Closest Town: Venterstad
Grading: Easy | Duration: 1 - 4 Hours
Location (Area/Province): Free State
Configuration: Various options
Start Point: At the Forever Resort
Access: Entry fee payable
Beware of: Aardvark holes in unexpected spots
Facilities: Ablutions at gate, but no facilities along the route
Cell Reception: Intermittent
Ever wished you could visit the glorious Lake Malawi, and listen to the call of fish eagles as you circumnavigate the sandy shores? Or maybe set off onto the plains of Serengeti, to range free in the company of herds of plains game? Well, you can, and you can do it on your bike, at a budget that will leave enough change to upgrade your bike. I’m talking the Gariep Dam here, and cannot actually give a shit whether you snort in derision. I love this place, and would much rather have it to myself anyway. If you do decide to go and try it, feel free to thank me later.
On your bike
Fantastical, fearless, free-ranging and fast – that is what you can expect when you bang onto this route from the Gariep Forever Resort. Navigate the first 1.5km to the resort gate and continue right onto the town main road before turning right again (2.5km) at the sign board to Gariep Dam Nature Reserve. Blitz the 2km through the friendly local township to the reserve gate (4.5km) and kiss the tarmac goodbye.
You pay your dues (at the reserve office, 3km later) and continue along the good quality gravel road for another 500m, then keep left into the Game Viewing Area (8.5km). There’s a fair bit of up and down through the kopjes and I decided to ride the game drive loop in a clock-wise direction, against the flow of vehicle traffic. (This is irrelevant, really, as the chances are you won’t see any vehicles for the duration of your ride).
Be that as it may, I cranked at speed into the kopjes, keeping pace with a galloping herd of mountain zebra, then turned left up to the view point (10.5km). An easy climb takes you to a viewpoint (12.2km) with a 270 degree panorama across the dam, and the added bonus of an ass-tingling blast back to the game drive loop (13.7km).
The fun now starts in all earnest along the mini-Serengeti plains, with herds of blesbok, zebra, wildebeest, eland and springbuck dicing you at break-neck speed as you cavort along the dual-track. At 15.6km, you have the option of extending your ride by around 20km by keeping left onto dual-track dog-legging to the main tarmac strip … your call).
Or stick with the laid-back vibe and keep right, cranking at pace as you loop around back towards the water’s edge. A dual-track slipping off to the left (21.2km) takes you onto the shoreline for 2kays, with a dash of off-track route-finding thrown in for good measure. It is about now where you should keep out an eye for the fish eagles, and mutter to yourself how fucking amazing this lake actually is, and how stunning it is that there are no people crapping in the water like you have at Lake Malawi.
Pick up the track again at 23.5km to link up with the main loop 500m later, and klap it hard till you reach the gate once more (26.1km). Keep your average up at around 20km/hr as you smash the last 7km home for a 33.4km of total cruise time, or otherwise do the loop again. I know I would.
Rated by : Jacques Marais
Off the bike
The Gariep Forever Resort rates as the cleanest and most friendly establishment I have ever visited, bar none. They offer access to every water sport available, from sailing and sunset cruises to power-boating, canoeing and fly-fishing. (Check beforehand, as it often makes sense to bring your own equipment, rather than hire this at a high cost from local operators). Dam wall tours – there are 13.2km of tunnels in the Gariep Dam wall – horse riding, road cycling and trail running should also be on your bucket list.
Activities in the area include dam wall tours (arranged by Water Affairs), game-viewing safaris in Gariep Nature Reserve and visits to the fish hatchery. An aviation club, dam cruises, horse trails and river rafting are also available. Resort activities include anything from tennis, Putt-Putt, golf, swimming and bowls to sailing and angling. The dam is a water sport enthusiast’s paradise, stretching 90km in length and 374 sq km in size, making sailing, jet skiing and power boating a pleasure.
Route information: Gariep Dam Forever Resort
Address: Private Bag X10, Gariep Dam, 9922
Telephone: +27 (0)51 754 0045
GPS: 30°35′48.4″ South / 025°30′07.8″ East