Darlington Dam

A few months ago we spent a weekend on a friend’s farm near Darlington Dam and he took us for a quick drive to see what the dam looked like. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the dam wall itself, so my picture is of the runoff below the wall.

Darlington Dam, also referred to as Lake Mentz is located off the main road between Kirkwood and Jansenville and was completed in 1922. The primary reason for the dam being built was to provide an adequate supply of water to especially citrus farmers further down in the Sundays River Valley with irrigation water for their trees.

The story of the land on which the dam is located goes back to 1905 when P.W.F. Weyers settled on Darlington in the fertile Sundays River Valley and planted fruit orchards and vineyards. Later a hotel, post office, shop, smithy, house and several outbuildings were established on the farm, but these all disappeared under waters of Lake Mentz when it was established in 1922.

The original dam was designed to store 142 million m3, but the high sediment yield of the Sundays River meant that sediment delivery into the reservoir basin quickly reduced its capacity. The dam wall was raised by 1.5 m in 1935 and again by 5.8 m in 1951. By 1979 the reservoir had lost a total of 41.47% of its design capacity.

The serious drought of 1966 and 1967 emphasized the necessity to commence work on the Skoenmakers Canal to link the Great Fish River to Darlington Dam in view of an expected increase in irrigation below Darlington Dam and the demand for water in the Port Elizabeth metropolitan area.

In the 1990s the ‘lake’ was renamed the Darlington Dam and today it has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park.

Checking the Kouga Dam overflowing

A week or two three ago we spent the weekend at Tia Ghee Tented Camp in the Gamtoos Valley and heard that the Kouga Dam was still overflowing after good late winter and spring rains.  We immediately decided to take a drive up to the dam for a look and we definitely weren’t disappointed.
From the tar road, very close to where it becomes dirt going into the Baviaanskloof, there is a dirt road turnoff to the left and about 7 or so kilometers later you arrive at the dam.  The low water bridge over the river was under water and the road on the one side of the cement bridge is totally washed away so we parked the car, took off our shoes and went a wading.

Just less than a kilometer’s walk up the hill and we got to the lookout area at the top. What a sight!

The lookout area looks right down on the dam with views both upstream above the wall and downstream back to where the car was parked in the distance.

I really struggle to get Chaos Boy to pose for photos lately so was just too glad when he flashed me a smile for this one. *mxm* (which means tongue click for those who don’t know) Teenagers!

With Drama Princess it’s the total opposite.  She’ll happily pose with a smile, do the natural thing and pretend to be looking at something or perform for the camera.
Walking back down through the tunnel on our way back to the car

One last pose as we made our way back through the river to the car.  Everybody was in agreement that taking the drive to the dam was a great idea, even if the KidZ complained all the way while walking up.  Coming back down they were all smiles.
Note – 3 November 2015 – At the time of posting this we just had a huge amount of rain dumped on us again over the last week so the dam is definitely still overflowing.  If you want to see this for yourself, do take a drive into the beautiful Gamtoos Valley this weekend.  Why not get away properly and book for the weekend at Tia Ghee?  You won’t be sorry.

A very unusual beach

Can you guess where this beach is?
Technically it’s not a beach.  Not a coastal one anyway.  It is the sandveld on the banks of the Bloemhof Dam on the border between the North West Province and the Free State.
Bloemhof Dam was built in the late 1960’s and is located at the confluence of the Vaal River and the Vet River.  At 25 000 hectares the dam with it’s 4 270 m long dam wall is one of the largest in South Africa.  The dam itself is very shallow as it isn’t located in a gorge and stretches up to a 100 km upstream from the wall. 
The area around the dam has been declared a protected area with the Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve on the North West side is the more prominent Sandveld Nature Reserve in the Free State.  The Sandveld Nature Reserve is one of South Africa’s top birding spots with 295 bird species recorded here as well as game like giraffe, buffalo, eland, gemsbok, and rare sable and roan antelope.

The Gariep Dam – South Africa’s biggest dam

Returning from Gauteng on a recent road trip I decided to make a little detour via the Gariep Dam and take the Steynsburg and Hofmeyr road through the Karoo to Cradock.  I made a lunch and leg stretch stop at the lookout overlooking the Gariep Dam wall.  The Gariep Dam was opened in 1071 and initially called the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam after the first prime minister of the Republic of South Africa.  After the end of Apartheid it was decided to change the name to the Gariep Dam.  Gariep is the original name of the Orange River and means “river” in the Khoekhoe (Khoisan) language.
The Gariep Dam is the biggest dam in South Africa and has a total storage capacity of approximately 5,340,000 megalitres and a surface area of more than 370 square kilometers when full.  The wall is 88 meters high and along its crest is 914 meters long.  Truly a South African man made marvel.

Buffeljagsrivier farmstall dam

A sunny blue sky day. So typical of South Africa, specially in summer.  A grumbling tummy made me pull over at a farm stall at Buffeljagsrivier near Swellendam to look for a pie and something to drink.  Behind the farm stall was a big piece of grass with this farm dam and it is where I snapped this picture.  Green surroundings with a beautiful blue reflection and mountains in the background.  Makes one want to spend more time, but the road was calling.

