Rietvlei Nature Reserve is one of Tshwane's hidden treasures. Locals know it and love it. It’s a very popular place for picnics, bird watching, cycling and horse riding. This magical piece of grassland and thickly wooded savannah surrounds a large dam and you’d never guess you were close to the city.

Did you know?

Rietvlei is home to a rare peat wetland – an excellent water filter.

Just south of Pretoria (also often called Tshwane) is a lovely natural haven, a land of water called the Rietvlei Nature Reserve.

It is named for the dam at its centre, the source of around 20% of Pretoria’s drinking water. The dam itself has a somewhat sentimental history. It was built during the Great Depression years and manual labourers were paid four shillings a day – not a fortune by any means, but the work was eagerly taken up.

Mule carts were used to remove the soil – and mule shoes are still uncovered here from time to time.

Still, that’s not why people come here. It’s for the peace, and the chance to see wild animals like rhinos, somewhat elusive cheetah, buffalo, black wildebeest, blesbok (their ancestors originally came from General Jan Smuts’ farm), zebras, waterbuck, reedbuck and oribi. There’s also a separate lion encampment you can visit (with a guide).

It’s a popular day-trip destination for those interested in game-viewing, walks, cycling, angling and bird watching. Within the 3 800-hectare reserve, there are around 240 bird species to be seen, and it’s an ideal place to put in a pleasant few hours’ birding.

In addition, you can go for horse rides here – either longish ones, for which you will need to book, or little half hour outrides leaving from the coffee shop. You could even book an overnight ride.

If you’re keen on birds, you’re likely to see plenty of aquatic species like the African fish eagle, half-collared and giant kingfishers, and purple gallinule. You’ll also find grassland specials like the grass owl, spikeheeled lark, buffy pipit and orange-throated longclaw.

History buffs may want to look out for a stone rampart originally built by British troops during the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War). This is also where they installed a cannon during the second occupation of Pretoria.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Rietvlei Nature Reserve
Tel: +27 (0) 12 358 1811/2
Cell: +27 (0) 72 047 3590
Email: rietvlein@tshwane.gov.za

Best time to visit

Summers (October to March) are splendid, with great thunderheads rising in late afternoons over the green veld. In winter, though, the game is easier to see.

Tours to do

There is the option of a night drive, where you might see various nocturnal creatures like black-backed jackal, brown hyena, aardwolf, springhare and porcupine.

Get around

You can drive around the park in your own car, or take a stroll (in areas where there are no lions, buffaloes or rhino).

What will it cost

Entrance fees are approx R40 per person. If you want to go on a tour of the lion camp, it will cost you the same again, and you go with a guide.

Length of stay

This is a lovely day or half-day trip.

Where to stay

Irene, the region closest to Rietvlei, has some delightful guesthouses and a hotel. Otherwise Pretoria has many options.