Generally when one tells you they went to a dam in the Free State to chill you have visions of pap and fishing rods, red faces and stories of giant Carp and Barbel that got away. We ended up at the dam because we found a hotel on the hill that overlooked the dam that we liked and felt that we could just relax and recharge our batteries there. And so we did at De Stiil Gariep a delightful boutique hotel with much to offer and great food to top it off!
Leaving Kimberley after a somewhat hectic day exploring the rock art sites we made our way taking the long way round to Gariep, the road was a pleasant surprise and we breezed past towns such as Koffiefiontein (stopping only to grab a picture of the Mussolini murals painted by WW2 Italian prisoners of war). After one stop for water and an ice cream we headed towards the N1 and the Gariep Dam.
Originally named the “Hendrik Verwoed Dam” the dam was renamed the Gariep Dam in 1996,Gariep being San for great water their description of the Orange River the larger of the 7 rivers that feed into the dam. The dam is the largest of its type in South Africa with a total storage capacity of capacity of approximately 5,340,000 mega litres.
The dam wall is large and although still a national key point it is accessible on foot, we walked roughly 8 kilometres through the town, down to the dam and explored the neighbouring areas before heading back to the hotel for lunch, the temperature was ideal although one can imagine that it must be very warm and humid in summer. The dam was built for irrigation and Hydro Electric power in 1971 to serve the area as well as parts of the Eastern Cape! Suffice to say its big and took a lot of concrete to build the wall that holds a dam with a surface area of more than 360 square kilos.
There are numerous accommodation options and at the nearby service station there is a well-stocked super market so one could quiet comfortably do a self-catering weekend as well. Time was not really on our side but we were able to do a trip right around the dam visiting Bethulie and then the site of the old concentration camp memorial near Norvalspont. The bridge crossing the Orange is old and worth a few pictures as is the more modern bridge near Bethulie. The round trip took the best part of the afternoon and we arrived back at the hotel as the sun was setting. Take time there is a lot to see especially if you decide to explore areas beyond the dam itself.
At any time of the year I would recommend sunscreen and a hat and good walking shoes, be careful in the grass as we did have occasion to stop and observe a puff adder and were told that they are fairly prolific. Would we go back? Yes it‘s an ideal stopover even if you are travelling to the Cape, we were told it gets really cold in Winter but most accommodation options we saw were heated or had fireplaces-sunrise across the dam is awesome and worth watching!