12 Inland spots to splash in this summer

Water, Baby!

If a trip to the coast is not on the cards, here are a dozen inland spots where you can splash out this summer.

There are 55 kilometres of smooth water to putter down the Vaal River on an Old Willow No. 7 houseboat. Did we mention you can braai on board? Photo credit: Teagan Cuniffe

1. Ebenezer Dam


Deep in the hills of the fairy-tale ‘Land of the Silver Mist’, Magoebaskloof’s 386-hectare Ebenezer Dam bustles with activity. Built on the Great Letaba River, it’s a popular play- ground for watersport enthusiasts, with facilities suited to a variety of watercraft including motorboats, sailboats and even Olympic rowing boats. Should you tire of boating and boozing (the latter is classed as a sport by locals), enjoy an adrenaline rush by white-water tubing down the river, or ziplining above it. magoebaskloofadventures.co.za

Do This
Cruise the dam on the Sunset Queen for R180 pp (minimum 10 people). 083-284-5163

Stay Here
Dip into the Broederstroom River at Zwakala River Retreat – the source of the Letaba is said to have restorative qualities. From R450 pp sharing. 083-980-8433, zwakalaretreat.co.za

2. Blyde River Canyon


The Blyde River Canyon Picnic Spot is an ideal place to cool off in the Lowveld heat. It’s a 26-kilometre drive from Hoedspruit on the R40 to Klaserie 1-Stop, then 27 kilometres on dirt up the canyon to the water. The road is rather tricky, particularly in summer when it’s muddy; low-clearance vehicles (even a purple Volksie) have been known to make it to this spot, though seldom unscathed. The campsite is very popular and it’s a first-come, first-served affair (day visitors R30 per person). It’s just a short descent from the campsite to the river’s edge, with plenty of space on the smooth rocks to sunbathe.

Do This
Bring a lilo or tube as the river is calm enough to float along without being rushed downstream. If you’re feeling energetic, pull yourself up the rope swing and plunge into the river.

Stay Here
Pitch your tent at the riverside. Sites are equipped with braais, concrete tables and benches, but no electricity. There’s no official website for booking, just arrive at the gate with cash (R70 per tent).

3. Cradle Moon Lake


With its clean, safe water and white sand banks, and only 30 minutes from Sandton, Cradle Moon Lake is a literal beach within reach. Built along the Crocodile River, the 32-hectare lake is well equipped for open-water swimmers, paddlers and rowers, and stocked for avid fly fishers. The more sedate are welcome to judge the athletes from the comfort of sun-loungers at the water’s edge, or from the vantage point of the chic cafe and bar, Current, with cocktail in hand. The relaxed boat cruises are also highly recommended (R190 per person). R30 per person conservation fee.

Do This
Try a SUP yoga class, explore the surrounding bushveld on a mountain bike (hire one for R200) or blow your Christmas bonus on a hot-air balloon ride over the lake (R2  500 per person, air-ventures.co.za).

Stay Here
Feel far away from the city at Cradle Moon Lakeside Game Lodge. From R800 pp sharing. 087-110-1231, cradlemoon.co.za

4. Vaal River

Free State/Gauteng

Less than 50 kilometres from Parys (just an hour’s drive from Joburg), you can charter a houseboat and be the captain of your own adventure. With 55 kilometres of inland waterway to traverse, there’s plenty to explore along the shoreline. Dock at restaurants, spas and golf courses along the way, but with braai facilities on board you might not want to set foot on land. No special licence is required, just a keen sense of adventure and a fishing rod. And your binoculars for top-drawer birding, an ideal late-afternoon activity once you’ve anchored in a secluded spot.

Do This
Old Willow No. 7 Houseboat Charters also offers day charters for R995. 087-720-0747

Stay Here
On a houseboat, which sleeps up to five people. From R1 395 for two people. oldwillow.co.za

5. Highover Wildlife Sanctuary


The uMkomazi River first trickles out of the earth near Thaba Ntlenyana, the highest peak in Southern Africa. The fast-flowing vein gains traction as it jostles down the foothills of the Drakensberg escarpment, eventually lurching past Hella Hella Gorge near Richmond in a fury of white water. Here in this rural backwood lies a genuine hidden gem: Highover Wildlife Sanctuary. Popular among local kayaking enthusiasts (for obvious reasons), the surrounding mistbelt forests also entice nature lovers with 140 species of trees and more than 250 bird species, including the exceptionally rare blue swallow. Day visitors pay R40.

Do This
Bring your fishing rod, as there are ‘scalies’ (Natal yellowfish) aplenty. White-water rafting season is November to April – R580 per person for a half day trip, minimum five people. trailblazeradventures.co.za

Stay Here
Amble down to the river along a private path from the rustic Riverside Cottages. From R350 pp. 082-826-0760, highover.co.za

6. Bloemhof Dam

North West

Situated along the N12 ‘Treasure Route’ (190 kilometres from Bloemfontein and 350 kilometres from Joburg), Bloemhof Nature Reserve spans 12 000 hectares of mostly open Kalahari scrub, where large herds of springbok, black wildebeest, gemsbok and eland roam. An angler’s paradise, the dam hosts some fishing-calendar highlights, including the Tri-Nations Angling Competition and Bloemhof Bonanza. It’s also suitable for a variety of watersports, and powerboat launching facilities are available. Fed by the Vaal River, the dam itself covers an impressive 25 000 hectares and is home to hundreds of bird species, including rare waterfowl. Roads in the reserve are suitable for all vehicles, but the rainy season (December) brings a lot of mud. The entrance fee is R40 adults, R25 kids.

