Vaal River, South Africa
Did you know?
Groot Eiland has a golf course and a suspension bridge to the mainland.
The Vaal River, South Africa's longest river after the Orange, is a key water source for the country.
Its source is at Klipkapstel in Mpumalanga from where it flows to Douglas in the Northern Cape. Here it meets the mighty Orange River, which flows west into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay.
The Vaal River, meaning 'drab' or 'dull' in Dutch because of its brown-grey colour, is divided into three catchment areas: the Upper Vaal, Middle Vaal and the Lower Vaal.
The Vaal Dam, near Vereeniging, has an 880km shoreline spanning three provinces, and is a favourite water sports playground offering canoeing, paddle-boating, power-boating, jet- skiing, and fishing, among other water sports.
The Upper Vaal is the Vaal River’s recreational hub. Centred on the towns of Vereeniging and Vanderbijlpark, expensive real estate and riverfront guesthouses line its banks, and you can enjoy everything from dining to fly fishing and Vaal River cruises.
This stretch of the river is exceptionally popular as a leisure destination, not least because the river is scenic and raftable all year round, except when it floods.
There are several hundred islands along the river, which help to create its white-water rapids. The biggest and trickiest section of rapids is between Parys and Christiana, where rapids with names like 'Big Daddy' assure adrenalin-packed white-water rafting.
The Middle Vaal, mainly an agricultural region, covers parts of the Free State and North West provinces, and the Lower Vaal comprises the area between the Bloemhof Dam and the confluence of the Vaal and Orange rivers at Douglas in the Northern Cape.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Vaal Meander Information Office:
Tel:+27 (0)16 424 1121 / +27 (0)78 705 7040
Fax:+27 (0)086 274 47096
Tel: +27 (0)56 811 4000
Fezile Dabi Tourism
Tel:+27 (0)16 970 8600
Fax:+27 (0)16 973 3903
Kimberley Diamond Fields Region
Tel: +27 (0)53 832 7298
Fax: +27 (0)53 832 7211
How to get here
Access to the Vaal is best by road, although many affluent Vaal Triangle residents travel by helicopter.
Best time to visit
The Vaal is a year-round destination. White water rapids are best from November through January.
Around the area
Alongside the Vaal River, you’ll find towns, nature reserves, dams and in the Upper Vaal, a number of golf courses. The Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site outside Parys is a must-visit.
Tours to do
Guided walking or canoeing tours of the Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site, river cruises, and white-water rafting tours.
Unless travelling with a tour operator, you’ll need a car to reach the Vaal and explore the many small towns along its banks. The Vaal Meander can arrange chauffeured trips from Johannesburg to a number of locations along the Upper Vaal.
Length of stay
Depending on where you access the river, and what activities you have planned, you can spend from an afternoon to a week on the Vaal River.
What to pack
Remember your camera, binoculars, and sturdy shoes if you plan to hike. Sun protection is recommended at all times, to protect against ultra-violet rays, and reflection off the water. Likewise, it can be chilly on the water, so pack a weatherproof jacket.
Where to stay
There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses in the Upper Vaal ranging from 5-star accommodation to rustic self-catering chalets. For an authentic Vaal experience, hire a houseboat and sleep on the river.
What to eat
Along the Upper Vaal, pubs, restaurants, and cafés are within easy reach of the river, and you’ll find fast food outlets in most towns next to the river.
The Vaal Meander website has a list of festivals taking place along the river. Small towns along the Vaal also hold their own quirky festivals that are worthy of an hour or 2 of cultural immersion.
Look out for local artists, farmers' markets, and community art and craft projects signposted along the Vaal.