Destination Reviews

CLANWILLIAM DAM A Watersport Paradise!

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CLANWILLIAM DAM A Watersport Paradise!

At the foot of the magnificent Cederberg mountain range, and situated in the heart of the Olifants River Valley, you’ll come across one of the country’s oldest towns. Well-known for its beautiful wild flower show in spring and numerous national monuments, the hamlet of Clanwilliam is a popular weekend getaway for many South Africans. Being one of South Africa’s top waterski and watersport venues, holidaymakers flock to the Clanwilliam Dam Resort every season.

As with most days in the life of a Leisure Boating reporter, my morning begins with a big yawn and stretch, and a sleepy stumble into a roadside cafe for a much-needed coffee. But today is slightly different, it’s a Saturday morning and my car is packed and ready to embark on a three-hour road trip up the West Coast of South Africa. A welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the Mother City, we travelled along the N7 towards Clanwilliam, which is situated 230 km from Cape Town’s northern suburbs.

Passing other quaint little towns such as Malmesbury, Moorreesburg, Piketberg and Citrusdal, the Cape platteland is a vast wilderness of scenic landscapes and majestic rock formations. The road takes you through open farmlands and past the rocky outcrops of the Western Cape interior before reaching the Piekenierskloof mountain pass. Here, the road gets a bit tricky, as regular road maintenance and a steep treacherous single lane road over the mountain can put you behind schedule.

The road gradually starts moving away from open plains and lonely windmills, and the presence of alpha baboons, haunting graveyards and dense fynbos becomes a more regular occurrence.
I’ve travelled this road on numerous occasions, and even though it’s a lengthy trip for a Capetonian, I’ve always found that a drive through the countryside is as meditative as it is therapeutic. The pure, uninhabited and untainted soil under a clear azure sky offers travellers like myself the space to rejuvenate our minds and explore the deeper beauties of the Cape’s geography.

A possible speeding fine and two arguments later we arrive in Clanwilliam. (The arguments were based on whether the flash was merely a Japanese tourist snapping away on the side of the road or the actions of a cunning and well-hidden traffic officer.) The main street was humming with activity, as local children run down pavements and parents barge into stores to do their grocery shopping. We stop for a quick drink at the town’s local pub, De Kelder, just to settle our nerves after the lengthy drive. For my article, I decided to engage in some chit-chat with some of the locals at the pub to get some info behind the rich cultural heritage of Clanwilliam. The town is steeped in historical platteland folklore with many interesting and colourful stories from the strong Afrikaans-based community residing in the town.

It happened 10 years after the arrival of the Settlers in Africa (1652). The first visitors arrived in Clanwilliam, but it was not until 1725 that people settled here permanently. The town was first known as Jan Disselsvalleij but was changed to Clanwilliam in 1814 by Sir John Cradock who named the town after his father-in-law, the Earl of Clanwilliam. The village and district consists of several attractive buildings, of which seven have been declared historical buildings, prior to 1980.

These include the original farm house of Jan Disselsvalleij, the officer’s residence between 1808 and 1858, the Old Goal building (museum), the Flower Church as well as an 1820 Settler’s house. A couple of drinks later revealed some interesting attractions in Clanwilliam. When in town, one can visit South Africa’s main rooibos tea-processing factory. This popular South African tea is only cultivated in the mountainous areas around Clanwilliam.

talk of the town Besides the world-famous wild flower show in spring, Clanwilliam is also a good base for exploring the Cederberg Wilderness Area that forms part of the Cape Floral World Heritage Site. Or one can discover ancient fossils found in the area and some of the thousands of San Rock art sites on the Sevilla Rock Art Trail. But probably the town’s biggest attraction and one that is relative to our magazine is the Clanwilliam Dam Resort – a spectacular body of water, popular for recreational purposes of every kind.

The resort is situated along the banks of the dam and is a popular weekend escape. With chalets, camping areas (with or without electricity), and excellent views of the dam, the resort caters for all tastes. Over weekends, the dam is abuzz with boat activity. The local angling club arranges regular competitions of which the Bass Classic in October is probably the most significant.

The Clanwilliam Dam is known as the most popular dam in the Western Cape for waterskiing. Clanwilliam Dam holds nearly 123 million litres of water, and is the water source for not only Clanwilliam, but every town, farm and community from Citrusdal to Springbok. We arrive at the dam on the Sunday, armed with a cooler box of ice and refreshments, hats, towels and lots of sunblock. In Clanwilliam, the temperature can easily soar to a scorching 35°C in the height of summer.

While some of us pitched the gazebo, the other half prepared to let loose the boat – a Clifton XXX inboard with a big donut inflatable tube – the aquatic equivalent of a mechanical bull. As the boat pulled off, cutting over the calm surface of the dam, I watched as the first batch of brave souls take some hard, but fun, falls off the tube as it rocketed around the corners.

Clanwilliam really is an ideal spot for any recreational water activity – whether it’s skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, fishing, cruising, or just kicking back and enjoying a lazy day in the sun. As I witness all the fun that everyone on the trip is having, I make some mental notes of planning my next trip to Clanwilliam Dam. Even when I returned back to the office, my days were filled with thoughts of days spent skippering a boat with friends and family, cutting across cool waters under the hot African sun, building memories and forgetting the routine of everyday life ever existed.

It’s been a tiresome day of fun on the water; and holding on for dear life onto a rubber flotation device isn’t child’s play. We decide to take a lazy cruise down the 14 km stretch of Clanwilliam Dam perfectly encapsulated our day and brought the afternoon to a close. The evening was spent around a braai, overlooking the calmness, and admiring the setting sun dancing off the almost mirror-like surface of the dam. The next morning we packed away the boat, said our goodbyes and embarked on the journey home. It’s always a sad affair driving home from a memorable holiday, but as we eventually spotted Table Mountain in the distance, I couldn’t help but think that when home is somewhere as beautiful as Cape Town, the holiday never really ends. For more information visit


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