The Hartbeespoort Dam was built across a gorge in the Magaliesberg in the 1920s to harness the irrigation capacities of the Crocodile and Magalies rivers and so make thousands of hectares of land in the Brits area fertile for the cultivation of a variety of crops.
In doing so, a vast lake was created for water-based recreation, much to the delight of the land-locked residents of Gauteng, who took to the dam like ducks to water. Hartbeespoort is less than an hour’s drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria, just over the North West provincial border in the Bojanala region.
The dam is particularly scenic, set against the brooding backdrop of the Magaliesberg. There are a number of roads to access Hartbeespoort, but the most popular one runs along the north side of the dam wall by means of a 56,6-metre tunnel. It does, however, get very jammed up on weekends, with cars backed up for some distance.
Sadly, the dam’s water quality has been affected by pollution from numerous sources. Control programmes are constantly on the go but excessive nitrates and phosphates in the dam result in high levels of algae, which also spoil the appearance of the dam.
Nevertheless, water sports continue and the area around the dam abounds with all sorts of attractions. There’s a fair spread of accommodation options in villages along the banks of the dam (including boutique hotels, guest houses and self-catering amenities), along with shopping outlets, mostly of a craft nature. In recent years, a number of residential estates and golfing estates have sprung up in the dam’s surrounds, making the most of its tranquil scenery.
Look out for
The 1.2km cableway over the dam has always been popular for its panoramic views. It operates from the farm Arendsnes up to a summit overlooking the dam. There is an á la carte restaurant at the base station.
The Hartbeespoort Dam Aquarium stages animal shows (pelican, seal, penguin and crocodile shows) on the weekend and public holidays and holds an extensive collection of indigenous species.
Resembling a medieval castle, the Hartbeespoort Snake and Animal Park specialises in handling demonstrations of snakes, seals and animals. Some of the mammals to be seen here are big cats, primates, hyenas and wild dogs. The park’s reptile collection is reputed to be one of the best in southern Africa.
The Elephant Sanctuary offers guests the unbeatable experience of walking, riding and feeding African elephants.
Good year-round weather on the dam makes boat cruises popular, and boats are often hired for special events and functions. A number of charter companies operate in the area.
Art galleries such as Blue Ivy, Planet Earth and Alice Art Gallery exhibit work by local artists.
A zip-line, Ama Zwing Zwing, affords the opportunity to slide on steel cables “while viewing game below.” A total length of 1,3 kilometres is made up of seven slides over 10 platforms, ranging in height from two to 14 metres.
The scenic beauty of Hartbeespoort Dam has attracted wellness sanctuaries and health spas to the area. They include the Cradle Health Spa, and Tangoroa (on the strawberry farm of the same name).
The Welwitschia Country Market offers 40 shops and stalls to amble through, as well as have a drink in a bush pub or a family-style meal at any of three restaurants.