Groenvlei jetty

The lakes district between Knysna and Wilderness on the Garden Route is made up of a series of lakes, most of them visible from the N2 itself.  Out of all those lakes, Groenvlei – just east of Sedgefield – is the only one that is a fresh water lake and without an inlet or an outlet.  The lake is maintained by rainwater and springs alone.  There are very strict restrictions on boating on Groenvlei with only electric motors, and no outboard motors, allowed.  The lake contains largemouth bass and is one of only a few lakes in the country that has them occur there naturally.

Irrigating the Gamtoos Valley

How often do you wonder where exactly the water in your tap and fruit and vegetables in your kitchen comes from?  We’ll, if you live in Port Elizabeth its possible to answer both these questions for yourself by visiting the Gamtoos Valley.  The Gamtoos Valley is often referred to as the food basket of the Eastern Cape as it is one of South Africa’s biggest citrus and vegetable producing areas.  The farms get their irrigation water from exactly the same place we get our drinking water from, the Kouga Dam.

The dam is a double curve arch dam with an 82 m high wall and storage capacity of 128,7 million m3.  The catchment area is inside the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area from where the Kouga River carries the water into the 34 km long dam basin.  Other than for water supply the dam was also built as a flood control mechanism to lessen the impact of a flood on the lower Gamtoos River.  Visitors can get right up to the point where I took the photos from for a view of the dam and dam wall with it becoming an even more exceptional sight when the dam overflows. 

Water is taken from the Kouga Dam to the Loerie Dam via a main canal while irrigation water for the farms in the valley is distributed by means of a series of canals and pipelines.  7400 ha of scheduled ground are irrigated with every irrigator being supplied with at least one draw-off with a self registering meter.  These are then operated by the farmers themselves according to their needs and up to a maximum limit of 8000 m3 per ha per year.
And this is where the irrigation water goes.  Citrus orchards like this and fields of potatoes and other vegetables.  The Gamtoos Valley is the ideal breakaway for city folk in the Port Elizabeth area.  The area offers beautiful scenic views, fresh air, lekker food, genuine farm stalls and real wholesome country living hospitality, with most guest houses and B&B’s situated on working farms.

Frames Reservoir – Port Elizabeth’s oldest dam

Growing up I wanted to be an archaeologist.  Somebody like Indiana Jones who discovered lost cities, found ancient artefacts and went places that most can just dream of.  So now I work in tourism and love travelling with the explorer in me always waiting just below the surface.  Since I started Geocaching my explorer persona gets released on a regular basis.  I may not go in search of artefacts but looking for a cache feels like the same thing.  Don’t think I can call the locations where most caches are hidden anywhere close to being a lost city, but every so often I find a new cache to search for which is somewhere out of the ordinary.  Somewhere that brings out said explorer.    

One such cache made an appearance the other day courtesy of Thecrow01.  The cache was hidden at Frames Reservoir, Port Elizabeth’s oldest dam.  Immediately an expedition was planned, even if it was just a quick one during lunch time. 

In the early days of the settlement of Port Elizabeth the stream down what is now Donkin Street in Central, supplied the town with water.  As the town expanded, so more water was needed.  Frames Reservoir was completed in 1864 and can be found on the Shark River (further up the valley from Happy Valley) in Humewood.  It was built by Clement Wall Frames who leased the land from his cousin, C E Frames.  He formed the Shark River Water Company and they supplied the lower parts of town with water.  Unfortunately for Frames, due to pressure problems the higher lying areas lost out.  He went bankrupt as a result of the scheme and the municipality took it over.

We (us being friends and fellow cachers Seekoei and erenei and obviously myself) approached the dam on a track from the old Boet Erasmus Stadium side.  The coordinates then took us off the track and along a path through the bush.  The valley suddenly opened up and there was this stunning spot and the dam.  I wonder if the local boys every come fishing here cause there was a couple of big fish splashing around when we were walking across the dam wall.  It really was a great experience to discover the dam.  Something I’ve heard about but have never seen.  Another great expedition and discovery thanks to Geocaching.

Gariep Dam revisited

Two years ago we camped at the Forever Resorts’ Gariep Dam Resort and had a marvelous time in the sun and next to the pool.  Afterwards I did this post on the dam.  Last week we headed for Gauteng for Chaos Boy to compete in the SA Trampoline Championships and stopped at the Gariep Dam on the way up to stretch our legs and have a breakfast picnic.
The Gariep Dam was commissioned in 1971 and was originally called the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam.  After the end of apartheid the name was considered unsuitable and changed to Gariep Dam in 1996.  The word gariep comes from the Khoi San language and means “Great water”. It is also the original name of the Orange River which flows into the dam  and acts as the border between the provinces of the Eastern Cape and Free State. 
The road crosses the 88 m high and 914 m long wall and you can actually get out and walk back onto it for views both over the dam on the one side and into the gorge on the other.  Tours of the dam wall is also possible, but as we did it last time around, we didn’t bother again.  Plus we still had two hours to go before our overnight spot in Bloemfontein.

This is the view back towards the dam wall

We also had a quick “do you remember…” stop above the resort, just for memory sake before moving onto the boring drive through the “flat lands” of the Free State.