Johannesburg - Sure, Joburgers have Zoo Lake and Emmarentia Dam, but these are really more puddles than big water.
It makes a journey to the province’s end - to where the mighty Vaal River marks off Gauteng from the Free State - something of a watery pilgrimage for the landlocked.
The hour’s drive from the city along the N1 to the Vaal River, through only one toll gate, is just far enough to feel like a weekend getaway, but close enough not to need a toilet break.
This Orange River tributary is about 1 120km long, making it a river that reinvents itself with each gradual turn. Its multiple incarnations make it a destination of choice for those wanting to hook yellows or search out the churn of white water to get the adrenalin pumping for water rafting.
For the less energetic, the banks of the Vaal are a chance to listen for the shrill call of fish eagles or wait upon a sighting of a noisy Orange River franklin. For the even more chilled out, there’s the option of gazing at the glassy tranquillity with a sundowner in hand.
And it’s in a tranquil kink in the river where the banks stretch wide and true that the Riverside Sun was built in 1977, though today it’s comfortably in the middle of modern reinvention and old legacy.
It’s thanks to a refurbishment towards the end of last year that a fresh, contemporary feel has been given to the hotel, which bills itself as a quick country getaway or the ideal place for team-building and conferences.
For nearly five months last year the hotel closed its doors, only to reopen fully refreshed in spring last year. And the new look works. There are no mass-produced random art prints, rather a selection of black and white photographs - some taken from around the hotel property - off-set by a palette of limes, greys and chocolate brown that add a thoroughly contemporary feel.
The thing about Riverside is that it strikes a balance between old and new. It’s big enough to accommodate business agendas for conferencing and meetings, but intimate enough to feel like it’s a place to unwind.
It’s reflected a little in the staff too - this balance of all things. On hand are the likes of William Ramathe and Geelbooi Mohaong, who between them have a collective 47 years of service.
They’ve known all types of demands, all the fixings and patchings that make a guest’s experience perfect.
On the other hand, there is assistant food and beverage manager Siyanda Zindela, who by the middle of May had clocked up just one month at the hotel.
Zindela, having arrived from another of the Tsogo Sun’s hotels in the Cape, understands the magnetism of “running to the water”. “My first impression of the hotel was its fresh look and feel,” says Zindela.
“I already have a favourite spot, though, and for me it’s definitely being on the banks of the river. I also find the millionaire’s boat cruise an inspiration and it’s what we recommend to our guests.”
By inspiration he means being on the top deck of a party boat that’s all about lounging on a comfy sofa, sipping a drink, watching ducks swim into the sunset and just letting worries fade away like the ripples on the Vaal.
Also a must-see in the area is a visit to Sharpeville, the scene of the March 21, 1960 massacre. It’s a place of history and of remembering.
Then it can be back to more unwinding, Zindela says, in Riverside’s new wine cellar restaurant area. The cellar is a special function area perfect for watching a match on the box or booking it out for functions such as wine tastings or food-pairing evenings.
As for the food, it comes from executive sous chef Litha Mathunga. He likes his guests to get to his dining room hungry, because filling their tummies with his culinary repertoire makes him truly happy. Seafood dishes are his thing, but be sure to try the hotel’s waffles for breakfast too.
Full, happy stomachs are always a good way to start the day - whether you’re hitting the river, taking a stroll in the garden or you’re booked into Riverside for some team-building or conferencing.
With a variety of conferencing options it means there’s the choice of being in a controlled hotel setting or an equally well-equipped venue tucked among the gardens, trees and water features.
They all merge quite comfortably together here - because, after all, a river runs through it.