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Sterkfontein Dam Reserve

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30km from Harrismith

-28.4132, 29.0325


+27 58 622 3520, +27 83 942 1418


Situated near Harrismith in the Eastern Free State, the 12 000-hectare Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is an attractive area that protects several different habitats and a variety of landscapes and wildlife.  The Sterkfontein Dam was commissioned in 1977. Deep, cool and scenic, it is South Africa’s third largest dam with the largest dam wall. 

With a surface area of 70 kilometres squared Sterkfontein is a popular water sport and leisure destination. One of the area’s main attractions is fly-fishing. The Sterkfontein Dam area ranks as one of the finest yellowfish hotspots in South Africa. There is a catch-and-release policy and most fish will be of the smallmouth variety, with a smaller population of Orange/Vaal largemouths present.

The Sterkfontein Dam is part of the Tugela-Vaal water transfer system that supplies the greater Gauteng province. The diversity of the area can be explained by its topography, which ranges from 1700 metres to 2350 metres above sea level, while the rainfall gradient ranges from 720 millimetres a year to 1400 millimetres near the Lesotho side of the reserve.

The Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve protects Afromontane forest, along with patches of savannah and Karoo vegetation. Special trees include the yellowwood, wild peach, koko tree, silky bark and bush guarri in the sheltered valleys at Sterkfontein, while the mountain slopes are decorated with wild myrtle, redwood, ouhout, highveld protea, silver sugarbush and the scarce tree fern. 

On the plains, you can see animals such as springbok, black wildebeest, blesbok and oribi. Mountain reedbuck are most often spotted on hillsides.

The reserve is also great for bird-watching, with prized finds that include bearded vulture, southern bald ibis and several korhaan species.

Other sought-after resident species include grey-winged and red-winged francolin, Rudd's lark, yellow-breasted pipit, Gurney's sugarbird, bush blackcap and forest canary. There is also a well-known vulture restaurant in the area.

A two-day hiking trail has been established in the Sterkfontein Dam Game Reserve. The accommodation in the reserve includes self-catering chalets and camping facilities, some with electrical points, others without. It’s solid, basic accommodation without frills, but the town of Harrismith is about 25 kilometres away. For those who prefer more facilities, there is a private resort called Qwantani on other side of the dam.


17 fully-equipped self-catering chalets, 360 camp sites, 63 caravan sites with power points, ablutions and laundry facilities

Thabo Mofutsanyana

Free State


The northern and eastern sections of the Free State, commonly referred to as the “eastern Free State”, nudge up against the borders of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Kingdom of Lesotho. Officially the region is called Thabo Mofutsanayana.  Mofutsanyana, born in QwaQwa, was a leading light of both the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party until his death in 1995.

Geographically, this region bucks a trend. While most of the Free State is flat, the eastern reaches tower up as the Drakensberg and the Malotis come into play. The landscape climbs and soars, leaving impressive cliffs and buttresses of sandstone, and hidden caves in its wake.

Nowhere is the scene more striking that at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park near the village of Clarens. The maze of sculptured rock formations here is almost too much to absorb.  Sunset colours the cliffs in shades of ochre, hence the reference to gold in the name of the park.

These higher altitudes, of course, do wonders for the eastern Free State air, which is crisp, clean and bracing, conducive to a feeling of good health.

Clarens is one of the villages that lie in the foothills of the Malotis. With its mountainous surrounds, it is said to be reminiscent of the Swiss village of Clarens, where President Paul Kruger lived out his exile.

A town of sandstone buildings set amidst farmland, it has undergone something of a reincarnation in recent years as an artists’ colony. Just three hours or so from Gauteng’s big cities, weekenders come down to roam its galleries and craft shops.

The principal town in this region is Bethlehem. Once again sandstone buildings are characteristic of the town, which is the centre of a farming community that produces the lion’s share of South Africa’s wheat crop.

It has both built and natural attractions, including a flat-water slalom course for canoeists on the Ash River. Bethlehem is also the location of an annual national hot-air balloon championship.

Also set against an imposing Maloti backdrop is Ficksburg, renowned for its annual Cherry Festival in summer. A gateway to Lesotho and its Katse Dam, the town’s environs offer much in the way of adventure activity, such as 4x4 trails, quad-biking, abseiling, trout-fishing and game-viewing.

Other Thabo Mofutsanyane towns are Arlington, Clocolan, Fouriesburg, Harrismith, Kestell, Lindley, Marquard, Memel, Paul Roux, Petrus Steyn, Phuthaditjhaba, Reitz, Rosendal, Senekal, Vrede and Warden.

Look out for

Golden Gate Highlands National Park – This park is a theatre of natural, towering sandstone formations, named “golden” for their colour at sunset.  At that time of day, the best place to appreciate the beauty is the highest point in the park, Ribbokkop.  The former QwaQwa National Park was incorporated into Golden Gate in 2005.  Horseriding is a popular outdoor pursuit in the park, which is valued for its plant, animal and bird life.  A number of accommodation options are available.

Basotho Cultural Village –  South Sotho architecture, arts and crafts, herbal medicinal remedies and cuisine can be explored at the Basotho Cultural Village near Phuthaditjhaba.  Song and dance folklore shows can also be enjoyed.

The Sentinel – Also near Phuthaditjhaba, it is the access point for a series of trails that lead hikers to the rear of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre and some of the country’s most magnificent scenery.  Geographical features to view are The Sentinel, Devil’s Tooth, the Eastern Buttress and the Tugela Falls.

Discovering cherries, Ficksburg  - The annual Cherry Festival in Ficksburg takes place in November.  It is a three-day event that attracts thousands and entertains with fun activities such as horse- and camel-rides.  Cherry farm tours, however, take place throughout the cherry season, which is in October and November.  Locally made cherry liqueurs, brandies and schnapps should be tasted to complete the experience.

Clarens – A host of things to do and see in Clarens includes the Artist Amble, a route of galleries open to the public; rock art on Schaapplaats Farm; sandstone formations such as Mushroom Rock and Titanic Rock; dinosaur fossils at Sue’s Zoo; fly-fishing as well as bass- and river-fishing; hiking and horse-riding.

Sterkfontein Dam, Harrismith – The third largest dam in South Africa, the Sterkfontein Dam is a popular venue for water sports and angling.  Predating the Lesotho Highlands project, the water that fills the dam is pumped up from KwaZulu-Natal.  It is then released into the Wilge River, from where it flows into the Vaal Dam.    The Sterkfontein Dam’s banks are surrounded by a nature reserve where strange rock formations are just as interesting to view as buck and raptors.  Camping and chalet accommodation is available, as well as hiking trails.

Salpeterkrans – At Fouriesburg you will find Salpeterkrans, one of the largest sandstone overhangs in the southern hemisphere, shaped by wind erosion.  It not surprising that it is considered a sacred site where ancestral worship and fertility rites take place.

Rosendal – like the town of Clarens, Rosendal is known for its arty vibe. There are numerous art galleries in and around town, as well as quaint shops and restaurants. The Meerkatkolonie Art Gallery is a must. Rosendal is a popular weekend getaway destination for those who live in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

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