South of Johannesburg | 365km

Vaal Dam from the AirVaal Dam from the Air

From Johannesburg...

HEIDELBERG

...lies in a region originally named Suikerbosrand by the Voortrekker party that explored the area in June 1836. The name, meaning 'sugarbush ridge', refers to the common sugarbush (Protea caffra) which is abundant on the ridges in the area. Attracted by good grazing and water, a Voortrekker group under Commandant PD Jacobs settled in the area during 1839-40. Situated alongside a busy ox-wagon road, the town developed around a trading store established on the farm Langlaagte by a German shopkeeper, Heinrich Ueckermann, in 1860. When the town was established in 1866, it was named after Heidelberg in Germany, where Ueckermann had been trained. At the outbreak of the War of Independence (1880-81), on 16 December 1880, Heidelberg became the capital of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR).

An obelisk featuring busts of Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert and MW Pretorius, the triumvirate who headed the reconstituted republican government, is a reminder of this chapter of the country's history. Heidelberg also has a beautiful sandstone Dutch Reformed Church, built in the Early Norman style and completed in 1891. The town's famous 'bakoond' resembles a large outdoor baking oven, and was built to conceal Heidelberg's water supply during the War of Independence. The Heidelberg Motor Museum, housed in the goods sheds of the railway station, has a fascinating collection of early bicycles (including penny farthings), motorcycles, veteran cars, racing cars and a Class 16 steam locomotive. Built in Dutch-Flemish Renaissance style, the old railway station building dates back to 1895.

SUIKERBOSRAND NATURE RESERVE

...covers 13 337 ha of grassveld, woodlands and shrublands to the west of Heidelberg. Visitors on South African holidays can explore the reserve along a 60-km tourist route, or follow two self-guided interpretive trails. Suikerbosrand has been stocked with 12 antelope species, including blesbok, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, reedbuck, mountain reedbuck and springbok, while Burchell's zebra also occur. Among the approximately 250 bird species recorded to date are several interesting grassland species such as greywing francolin, several lark species, Ayre's cisticola, pipits and orange-throated longclaw. The Diepkloof Farm Museum is centred on one of the oldest farmhouses north of the Vaal River, on the farm established by Jan GabriŽl Marais in the 1850s.

VILLIERS

...was established in 1882 on the farms Pearson Valley and Grootdraai, on the southern bank of the Vaal River, and was named after Lourens de Villiers, the owner of both farms. With its beautiful gardens and willow trees lining the banks of the Vaal River, Villiers is a pretty town serving the maize farms and cattle ranches in the area and is an important rail junction.

VAAL DAM

Completed in 1938, the Vaal Dam was built to meet the growing need for water by the densely populated and heavily industrialised PWV (Pretoria, Witwatersrand, Vereeniging) area (now Gauteng). But by the early 1950s, it became necessary to increase the dam's capacity and the height of the wall was raised from 54,2m to 60,3m, increasing the dam's capacity from 994 million m3 to 2 188 million m3. In 1985, the dam wall was raised by another 3m, increasing its capacity to 2 536 million m3. An additional 663 million m3 can be stored temporarily to reduce flooding danger. Because the dam can no longer meet Gauteng's water needs, water is transferred from the Sterkfontein Dam in northeastern Free State into the Vaal system. The dam's water supply was further augmented in 1998 when it received its first water from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. With a surface area of 320 km2 and situated conveniently close to Johannesburg, the Vaal Dam is a popular recreational area, especially with power-boat, water-skiing, yachting and angling enthusiasts. Several recreational resorts lie along the dam's banks.

DENEYSVILLE

...was established in 1936 on the farms Witpoort and Wilhelmina, near the wall of the Vaal Dam, as a recreational town. It was named in honour of Colonel Deneys Reitz, Minister of Lands when the dam was built and author of the trilogy of the South African War, Commando, Trekking On and No Outspan. A mecca for water-sport enthusiasts, Deneysville has three marinas and is the base of a yacht and aquatic water-sport club.

VEREENIGING

Situated on the northern bank of the Vaal River, Vereeniging forms part of South Africa's largest industrial complex. The town owes its existence to the rich coal deposits occurring in the area and was founded on the farms Leeuwkuil and Klipplaatsdrift in 1882. It owes its Dutch name, translated as 'association', to the first coal mining company in the area, the Zuid-Afrikaansche en Oranje Vrijstaatsche Kolen-en-Mineralen-Mijn Vereeniging. The town made world headlines in May 1902 when the terms to end the South African War were negotiated here. The treaty was, however, signed at Melrose House in Pretoria. The Vaal River and its willow-lined banks are popular recreational areas, drawing many people on weekends and holidays. The town's museum displays a valuable collection of photographs of the peace negotiations, and also has interesting archaeological and palaeontological exhibits, among them Glossopteris fossil plants occurring in the coal seams. The Vaal Technorama Industrial Museum is the only one of its kind in the country.

Three archaeological sites of interest lie in and around the town: the Duncanville Archaeological Reserve and the Klip River Quarry, 6 km out of town, have both yielded a large number of Earlier Stone Age tools, while on an outcrop at Redan, a few kilometres to the north of the town, Stone Age shamans (medicine men) carved over 240 engravings, mainly geometrical, into the rock. Prior arrangements to visit Redan must be made with the Vaal Technorama Museum.

SHARPEVILLE

Sharpeville, a black township outside Vereeniging, has become a symbol of the struggle against apartheid. On 21 March 1960 police opened fire on a large crowd of Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) supporters demonstrating against the pass laws, killing 69 and wounding 180. A week later, a state of emergency was declared and the ANC and the PAC were banned. Today, the massacre is commemorated as Human Rights Day, set aside as a public holiday by South Africa's first democratically elected government.

WITKOP BLOCKHO--

This sturdy stone bastion was built during the South African War as part of a line of fortifications to defend the railway line against guerrilla attacks by the Boer forces. By early 1902 an extensive system of some 8 000 blockhouses had been built across the country. One of the principal lines of blockhouses stretched from Colesberg to Kroonstad and Vereeniging along the railway line, which was patrolled by armoured trains.

GOLD REEF CITY

...is a re-creation of Johannesburg in its heyday, centred around No. 14 shaft of the Crown Mine and is an exciting and fun choice for guests on South African holidays. The atmosphere of the mining town as it looked between 1900 and 1920 has been captured, complete with horse-drawn carts, can-can girls and minstrels. Lining the streets are replicas of Johannesburg's first stock exchange (built in 1887), Victorian houses, saloons and corrugated-iron stores. Among Gold Reef City's numerous attractions are a casino, gold-pouring demonstrations, gumboot dancing performances, a tour of the mine's 5th level - 220 m below the surface - and an adventure park with 26 rides, ranging from a fun train to the Anaconda, and Africa's longest river ride, the Raging River Rapids.

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