Do This
Launch your own boat (R50) and go fishing for carp, barbel and yellowfish (R25).

Stay Here
Self-catering options in the reserve include cabins and campsites. Opt for the three chalets that are just over two kilometres from the dam, each sleeping six. From R140 per person. 053-433-1706, tourismnorthwest.co.za

7. Boegoeberg Dam

Northern Cape

The Orange River meanders through an expansive semi-desert, a vital lifeline for the vineyards that line its banks. Some of its water accumulates in the 742-hectare Boegoeberg Dam, near Groblershoop. Named after the medicinal buchu plant that grows wild in the surrounding hills, it was constructed in 1929 and helped kick-start the local table-grape industry. Today, the tranquil dam rejuvenates both land and human. Its waters offer relief from the Kalahari heat and are fantastic for waterskiing, canoeing and sailing. Better yet, they also promise to reward the odd swing of a rod with a fat barbel. Day visitors pay R50 per person.

Do This
Launch your own motorboat (R150) or hire a kayak (R100 per day).

Stay Here
The self-catering chalets on the hill at Boegoeberg Holiday Resort offer sweeping views of the dam. From R850 per unit (sleeps four). 083-257-4730, boegoebergdam.co.za

8. Vanderkloof Dam

Free State

Some 100 kilometres downstream of Gariep Dam, Vanderkloof has the highest dam wall in the country (108 metres). South Africa’s second-largest dam in volume, it’s fed by a number of rivers (including the Orange) and its shores have interest- ing features to explore – numerous small caves and scenic viewpoints, some only accessible by boat. When the dam is full, the shoreline is 100 kilometres long, making this a watersport enthusiast’s haven. The fishing is excellent, too, though you’ll have to compete with the many kingfishers that patrol the shore.

Do This
Spend the day on the dam in rented kayaks paddling to interesting bays and rock formations, and spotting wildlife. From R250 per person. adventurekayaking.co.za

Stay Here
Waterfront Guest House is six kilometres from the dam; its private slipway, angling and picnic spot are on the water. R650 per person sharing B&B. 083-303-7208

9. Commando Drift Nature Reserve

Eastern Cape

The heart of the Eastern Cape’s dry hinterland beats to the gentle rhythm of lapping water against the banks of Commando Drift Dam, 60 kilometres from Cradock. Formerly a farm owned by Voortrekker leader Hendrik Potgieter, the 950-hectare oasis sustains an abundance of wildlife, including mountain zebra and black wildebeest, as well as more than 200 species of birds. After years of drought, the dam is considerably lower than usual, but is still suited to motorboating, fishing and baljaaring in the shallows, and submerging yourself in the peaceful Karoo surrounds. Conservation fee, R12.

Do This
Take your bird book on the Bushman Hiking Trail (R12 conserv- ation fee). Launch your boat (R20), or hook a carp, barbel or yellowfish (R52).\

Stay Here
Cast off from the comfort of your porch at Fish Eagle Cabin. From R283 (sleeps two). 043-492-0800, bookonline.ecpta.co.za

10. Gubu Dam

Eastern Cape

Hidden beneath the foot of Mount Kubusi, 30 kilometres from Stutterheim, lies 124 hectares of glittering water. Gubu Dam is frequented by an abundance of birds and other wildlife from the surrounding forests, and the occasional human. Undisturbed by the roar of outboard motors, visitors can glide along the dam’s tranquil surface on kayaks and canoes, dive in from the top of the quarry and swim in the warm water, or cast a hopeful line – the dam abounds with both rainbow and brown trout. Day visitors pay R20 pp.

Do This
Hire a kayak from Natural High (079-636-8949). Get your fly-fishing permit from the local Trout Fishing Club – call 083-305-2716.

Stay Here
You don’t need to book into the informal campsite (R30 per person), but phone ahead if you’re visiting during the week and want hot water. 043-683-5247

11. Bulshoek Dam

Western Cape

Just north of Clanwilliam in the Cederberg, on the banks of Bulshoek Dam, Rondeberg Resort is a waterside sanctuary, ideal for family holidays. With camping facilities and air-conditioned chalets, it’s a great place to cool off. Not just a popular stop on the Cape-to-Namibia route, Rondeberg is a destin- ation in itself, with plenty to offer. Lawns down to the water’s edge provide the perfect spot to set up your tent, with easy access to the water for a dip in the heat of the day.

Do This
Bring your own equipment if you want to kayak, canoe or waterski. There are also hiking routes in the area, as well as an array of water-sports and good birding.

Stay Here
The resort has four-, six- and ten-sleeper chalets as well as campsites. From R920 per unit (sleeps four). Campsites from R240, plus R80 pp for more than four people. 021-100-3689, rondeberg.com

12. Buffeljags Dam

Western Cape

Don’t be deceived by the serene setting just outside Swellendam – the 170-hectare Buffeljags Dam is a-brim with adventure. Each section is suited to a different activity: in the south, motorboats cruise along the glassy surface with skiers and wakeboarders in tow; to the east, a fisherman’s rod emulates the tall reeds; and up the creek, canoeists explore what feels like uncharted territory. The excitement spills over into the surrounding Langeberg mountains, great for hiking, cycling and skinny-dipping in secret rock pools. Dam access is for overnight guests only.

Do This
Plunge into the water after a 220-metre zip down the foefie slide. Book a sunset cruise on double-decker Kosie se Boot (R140 per person, minimum 10 people).

Stay Here
Lounge on the lawn in front of Umshanti’s chalets, which dish up elevated views of the dam. From R520 per person sharing. 028-512-3787 umshanti.co.za


Compiled by Jessica Oosthuyse and Lauren Dold

Image: supplied

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