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'The place of great dryness', 'Nu-Gariep' and the 'plains of Camdeboo' are names which have, in the past, been given to this vast land of flat-topped koppies and stunned vegetation. Ironically enough, this vast dryness became the spot for South Africa's largest inland lake:
The name 'Gariep' is derived from the San explanation of 'Red Waters'. The Gariep Dam is located within the Karoo Heartland and is the largest fresh water expanse in South Africa. It is situated on the Orange River with a shoreline of 435 km and a surface area of 360 square km. Construction was completed in 1971 and officially opened on the 4th of March 1972. It is known as one of the country's greatest civil engineering projects. The dam wall has a height of 88 metres, and the length of the wall is 914 metres. Two underground tunnels deposit water into the Fish-and-Sundays Rivers, thus enabling substantial irrigation farming in the remote areas of the Eastern Cape Province. The hydro-electric power generated supplies areas as far as Cape Town and Gauteng Province.
The little town of Gariep Dam was one of eight construction towns that were built in the early 1960's to house the construction workers of the Orange River Scheme. It was decided during the planning phases of the project that the Gariep Dam, together with its construction town, would become an inland tourist haven. Development was, however, hindered by the fact that nobody could get ownership of their property. The proclaiming of Gariep Dam as Municipality in 1994 was a great step forward and after the property was officially transferred to the Municipality in 2000, the ball was set for development.
Consequently Gariep Dam is the youngest town in the entire Free State Province and was presented with the 'Volksblad town of the year' award for 2010. It is situated a mere 5 km off the N1, on tarred roads. It is approximately 185 km south of Bloemfontein and 45 km north of Colesberg. Gariep Dam boasts with an Airfield which is currently being upgraded: It has a 2 km tarred runway, and is the only airfield in the district which has jet fuel and AV gas available on site.
Gariep Dam has sufficient directions and tourist maps at all entrances to the town. There are also clear directions to major attractions and accommodation establishments in the area. The local tourism bureau contains a museum where the construction-period of the dam is illustrated. Kindly visit their website: www.gariep-route.co.za.
Apart from Stoneridge Guesthouse, which is an AA 'Superior Accommodation' Establishment, and is neatly nestled on the hills of Gariep Dam and overlooks the forlorn valleys of the Bo-Karoo, there are numerous other accommodation establishments in the area. Some include:
The De Stijl Gariep Hotel is a 4* level hotel and is acknowledged as the Upper Karoo's most stylish hotel.
Forever Resorts Gariep is a 3* private resort on the banks of the Gariep Dam.
View Lodge is a 3* establishment and is situated overlooking the marina and a major part of the magnificent Gariep Dam.
Self-catering establishments include the 'AA Recommended' Rose Cottage, or the luxurious A Dam's View with a view of the dam which can be seen from the bed, bath, Jacuzzi, fire place, and kitchen of each unit.
For the more adventurous individuals there are establishments on the mighty Orange River like the rugged, yet stylish, Alchemy Waschbank River Lodge, or the family-focussed River Destiny Lodge.
The Gariep Nature Reserve is the Free State's largest nature reserve. It is a combination of the 36 487 ha Gariep Dam (which holds back a vast 6 000 million cubic litres of water) on the Orange River and an 11 237 ha game sanctuary on its northern shore. The game reserve accommodates the largest population of springbok in any reserve in the country and also features Cape mountain zebra, klipspringer, black wildebeest, red hartebeest and ostrich.
Kindly visit the following websites for information on more accommodation establishments:
- Or visit the official mobile-site for Gariep Dam: m.gariepdam.com
Gariep Dam includes countless tourist attractions:
The Lake Gariep tourism route is a circular route on the banks of the lake. The town, Gariep Dam, is the ideal location to use as a basis to explore this unique tourism route. The tourism route is rich in culture, recent history and offers various adventure tourism activities and eco-tourism activities in three provincial game reserves on the shores of the lake. From Gariep Dam, the route takes one to Oviston. Here one can appreciate the inlet to the Fish River Tunnel. From Oviston, one drives through the little town of Venterstad on-route to South Africa's longest bridge at Bethulie. Near Bethulie, one can visit the concentration camp graveyard, which is together with the graveyard at Norvalspont, a sullen reminder of the Anglo Boer war of 1899 to 1902.
The lake itself offers hours of endless boating, yachting and water sport opportunities. Take a sunset cruise with the Lake Gariep Express which can take up to 30 people. It guarantees to be a tranquil trip on the dam - a fun-filled experience for old and young.
The shoreline provides the fisherman with a diversity of angling activities, including fly-fishing and bait fishing for yellowfish, tilapia and mudfish.
A guided dam wall tour takes one through 13 km of passages and halls within the wall. The ESKOM Hydro-Electrical Station or the Fish Hatchery, which has recently been renovated, is also worth visiting.
Other activities include picnic spots, quad bikes, paintball, 4x4 trails, river rafting, horse riding, hunting, bird watching, star gazing and hiking.
Gariep Dam hosts different annual events:
The Quenna Festival takes place at Forever Resorts Gariep each February. It is a wonderful celebration of music, arts and crafts mixed with a relaxing weekend break-away.
The town is very proud of its little theatre @ bowling club, which is one of the very few active theatres in South Africa's country side.
Gariep Dam is known as 'the best long distance soaring and holiday centre in the world', and consequently attracts gliders from all over the world each year. Visit www.gariepgliding.com for information on gliding at Gariep.
The annual Go Cart Race takes place in October. Go Carts from all over the country meet in Gariep to try and tame the Karoo hills.
The annual Model Aeroplane Show brags with various model planes, while the annual Sail Yachting Regatta personifies gracious elegance.
Regular visitors to Gariep Dam are many automobile clubs like the Rolls Royce Club, the Harley Davidson Club, the BMW Club, and the Morris Club.
It is evident that Gariep Dam has a wonderful infrastructure for tourism and a diverse list of activities and attractions... yet it is the simple beauty of this destination and the friendly courtesy of the local residents which results in a tourism experience with no equal... Come and savour it!