Gatland has repeatedly stated that you can only become the best by playing - and beating - the best and to beat South Africa on their home patch would be a major coup for Wales as they build towards next year's Rugby World Cup.
Gatland, who was awarded an OBE overnight in the latest Queen's Honours List, refuses to shy away from the task ahead.
"A Test series in South Africa is always a tough challenge, but we are excited by it and looking forward to getting out there," he said.
"A lot of this side have experienced playing over here before in big games and this week is no different. It's going to be a brilliant occasion, the atmosphere will be electric and hopefully it will be a great Test match."
Gatland has selected a side boasting 10 British and Irish Lions and included Scarlets scrum half Gareth Davies and Bristol-bound fly half Matthew Morgan on the bench. Both impressed in the comfortable mid-week victory over Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth.
"As coaches we have been impressed in training over the last couple of weeks and there were a couple of tough calls to make but it's great guys like Gareth and Matthew have a chance after putting their hands up," said Gatland earlier this week.
On the opposite side of the fence, Springboks head coach Heyneke Meyer has made three changes to the side which brushed aside a World XV in Cape Town last weekend and made 37-year-old second row Victor Matfield captain.
Meyer and Matfield have had to contend with a long injury list as well as seeing star centre Frans Steyn withdraw from the team due to undisclosed reasons but the stand-in skipper says his side have put any issues behind them and are firmly focussed on continuing their dominance over Wales.
"We have a proud record that we've got against them," Matfield, who will win a record-equalling 111th cap alongside John Smit, said. "We would like to keep it that way."
Gatland, who is missing a number of players himself, is still confident Wales can break their duck in South Africa.
"We are not here to make up the numbers. We are here to build, get some confidence and hopefully to win the series," he said.
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