The town of Gariep Dam was built in the 1960s to temporarily house workers involved with the construction of the huge Gariep Dam (known before 1994 as the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam) on the Orange River. It has since become a permanent town with a small population.
The Free State town offers some bed-and-breakfast and self-catering accommodation and also boasts an airfield with a double tarred runway. With excellent conditions for the sport of gliding, Gariep Dam has hosted many an international gliding championship.
Completed in 1972, the dam itself is a fascinating engineering feat that irrigates large tracts of the Karoo via a network of 100 kilometres of tunnels. Located in a gorge five kilometres east of Norvalspont, it has an area of 360 square kilometres, is 100 kilometres long and 24 kilometres wide. Its hydroelectric power plant generates up to 36 megawatts of power. One can take a guided tour within the dam wall, travelling 30 metres down to the bedrock.
On its northern border lies the 11 000-hectare Gariep Dam Nature Reserve, stocked with a large variety of buck and a bird list of about 220 species. The region of the province in which the Gariep Dam is located takes its name from the dam and is similarly called Xhariep, spelt in the San way. In San, Xhariep translates to “great water”.
Look out for
The Gariep Dam wall contains 13 kilometres of passages and halls. Events for up to 400 people can be held in these spaces. Tours can be arranged but must be done so in advance.
A visit to a local fish hatchery makes an interesting trip - one can learn how barbel, carp and yellowfish are hatched.
Trips to the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve can be undertaken to view game and birds, or picnic at a bush camp.
Tours of the Gariep Power Station can also be arranged.
Adventure activities such as quad-biking, paintball, 4x4 trails, river-rafting, horse-riding and fly-fishing are available at different venues on the shores of the dam.
Boating on the dam includes pleasure cruisers, kayaks and paddle boats.
February brings the annual Water Sport Festival to town, with its swimming marathons, regattas and raft races. The annual Gariep 500 rubber duck race also takes place in February.
For a dash of sober history among all this outdoor fun, visit the Concentration Camp Graveyards at Norvalspont.