Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve, Free State
Did you know?
The Sterkfontein Dam is home to the biggest hydro-electric power station in South Africa.
The Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is a water wonder in the Eastern Free State, offering wildlife, birding, windsurfing and flyfishing with a magnificent view over the Drakensberg.
The flyfishing here ranks as one of the finest yellowfish hotspots in South Africa, offering a catch-and-release adventure where this freshwater fighter, renowned for its gameness, seriously challenges your skills. You will mainly catch the Orange/Vaal smallmouth here, but there is a small population of Orange/Vaal largemouth.
Says flyfisher David Weaver in a guide to the fishing here: 'The fishing for yellowfish in the Sterkfontein Dam is arguably some of the finest in the country because the very clear water lends itself to excellent sight fishing. There are also large numbers of sharptooth catfish, some very big, as well as common carp. Both these species are also targeted by fly fishers as well as the Orange River mudfish.'
If you’re a windsurfer, when the high winds blow here they will take you on a joy ride across this vast expanse of water, spanning about 7 000ha in this 19 000ha nature reserve. The Sterkfontein Dam is part of the Tugela-Vaal water transfer system that supplies the greater Gauteng province.
Looking after the reserve is its chief nature conservator, Mark Roods, who explains that the reserve offers several veld types over a distance of 20km. This is because the topography within this area ranges from 1 700m to 2 350m above sea level, while the rainfall gradient ranges from 720mm per year to 1 400mm near the Lesotho side of the reserve. The Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is celebrated for the high biodiversity associated with the varying veld types, including afromontane, Karoo and savannah.
Here you will find yellowwoods in the kloofs, springbok on the plains, black wildebeest, blesbok, mountain reedbuck and, if you’re lucky, an African wildcat.
As a birder you’ll want to spend several days here, with 230 recorded species on offer, including the Cape vulture and the bearded vulture.
The accommodation in the reserve includes self-catering chalets (96 beds in total) and camping facilities, some with electrical points, others without. It’s solid, basic accommodation without frills and no restaurant, but the town of Harrismith is about 25km away, with all the provisions you need. For those who prefer more facilities, there is a private resort called Qwantani on other side of the dam.
After a day on the water or exploring the reserve, there is little to beat putting a few coals on the braai and then sitting back and watching the twilight dance between the water and the mountains.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve for bookings
Tel: +27 (0)58 622 3520/1093/3892
Qwantani Berg and Bush Resort
Tel: +27 (0)58 623 0882
Free State Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)51 411-4300
(For flyfishing information and guiding services)
Tel: +27 (0)83 303 4230
How to get here
The Sterkfontein Dam is situated outside Harrismith in the eastern Free State. Access is from the R74 on the Oliviershoek Pass from KwaZulu-Natal and Harrismith.
From Johannesburg, take the N3 towards Durban, turn off at the Harrismith sign. The journey takes about four hours.
Best time to visit
All year round. For the best flyfishing times, consult a professional such as David Weaver.
Around the area
Short drives from the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve will bring you to places of interest such as the Basotho Cultural Village (55km) nestled in the heart of the Qwaqwa National Park, Camorhi Game Reserve, Golden Gate (60km) and Clarens (100km).
You will need your own motor vehicle. If you wish to venture into the mountains from here, it's preferable to use a 4x4.
Length of stay
Stay one or two nights if you are simply exploring the area, but longer if you are here for fishing or windsurfing.
Where to stay
Stay in the chalets or camping facilities at the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve or at Qwantani Berg and Bush Resort, a private resort on the opposite side of the dam to the provincial resort.