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EXPLORING STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve
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The rays of the setting sun dance to their own medley as the crystal-clear water sway gently against the hull of the boat.  Nearby, a fish eagle cries out as it circles the waters of the dam on the hunt for its next meal.

All animal and birdlife in the park are in choreographed unison.  Each one flies and dances across the vast nature reserve celebrating the end of another beautiful day at Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve.  Tomorrow, a new day and adventures will be borne, open for exploration by both humans and animals alike.

THE BEST TIME TO VISIT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

  • May to August:  Autumn to Winter time is ideal weather for bird watching and photography.
  • December to March:  Spring to Summer time:  Is the best time to engage in much needed water activities.  When out boating or hiking during summer keep an eye out for rain clouds or pack an umbrella.

FACT FILE

Location Info

Continent:  Africa
Country:  South Africa
Province:  Free State
Location:  Near Harrismith
Coordinates:  28.4484°S, 29.0228°E

THE TOP 5 FUN FACTS ABOUT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

  • Underwater Village – Some divers believe that all buildings were leveled when the ground for the dam was initially cleared.  Previous dive expeditions have tried to locate some remains of the old buildings underneath the waters of the dam.
  • Rapid Weather Changes – Sterkfontein Dam has pleasant weather, but the weather can also turn very quickly.  A wonderful sunny day can turn rather into a thunderous downpour in the blink of an eye.  Make sure to keep an eye on the weather report when planning your activities.
  • No Spill, No Fuss – Sterkfontein Dam was not built to capture and store rainfall.  Most of the water supply is pumped from various sources. The dam was therefore constructed in such a way that it has no spillway.  There is also no risk of flooding. If the water levels get too high, it is released via some of the outlet valves available.
  • Earth Fill Dam Wall – The Sterkfontein Dam wall is a “earth gravity type” wall.  There are two sturdy dam walls built to house the large quantity of water.  This dam wall is also the largest one in South Africa (if worked on a per volume basis).
  • Crystal Clear Waters – Ask any boatman and they will tell you that the waters of the Sterkfontein Dam are mesmerizingly clear.  This is quite an oddity for a dam.

THE TOP ACTIVITIES AT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

  • Bird & Wildlife Watching – The reserve is home to quite a few animal and bird species.  None however, dangerous if you plan to walk through the reserve.  Some of the beauties that are Grey Rhebuck, Oribi, Mountain Reedbuck, Verreaux’s Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Black Eagle, Martial EagleCape Vulture and Bearded Vulture.  
  • Mountain Biking – The area surrounding the dam and the nature reserve itself offers a wonderful opportunity to go mountain biking, either alone, as a family, or a group of friends. It is advisable that individual mountain bikers inform the tourism office of the planned route to be taken, as well as the duration of the trip before departure.
  • Hiking – The reserve has some wonderful hiking trails.  They are easily accessible and vary from the shorter routes to a bit longer routes to follow.  Going hiking also offers visitors the opportunity to do game watching on foot.
  • Sailing & Windsurfing – The crystal clear waters of the dam offers a highly enjoyable sailing experience.  The weather over the dam can also change quickly and therefore, offers opportunity for some lovely windsurfing.  
    All skippers should ensure that enough fuel is on hand when attempting a boat cruise on the dam.  Sterkfontein Dam is deceivingly larger than it seems.

THE TOP 5 ATTRACTIONS AT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

HORSE RIDING

Feeling adventurous?  Then consider exploring the nature reserve on horse back. Specially trained horses are available at the Wild Horses Lodge.  Together with a knowledgeable guide, the horses can be ridden by anybody on any skill level.  

The horses are kept at the Wild Horses Lodge. Outings can be booked by calling 058-622 7000.

GOLFING

The Harrismith Golf Course can proudly call itself the 3rd oldest golf club in South Africa, dating back to 1887.  The golf club has been very well preserved.

This 18-hole golf course has a “championship” layout and has been given a rating of 72. The beautiful surroundings offer a magnificent backdrop for players and visitors to the club.

1 Lakeman Str, Harrismith

Harrismith Golf+27 58-623 0468

SAN ROCK ART

The Drakensberg and all its surrounding areas provide the canvas material for a huge variety of authentic San Rock Art paintings.  There is a variety available, from single paintings to larger rock art displays. Contact the Resort Manager to enquire about the availability of guided tours to areas containing these San Rock Art paintings.

The Resort Manager, Sterkfontein Dam Resort, R74 Bergville road.

SAN ROCK ART+27 58-622 3520

KITE SURFING

To be able to successfully kite surf, one requires a fairly flat piece of water and loads of unpredictable windy weather. Sterkfontein Dam thus presents the perfect conditions for this adrenaline filled activity.

