Information and history

ID #1748

Vaalharts Valley, Karoo, Northern Cape Province.

During the Ice Age, a rift was torn in the earth’s crust in the centre of what was to become South Africa. Destined to become a lush fertile valley centuries later, the arid rift lay dormant for aeons.  Today this valley is known as the Vaalharts Valley – a veritable garden in the heart of South Africa.   It derives its name from the two rivers, the Vaal and the Harts Rivers that flow though it.

The area is classified as open savannah Kalahari thornveld with characteristic camelthorn trees in abundance. Shrubs and trees indigenous to the area include acacia species with names like “Katdoring”, “Haak-en-Steek” and “Trassiebos”. Tarchonanthus camthoratus (vaalbos), acacia tortillis and grewia flava (raisin bush) are typical of the semi-desert flora found throughout the region. Guinea fowl, Swainson’s and Orange River francolin, the Namaqua sandgrouse and a variety of pigeons, doves and small birds are common in the area.  Because of the irrigation canals and dams, a large number of waterbirds are to be seen, including migrants from far off places like the Kafue Flats in Zambia and the marshes of the Okavango Delta. The main reason for the diversity of plant and birdlife is because the region is at a junction between the Kalahari thornveld, the grasslands of the Highveld and the Karoo.  Ganspan Dam, 5-km outside Jan Kempdorp, is particularly well endowed.  During 1996, 515 bird species were counted – surely a record for Southern Africa. The pan is a proclaimed waterbird reserve.

A number of towns are dispersed along the valley including, amongst others, Christiana, Jan Kempdorp, Warrenton, Hartswater, Taung, Windsorton, Barkly West and Delportshoop. They have modern amenities such as hotels, guesthouses, banks, ATM’s, petrol stations and well-developed business centres.   The lifeline of the valley is the system of irrigation canals. From the main canal, more than 800-km of secondary canals supply water to more than 1200 farmers. The weir and canals offer many types of water sport. 

The real value of the valley as an agricultural scheme was recognised in 1881 although development only started in 1934 with the damming of the Vaal River in 1938.  It is probably the largest irrigation scheme in the Southern Hemisphere.  From the air, the valley resembles a patchwork quilt. Nestling between the Vaal and the Harts Rivers, the Vaalharts Valley covers 113000 Ha of which 35000 are under irrigation.  Main crops include lucerne, cotton, maize, groundnuts, citrus and pecan nuts while fruit such as apricots, watermelons, peaches and olives for export are on the increase. 

During the Depression, in the aftermath of the Great Drought of the late 20’s, canal diggers and their families were housed in corrugated iron shacks.  There was no electricity and water except in the untamed rivers.  The pioneer women of the valley were a hardy lot. A memorial to these women was erected in Hartswater. The Vaalharts Museum in Jan Kempdorp contains historical and cultural artefacts and bears silent witness to the hardships and achievements of the pioneers.   Pay a visit to Taung, where the Taung skull was excavated.  Enjoy a cup of tea in a rose garden.  Visit the storytellers of the region to listen to ghost stories and folklore.  The valley has its own ghost house where the brave and imaginative may to spend a night.  Seasonal pleasures include the canal race on inflated tubes (spring), watermelon time (summer), cotton picking (autumn) and roasting peanuts in front of an open hearth in winter.  BFVaalharts

Contct:            Vaalharts Valley Publicity Association
+27 (53) 474 0077+27 (53) 474 0077 telephone
+27 (82) 962 6565+27 (82) 962 6565 cell

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Last update: 2014-03-27 14:00
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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