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TThe 7 000ha water wonder in the Eastern Free State near Harrismith, known as the Sterkfontein Dam, is situated in a nature reserve with 12 000ha of conserved land offering several different veld types and a compelling variety of landscapes, activities and wildlife.
The fly-fishing in the region 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.
'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,’ says David Weaver, an avid fly fisher and expert in the area. ‘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,’ he adds.
WWindsurfers will delight in the ideal conditions the dam provides for the sport. Powerful winds and clear water that spans 7 000ha make the dam perfect for windsurfing or a leisurely boat trip. Interestingly, the Sterkfontein Dam is part of the Tugela-Vaal water transfer system that supplies the greater Gauteng province and is home to the biggest hydroelectric power station in South Africa.
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 its wide range of 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 and camping facilities. It’s solid, basic accommodation without frills and no restaurant, but the town of Harrismith is about 25km away, with all the provisions you’ll need. For those who prefer better-equipped facilities, Qwantani, a private resort located on the south side of the dam, is your best bet.
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.
TTravel 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 fly-fishing information and guiding services)
Tel: +27 (0)83 303 4230
How to get there
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
The dam is beautiful all year round. For outdoor activities, avoid going in the winter as temperatures can drop quite low. Summer is the best season for fly-fishing and other watersports.
Things to do
There are tons of other activities in the area apart from windsurfing, fishing and birding. Take in the beauty of the Drakensberg with a hike through the nature reserve or visit the Basotho Cultural Village nearby.
What to pack
Always pack a jacket as evenings in the Drakensberg can be chilly. Some good walking shoes and sunscreen are also advised for daytime activities.