Kitespotters, Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve

Kitespotters

BOATING

The main attraction at Sterkfontein Dam is boating.  The area around the dam has been equipped to cater to all boating enthusiasts.  The resort also offers the opportunity for boat hire. Boats can be used in aid of watersports such as skiing or kite surfing, or even just for leisurely cruises about the dam.

The Resort Manager, Sterkfontein Dam Resort, R74 Bergville

+27 58-622 3520

CLIMBING OR HIKING NEAR STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve offers lovely hiking routes.  Mostly flat and fairly easily accessible, there are some routes that take through the ravines and kloofs.
HIKING TRAILS AT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE
No specific hiking trails are listed. The Resort Manager will although be able to provide more information.
ALTERNATIVE
Mountain biking is another popular activity suitable for the whole family.  

REFUGES OR MOUNTAIN HUTS NEARBY AT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

Most hiking trails can be completed on the same day.  No specific separate huts or refuges are available to sleep over, but the camp site and resort offer accommodation.

The Wild Horses Lodge also offers accommodation and has the added option of booking a picnic basket. Take a loved one on a scenic hike for an enjoyable picnic.

Photo credit by Rakesh Nagda

OUR TOP TIPS FOR CLIMBING OR HIKING AT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

Hiking is a great way to explore an area and also see all the fauna and flora available.  Sterkfontein nature reserve is a wonderful bird watching area and therefore going for a hike is a must do.

To make the most of hike keep the following tips in mind:

  • Small Backpack – Take something to munch on.  A small backpack can help easily carry everything from snacks, medical kit to water.  
  • Shoes – Don’t try to walk with flip flops or sandals!  This is a nature reserve and the terrain is not suited for those types of shoes.  Wear proper hiking shoes. It will protect your feet from any stray thorns.
  • Water – It is always important to keep a water bottle with you for some much needed hydration.
  • Cap & Sunscreen – In sunny South Africa this is a necessity.  Nothing is as horrible as having a sunburn on your holiday.
  • Drimac Jacket – The weather at Sterkfontein can be a bit unpredictable.  Make sure to keep an eye on the weather report before you head out.  Just in case, take a rain jacket or umbrella along, even if the weather looks sunny.   
  • Binoculars / Camera – There is a lot of bird and wildlife species around the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve.  Do take your camera and long lens.

THE TOP 5 EVENTS HAPPENING IN-AND-AROUND STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

  • Dumbe Trail Run – The Dumbe Trail Run is a 36 km trail run completed over a two-day period during November each year.  It is hosted at the Race Village in the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat. The village offers accommodation facilities and all other amenities that you will require.  
  • Platberg Mountain Race – Platberg Mountain is close to Harrismith.  Annually a 15 km race is held to the top of the mountain.  A floating trophy is awarded to the winner of the race.
  • Dirty Harry Mountain Bike Race – During the Harrismith Berg Bohaai Festival the Dirty Harry Mountain Bike Race is held.  It takes place during October each year.
  • Annual Catamaran Championship – During February the Catamaran Championship is hosted at Sterkfontein Dam.  Awesome to participate in, otherwise amazing to watch.
  • Sterkfontein 1500 – The annual Sterkfontein 1500 m swim takes place at the dam.  Apart from the 1500 m distance, other distances are also available for swimmers to complete.  The swimming event also takes place during February.

WHAT TO EAT AT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

  • Pizza at the Tower of Pizza – Yes, you can actually go and have pizza at the famous Tower of Pizza.  Road tripping from Sterkfontein Dam, the Tower of Pizza restaurant is situated in the Northern Drakensberg.  They have pizzas to everyone’s taste and also a variety of other dishes to choose from.
  • Fine Cuisine – Fancy some fine dining on your holiday?  Or maybe taking your spouse for a romantic dinner?  Then pop in to the Wild Horses Lodge Restaurant.
  • Traditional Braai (Barbeque) – Not feeling like driving around for food?  Sterkfontein Dam resort has excellent braai facilities where visitors can relax by the fire.
  • “Boere Kos”– Visit Smileys Slow Food Restaurant in Verkykerskop for an awesome Sunday Buffet or enjoy a lovely meal of “Boere Kos.” If you are vegetarian like us, there is still options for you as well. The potatoes, rice, vegetables and malva pudding are the best!

GETTING TO STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

Sterkfontein Dam can be reached in approximately three to three and a half hours by car, either from Johannesburg or Durban. Travel in the direction of Harrismith (via the N5 highway) and then take the R74 Bergville Road.  This road leads direction to Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve.

GETTING AROUND-AND-ABOUT AT STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is easily accessible.  The roads in and around the reserve can be accessed with a normal vehicle; a 4x4 is not required.
 
The hiking trails are comfortable to walk and you don’t have to be as experienced as a Mount Everest hiker to hike here.

