Wodehouse Trail and Golden Gate Highlands National Park (Hectic Route Day 2)

In Day 2 of our impromptu journey from Johannesburg to Cape Town (a.k.a. The Hectic Route), we hit the road in a rental car we can barely drive and race towards completing the Wodehouse Trail hike before nightfall. 

Please Don’t Crash

Rental car inspection in South Africa
Aren’t you going to ask us if we know how to drive this thing?

Having decided just over 24 hours in Johannesburg was enough for us it was time to hit the road and kick off The Hectic Route, our two-week road trip to Cape Town. Our destination of the day: Golden Gate National Park’s Wodehouse Trail.

But first, we had to make it there alive.

The challenge would be escaping Johannesburg while getting used to driving stick-shift on the opposite side of the road.

It’s insane that rental car companies let people do this type of thing. They don’t let you practice, test your ability, give you any advice, or anything. They just give you the keys and tell you, “Enjoy your trip!”

“Good luck,” would be more appropriate.

Boring Beginnings

The good news is that, despite me driving like a 90-year-old—over-cautiously, with herky-jerky gear shifts, backward signaling, and having trouble staying in my lane—we made it to Wodehouse Trail in one piece.

The bad news was the first 3.5 hours of the drive was boring as hell. One field after another. We may as well have been driving in Saskatchewan (the Canadian plains).

On the bright side, we had The Power of One audiobook to keep us entertained. My favorite book as a teenager is proving to be perfect for a South Africa road trip because it takes place here, is 21 hours long, and is light and entertaining.

Golden Gate Highlands national park highway
Finally some nice scenery!

Now That’s What I’m Talking About!

At a town called Clarens, the scenery went from monotonous to magnificently mountainous in a matter of kilometers. We even had to pause our audiobook to appreciate it fully.

But we couldn’t slow down because we were in a rush to start the 4-hour Wodehouse Trail hike in time to finish before dark. So while Clarens seemed like a cool enough town to spend a night or two, we only spent the time it took to fill our tank.

Speaking of filling our tanks…

Cheersing with sherry at Cinnamon and Sugar restaurant
Pre-hike toast because… it’s on the house!
Traditional lunch at Cinnamon and Sugar
South African fuel.

Fueling Up with Sugar and Cinnamon

Instead of getting a quick bite in Clarens, Kim decided we should stop halfway between there and Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the site of the Wodehouse Trail, at a highway restaurant called Sugar and Cinnamon.

It was an excellent choice.

First, because they offered us a courtesy cup of some local honey port as an aperitif. Those who know me know there was no way I could say no, even though we were about to hike.

Second, because the food was homespun deliciousness. I had a Boer breakfast (a pupu platter of traditional meats and sides), and Kim had savory spinach pancakes with a creamy mushroom sauce.

Third, because the views were better than even any restaurant in Clarens.

It’s just too bad we were in a rush and couldn’t appreciate it more… and maybe even go for a second courtesy cup of port.

Mountains viewed from Wodehouse Trail

The Wodehouse Trail

It took us a bit longer than expected to get to the trailhead for The Wodehouse Trail because Kim and I got too distracted taking in the sights instead of looking at directions.

Windy road through Golden Gate Highlands
You too would rather look at the views than at Google Maps on a highway like this.

By the time we parked at the Golden Gate Hotel and Chalets’ lot, it was 3 p.m., so we had to make our hike a trail run.

Lucky for us, even we couldn’t lose time by getting lost because the trail was well-marked and we could follow the trial on Maps.Me (it’s free; get it).

Signs on Wodehouse Trail

And lucky for us, we brought our rain jackets.

At first, the weather was beautiful and I was hiking shirtless.

Chris atop Wodehouse Peak
Beautiful weather and feeling like a tough guy…

Then, in a matter of minutes, gale-like winds of at least 80 km/h threatened to blow us off the cliffs.

YouTube video

Then, just as quickly, it stopped as if nothing happened. (We thought this weather was crazy, but our experience the next day would take it to a whole new level.)

The hike ended up taking us 3 hours.

The craggy but grassy hills looked like Mother Nature did a face-swap of Utah’s desert and the Scottish Highlands. But unlike the face swaps you’ve done with your friends, this one looks gorgeous.

Instead of boring you with inadequate descriptions of how nice the hike was, here are more photos.

Impressive background as Kim hikes
Kim hiking down Wodehouse Trail
Kim hiking and red rocks
Mushroom Mountain

Wimpy-ing Out

It was getting dark by the time we finished our hike and we’d been advised to avoid driving at night, so we sped (as much as someone who drives like a 90-year-old can speed), towards our guesthouse for the night, Karma Backpackers in Kestell.

The guesthouse owner told us there were no restaurants in Kestell, so we had to look for a place in the city of Phuthaditjhaba.

But this time Kim couldn’t find anything like Sugar and Cinnamon.

We attempted to venture into town to find something local, but night had fallen and we got a sketchy feeling, so we wimped out and returned to lights of the highway.

Literally, we wimped out.

We went to a fast food restaurant called Wimpy.

The food was ok, but not worth talking about.

We ate quickly then braved the dark side-roads to make it to Karma Backpackers safely.

Antelope in the Drakensberg's Cathedral Peak

Next Up (South Africa Road Trip Day 3):
The Extremes of The Drakensberg, a.k.a. Dragon Mountains

Atop a mountain after hiking in the Drakensberg

Hiking the Drakensberg: 3 Days of Incredible Hikes (And Tons of Tips)

South Africa Road Trip Planning tips cover image of a sign saying bon voyage in xhosa
“Hamba kakuhle” means “bon voyage” in Xhosa.

How to Have an Even Better South Africa Road Trip than Ours

For everything from safety tips to how to find the best rental car to what our absolute favorite experiences are, check out our South Africa road trip tips.

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