Gariep and Vaal Dam January 2021

Nearing the end of January we had to head back to Johannesburg for a doctor’s appointment or two and we hoped that, at the same time, our spare diesel tanks would be ready to install.

Seeing we now have a lifestyle that doesn’t need any rush, we took our time to slooooowly make our way back to city of gold.

Just out of P.E. we made a mandatory pie stop at Nanaga Farm Stall, THE most iconic rest stop on the split between north (N10 to Cradock) or east (N2 to Grahamstown).

After breakfast we continued to Cradock, through the rural landscape of the Eastern Cape with its fields of prickly pear cacti and aloes, alternating with the massive pivot irrigation systems on the maize fields and the iconic wind pumps.

About 15km before Cradock, we grinded to a halt at the end of a long queue of trucks. As far as we could see up the hill and over the mountain, traffic stood still. We saw a guy walking past trucks in front of us and Stefaan got out to find out what was going on. We got the uncomfortable news that some of the local community were burning tyres and creating havoc in protest to the “undelivery” of services. Seeing that we didn’t have an idea how long this would take, we got out of the queue, turned back and stopped at a lay-by a bit further to wait out the game. There were other trucks parked and we could hear the one driver talk on the radio, presumably to other team mates further up the queue. 

Although we had planned to take it as it comes,  park there for the night and get on the road early next morning, we hadn’t even had the time for a cup of coffee, before the one truck moved out again. By that time we also saw trucks starting to come from the other side, so we decided to follow the example and try to get through Cradock asap. When we arrived on the outskirts of Cradock we could see melted tar circles on the road where the tyres had been burning and lots of broken glass. The people we saw hanging about seemed peaceful enough though and some were even hitch hiking, hoping for a ride. Yes,… we do understand that the rioters are usually a smallish group of hot heads that create havoc and most of the community are just onlookers, but we didn’t plan to stick around in Cradock. By then it was afternoon and we continued until we eventually stopped for a sleepover at a Colesberg petrol station/truck stop.

From Colesberg it’s just a hop and a skip to the Gariep dam and seeing it’s the largest dam in South Africa, we couldn’t miss out. And man… was this a sight to behold. The dam was overflowing and the water spewed out with unbelievable force. We stopped at a viewpoint on the other side of the dam with awesome views over the dam wall and the river. We continued on the south side of the dam and eventually pulled off the road where a small river flowed into one of the arms of the dam and parked there for the night.

Seeing Stefaan plays around on Youtube these days, he obviously sees other video’s too. Just at that time, when we were revelling at the force of the water bursting from the Gariep Dam, he saw footage of Augrabies Falls, which is downstream from the Gariep Dam and also fed by the Orange River. When we had been at Augrabies in September 2020 (top), there had been water in the falls, but reasonable unpresuming. About 5 months later now (early February 2021) relentless heavy rains had seriously swollen the Orange River, made the Gariep Dam overflow and push even more water down the river towards Augrabies.  It looked like the Falls were unleashed in all earnest. (bottom video footage courtesy of The Beauty of Africa Through My Lens).

Next morning we continued to Bethulie and crossed another bridge over the almighty Orange River. As with previous crossings, we could see how full the river was and how the land had been swamped by the water.

Just past Bethulie is “Tusse Die Riviere” nature reserve and we wanted to go and have a look. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be: on the turn off to the main entrance we were greeted by a sign that explained that this particular road had been flooded and we could try the emergency entrance, some 40km further. There we were told that the park was off limits for ordinary visitors, because it was now a dedicated quarantaine zone. Bummer. They could have added that information to the signboard that said the road was flooded!

Oh, well… no choice but to continue to the Vaaldam up north. 

Seeing we needed some power, we booked in at Mihanzie caravan park on the banks of the Vaal dam, near Oranjeville. There were a lot of roadworks happening in town and traffic was redirected to a detour track running parallel with the road under construction. That road was so bad, we got up to about 5 km per hour! Just through town we had to pass over a tiny bridge to get to our camping: a narrow bridge passage, but definitely high enough!

The dam was nice and full and there were many fishermen on the banks throwing a line. The camp sites were spacious and clean. I think that the fact that there were not really many campers, did help to get that spacious feeling. Seeing campers and fishermen further up the banks of the dam we could very well imagine that in high season (and without Covid), this place – and all other camping sites along the dam-  might be packed seriously.

We chilled along the dam with a glass of wine and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

When we drove past the dam wall the next morning, there was no overflow like we had seen at the Gariep Dam. (about 3 weeks after we had camped at the Vaaldam with no overflow, the dam reached 100% capacity and sluices were opened. video courtesy of News 24)

Then we hit our last stretch to Johannesburg. We try to avoid toll roads and took the R59 via Vereeniging. Unfortunately, as with many towns we’ve seen in our 5 months of travelling so far, it can be quite depressive: buildings look dilapidated, roads are potholed, traffic lights are not working, and there is dirt and mess everywhere. As there would have been no chance in hell to just park and sleep in the street here, we continued to Midrand and eventually parked on the parking lot of a shopping centre. Next morning we visited the guy who was welding our spare diesel tanks and realised we would need to stick around another 2 weeks or so, because the tanks were not ready.

After doctor and dentist appointments, we needed to add another item to our list of things to do in the following 2 weeks: Stefaan needed a root canal and our time in Johannesburg seemed to become longer by the day. 

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