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TThe 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 3 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)16 423 2631
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.
Things to do
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 and there are guided walking or canoeing tours of the site. River cruises and white water rafting tours are all available.
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.