NEW DAWN: The Gariep Dam, 190km outside of Bloemfontein, is roughly the size of 72 rugby fields.
NEW DAWN: The Gariep Dam, 190km outside of Bloemfontein, is roughly the size of 72 rugby fields.

Mpiletso Motumi


Bloemfontein - It’s a little-known fact to many people that Gariep Dam is the largest man-made dam in South Africa and the second largest on the African continent.

It’s also a little-known fact that Gariep Dam, just 190km outside Bloemfontein, is the perfect stop for some quality time with the family while discovering a true country gem.

When the dam was built, provision was made for it to supply water to the Eastern Cape and Free State.

About 300m downstream, the dam wall is an Eskom hydroelectric power station.

A boat ride along the dam at the Forever Gariep Resort can take you as far out as the Northern Cape.

It’s where three provinces meet - from the resort in Free State, to the Eastern Cape, and if the dam overflows again, the boat ride could end up in the Northern Cape.

The dam is roughly the size of 72 rugby fields.

It took six years to build - from 1966 to 1972 - and after it was completed, the dam was 104 percent full.

The dam wall was only extended in height in 1988 when it was 129.88 percent full but later that year it overflowed for two weeks.

In January 2011, the dam was 126 percent full, it overflowed for higher than 4m which is more than 4.5 million litres of water per second that went over the dam wall.

It overflowed for three months non-stop and to this day, the erosion can be seen, about 15m high, on the shore line right around the dam.

If you fancy a real tour of the dam, take one of the dam-wall tours where you can walk more than 13.6km inside the wall without ever using the same steps or passage twice. Good advice for this tour is to wear some comfortable takkies, a cardigan and to have some level of fitness. Those stairs are not friendly.

Tour guide Gert Isaks says he has managed to keep his youth by climbing those steps every day.

At the moment, only 24 people are working at the dam, but the personnel should be about 70 people.

Isaks has 16 years of experience in dam work and his duties at Gariep include water distribution, water measurement, people management, dam safety inspection and taking tourists into the dam basin to give them a history tour of the South African gem.

He has been working at the dam for a year now after relocating from the Jericho Dam in Mpumalanga. Isaks’s family lives in Upington, a six-hour drive from the dam and much closer than Mpumalanga.

The Forever Gariep Resort caters for families with self-catering units to fully enjoy the scenic dam and other activities like horse riding, tractor riding, canoe trips and quad biking.

It is also an ideal stop between road trips - just eight hours to Cape Town, five hours to East London and a little over three hours to Kimberley.

So next time you're travelling through the country, take a sho't left via the Gariep Dam, to see it for yourself.

The Star

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