When I was a kid I spent many weekends on the Vaal Dam because one of my closest friends had a holiday home there. We spent most of our time in or on the water. So I was REALLY pleased to head back there for a long weekend earlier this year.
The Vaal River in southern Gauteng gives off that laid back vibe that comes with water sports, golf, fishing, picnicking and sundowner cruises that leave from the waterfront hotels. Here, along the banks of the Vaal, Klip and Suikerbos rivers, life is always in holiday mode and your swimming costume barely has time to dry.
So here I am, in my life jacket, bobbing about in the waters of the Vaal River – with my friends cheering me on from the river banks – wondering why it is that I over enthusiastically volunteered to go jet boarding first. I think my friends are secretly cheering that it’s me (and not them) who’s going first. Sure, I’d seen all those scenes from Hollywood films. It seemed easy enough, as they take to the sky with two pressurised streams of water jetting out below as they take off and swirl upwards.
But once I’ve strapped on the heavy hover board and struggle to stand upright on it beneath the water, I realise they were all professional Hollywood stunt men, who spend their days doing these kinds of things for a living.
At this point I’m not even worried about making a fool of myself and it’s too late to back out now. Darryl, our instructor, starts up the jet ski’s engine. When he accelerates it shoots me into the sky. I try my best to keep my balance and stay standing.
Surprisingly my first attempt is my best. I only rise about two metres from the water’s surface. If I had more time to practice perhaps I’d rise to 10 metres like Darryl and those professional stunt men. And maybe I’d learn how to do all those fancy tricks and overhead flips. But I did manage to change direction by steering with my legs, as I shift my weight from one to the other and bend my knees.
I belly flop into the water a few times, but the rush of adrenaline makes me forget how much water I’ve snorted on impact. My friends are now waving from the shore, I give them a thumbs up and a sheepish grin. Then I realise they’re actually signalling for me to come back. They want a turn too. I wave back pretending not to understand or notice their gestures and give it one last try. This my version of an interpretative Vaal dance on the waters.
From here on, it gets much more relaxing. Our captain narrates the waters’ journey as we glide along the Vaal to the mouths of the rivers that feed into the main river channel. The river banks are fringed with luscious vegetation. Large raffia palm reflections wave to us in the oscillating ripples that chase the tail end of our boat. We float passed a few waterfront hotels and restaurants that are interspersed with the manicured lawns of private holiday homes and golf courses. You’d barely believe that you are a mere 45 minutes’ drive from Johannesburg’s busy city centre. It seems as though we are a world away.
Later we take to the rubber tubes. Those of us who are adventurous thrill-seekers ask the captain to crank it up a notch. He accelerates and purposefully makes large waves and we launch into the air. Those with a greater need for speed can take to jet skis, go wake boarding or water skiing. With so many water sports on offer it’s easy to spend an entire day or weekend on the water. (If you love water sports, read more about what I got up to in the Seychelles.)
By the late afternoon we’re all tired out and the picnic by the water’s edge is the perfect way to relax. We clink our glasses of bubbles and indulge in fruits, salads, freshly-baked breads and barbecued meat prepared by BON Hotel Riviera on Vaal, you can pre-order yours with which ever goodies you like best. Barges lazily float by while a few of us cat nap on the blankets and cushions laid out in the shade of oak trees to a soundtrack of chirping birds.
Golf and spa
The last time I was here I did a golf initiation. You can rent golf clubs and take to the greens of the 18-hole par 72 Riviera on Vaal Country Club, which is set between the Vaal and Klip Rivers. Afterwards grab a drink at the club bar, which was designed by renowned British architect Sir Herbert Baker. Otherwise do as I did and get a full body massage or relax in the sauna at the adjoining Zorgvliet Spa.
The best way to end any day on the Vaal though is with a sundowners cruise abroad Liquid Lounge with your cocktail of choice in hand. It’s quite something watching the sun melt into the shimmering waters to the sound of smooth lounge tunes. Things begin to slow down and the last of the jet skis make their way to the jetties. We savour the sumptuous buffet dinner downstairs and eat dessert on balcony out top. This is weekend bliss and the perfect Sho’t Left getaway!
When was the last time you spent an entire weekend on the water? Where did you go? Tell me in the comments below.
I visited the Vaal as a guest of the Gauteng Tourism Authority. I wrote about this trip as part of my freelance work. As always, I maintain full editorial control of all content published on this website, but you already know that. ;)