WHERE TO STAY IN-AND-AROUND STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

LUXURY ACCOMMODATION

MID-RANGE ACCOMMODATION

BUDGET ACCOMMODATION

Photo credit by Rakesh Nagda

TOP 4 TIPS FOR TRAVELERS TO STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

  • Follow the Weatherman – the weather at Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve has a habit of changing quickly.  When planning your vacation and related activities – follow the weather report. You do not want to be left stranded in your chalet the whole trip due to bad weather.  Or, even worse, get stuck on the dam or hiking trail when a down-pour hits!
  • Fuel your Vacation – The dam is quite big.  If you are planning on doing some site seeing from the luxury of your modest yacht, take enough fuel for the trip.
  • Local is Lekker - Or is it? The dam and nature reserve has chalet accommodation and a campsite available.  But, depending on your vacationing party, more luxurious accommodation is available in close proximity.  Just make sure to book well in advance, especially during holiday season and when there are specific events taking place at the dam.

ENJOYING STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE ON A BUDGET

If you are a group of students with a limited amount of pocket money or a big family looking for an affordable holiday destination, Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is the answer.  

  • Low Cost:  Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve can only be accessed via good roads, mostly highway, so it is a more cost-efficient means of travel.  Entry, camping and hiring fees at the resort are reasonably priced compared to other holiday destinations.
  • Game Viewing: The nature reserve has wonderful hiking trails.  Whilst exploring the area you can enjoy some much needed bird watching as well as game viewing.
  • Driving Around: Too lazy to walk?  The roads in the reserve are easily accessible even with a normal 2x4 vehicle.  You can take the grandparents for an affordable and much needed late afternoon game drive.
  • Camp Site: If you plan on taking your group of student buddies on a semester break, pitch a tent and bring the charcoal along.  There is an excellent camp facility that caters for tents and caravans.

DAY TRIPS FROM STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

Watersports and swimming are all lovely and fun things to do but can become a bit monotonous at times.  It is always a good change of scenery to take a day trip or two from the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve.  There are some lovely things to do in the surrounding areas:

  • Ionia Cherry Tour - Ficksburg – Insert ImageEveryone in South Africa had at some point in their lives heard of the Cherry Festival in Ficksburg.  But you can visit the Ionia Cherry Farm year round and get a glimpse of this amazing fruit. Take a grand tour through the orchard.
  • Bergwoning 4x4 Trails - Clarens – This is definitely a must for all the macho guys around!  Even if you just bought your 4x4, this is a wonderful trail to do.  It is a 2-hour route and caters for the experienced and more inexperienced driver.  The changing seasons and accompanying weather conditions also add their fair share of obstacles.
  • Franshoek Polo School - Ficksburg – For every equestrian lover, treat yourself to a visit to the Franshoek Polo School in Ficksburg.

THE TOP 3 LEGENDS AND SECRETS ASSOCIATED WITH STERKFONTEIN DAM NATURE RESERVE

Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve do not have a lot of legends and secrets attached to it, there are however a few oddities surrounding the dam:

  • The Upside Down Ocean – Some of the rocks surrounding the top part of the dam have a strange look about them, almost as if they were supposed to be from the bottom of the ocean?
  • Trees, Trees Where Are You Trees? – Oddly enough, there is a distinct lack of trees in the area around the dam.  Even after so many years in existence, the trees are non-existant.
  • The Pump Station – The pump station is at the way bottom part of the dam wall area.  A visit creates a very odd feeling in consideration of how far down below you really are.

IN CONCLUSION

Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is truly worth a visit.  Even if you are not keen on watersports or hiking, there are still lots to do and see.  Family members, who prefer to the finer, more relaxing treats in life, are also well catered for. Add Sterkfontein to your bucket list, it is truly a magnificent (and lesser known) gem of South Africa.

VISITOR INFORMATION & USEFUL LINKS

TOURIST OFFICES

EMERGENCY CONTACT NUMBERS

  • POLICE: +27 58-713 4454
  • AMBULANCE: +27 581 0177
  • FIRE DEPARTMENT: +27 58-713 1777
  • HELPLINE:   082-911
  • ACCIDENT ACCISTANCE: +27 58-623 0860 / +27 87-285 6382

MEDICAL HELP

End Mauritz Str, Harrismith, 9880

Thebe Hospital+27 58-624 1800

Mampoi Str, Phuthaditjhaba, 9869

Manapo Hospital+27 78-273 7590

Warden Str, Harrismith

Harrismith Clinic

60 Vowe Str, Harrismith, 9880

Dales Link Pharmacy+27 58-622 1188

Shop 7, Pick `n Pay Centre, C/o Vowe Str & Southey Str, Harrismith, 3642

Clicks Pharmacy+27 58-622 3683

26A Piet Retief Str, Harrismith, 9880

Harrismith Pharmacy+27 58-622 2612

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RECOMMENDED TRAVEL APPS

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