this big vehicle. We caught enough stop lights to take a couple of pictures before we headed out of this congestion and found our way with a bit of difficulty (due to poor signage), to the campground on the outskirts of town. The Maselspoort Resort was very nice with tiled ensuites with three rooms–a kitchen, toilet, and then a bath with a tub.

That night we had a South African grilled dinner of bratwurst-type sausages in long hotdog rolls with salads and chips and various condiments. Dessert was birthday cake honoring one of our group.

Bloemfontein to Golden Gate National Park (290 km or 174 miles), Tuesday, March 11th. Rain.

Instead of going the way our tour book/guide detailed our route this morning, we drove back through town to catch the N-1 again. Hard rains had made the road suggested impassable. One of our group had followed his GPS guide and wound up coming into camp using the scheduled road and said it was the worst he had ever been on. Many of the group took alternative ways to go north-east from this place. Our trip back through town included a much needed fuel stop where we also got veggies and goodies from a Woolworth’s quick stop in the station, and viewed the nice rose sculptures on the way out of town.

At 38 km we paid a toll of 41 rand (about $4.10) and after driving 84 km, we turned onto the N-5 toward Senekal. Crossed through several towns with modern malls-–Pic N Pay, Woolworth’s, KFC, etc. Heavy rain off and on all day. Lots of sunflowers being grown in huge fields. We were surprised to see DeKalb and Pioneer farm seed signs just like you do in the Midwest

After 229 km we turned right onto R-712 and proceeded toward Golden Gate National Park. We wound our way up this 2-lane road with the scenery getting wilder and wilder leaving the traffic and civilization of the towns behind. Climbed through Lichen’s Pass at approximately 6,696 feet.

The Park consists of 28,664 acres of highland habitat in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains of the north eastern Free State Providence. It gets its name from the shades of gold cast by the sun on the park's sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock. We pulled in first to the main rest camp which is at 6,300 feet in elevation and got a spot where we could admire the waterfalls out of our RV windows. Apparently the waterfalls exist only in times of heavy rain. Settled in for a nap as didn’t want to drive the Park Roads in the rain.


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