The Vaal River is the country’s hardest working river.  The Vaal River is probably the most developed and regulated river in Southern Africa. The Vaal River is the second largest river in South Africa, the largest being the Orange River. The water resources of the Vaal River System are an important asset to the country and its people, supporting major economic activities and a population of about 12 million people.

The Vaal River and its tributaries drain about 20% of the Orange-Vaal basin. The source of the main stem is near Breyten (Mpumalanga) at 1770 metres and the main tributaries originate near Harrismith and Bethlehem along the Eastern Escarpment Mountains, where the annual rainfall is 700mm.

Finally, 1425 kilometres from its source, it joins the Orange River.

The Vaal forms 775 kilometres of the northern border of the Free State, from Meyerville in the east to north of Kimberley in the west.  The Vaal River rises north of Ermelo in Mpumalanga.

If you like to canoe, fish, paddle-boat, power-boat, jet-ski, or kite surf, the Vaal Dam has 880km of shoreline to set off from. For adrenaline junkies looking for the biggest – and trickiest – rapids, head to the area between Parys and Christiana, where you’ll encounter insane rapids created by the hundreds of islands throughout the river.

Towns on The Vaal River

  1. Barkly West. Town on the Vaal River, some 36 km north-west of Kimberley. Formerly known as Klipdrift, it began as a camp for alluvial diamond diggers in 1869. In 1870 it was named Barkly West, after Governor Sir Henry Barkly. Occupied by Boer forces for four months during the Second Anglo-Boer War and renamed Nieu-Boshof. Became a municipality in 1881.
  2. Christiana. Town on the Vaal River, 113 km north-northeast of Kimberley. Established on the farm Zoutpansdrift in the Bloemhof district. A health committee, established in 1895, controlled the town until 1904, when municipal status was achieved. It is presumed to have been named after Christina, daughter of M W Pretorius (1819-1901), first President of the South African Republic, later Transvaal.
  3. Delportshoop. Village at the confluence of the Harts and Vaal rivers, in the Barkly West district. It developed from a diamond-diggers’ camp and is said to have given the name after the first person to find diamonds there. The public diggings were proclaimed in November 1871, a village management board was instituted in 1931, and municipal status attained in 1970. Two Tswana names for Delportshoop are encountered, namely Tsineng, also spelt Tsining, Tsening, Tsenin and Tsoneng, and Dekgathlong, also spelt Dekhathlong, Dekatlong, Dekgathlong, Dikgatlhong, Likatlong and Likhatlhong. The latter name means ‘meeting-place’, referring to the confluence of the Vaal and Harts rivers there.
  4. Deneysville. Village and pleasure resort on the Vaal Dam. Established in 1936 on the farms Wilhelmina and Witpoort in the Sasolburg district, it has been administered by a village management board since 1948. It was named after Colonel Deneys Reitz who was Minister of Lands when the dam was built.
  5. Oranjeville. Town on the southern bank of the Vaal Dam, 14 km south-east of Deneysville and 46 km north-east of Heilbron. It takes its name from the Orange Free State, Oranje-Vrystaat in Afrikaans.
  6. Orkney. Gold-mining town on the Vaal River, 12 km south of Klerksdorp. It was proclaimed in March 1940, was administered by a health committee from 1942 and by a village management board from 1958. Municipal status was attained in March 1962. Named after a gold-mine on the farm Witkoppen, which took its name from the Orkney Islands, from whence the owner, Jackson, came.
  7. Parys. Town on the south bank of the Vaal River, 120 km south-west of Johannesburg, 15 km north-east of Vredefort and 50 km south-east of Potchefstroom. It was laid out on the farm Klipspruit in 1876, proclaimed in 1882 and became a municipality in 1887. Probably named after Paris in France, the Afrikaans form of which is Parys, at a suggestion of a German surveyor named Schilbach, who had participated in the siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War.
  8. Standerton. Town on the Vaal River, 156 km south east of Johannesburg and 64 km south of Bethal. It was laid out in 1878 on the farm Grootverlangen and attained municipal status in 1903. Named after Commandant Adriaan H Stander (1817-1896), the original owner of the farm. Standerskop, a hill west of the town, is also named after him.
  9. Vanderbijlpark. Town on the Vaal River, 13 km west of Vereeniging and 65 km south-west of Johannesburg. Founded as a steel producing town, it was proclaimed in 1949 and attained municipal status in October 1952. Named after Dr Hendrik Johannes van der Bijl (1887-1948), first Chairman of Escom and founder of the South African Iron and Steel Industrial Corporation (Iscor), who had recommended the town’s establishment.
  10. Vereeniging (T 2627 DB). Industrial town on the Vaal River, some 50 km south of Johannesburg. It came into being following the discovery of coal, was established on the farms Klipplaatsdrift and Leeuwkuil in 1882, proclaimed a town in 1892 and became a municipality in 1912. Dutch for ‘association’, the name is derived from that of the company De ZuidAfrikaansche en Oranje Vrijstaatsche Kolen- en Mineralen-Mijn Vereeniging.
  11. Villiers. Town situated on the banks of the Vaal River next to the N3 highway in the Free State province of South Africa. It was founded in 1882 on the two farms Pearson Valley and Grootdraai owned by Lourens de Villiers.
  12. Warrenton. Town on the Vaal River, 70 km north of Kimberley. It was laid out on the farm Grasbult in 1884 and became a municipality in 1948. Named after Sir Charles Warren (1840-1927), soldier and archaeologist, who was appointed in 1877 to deal with land allocations and mineral rights in Griqualand West.
  13. Windsorton. Village on the Vaal River, 50 km northeast of Barkly West and 40 km southwest of Warrenton. It was founded in 1869 as a diamond-diggers’ camp and is administered by a village management board. At first, known as Hebron, it was renamed after P E Windsor who was instrumental in its development. The Khoekhoen name is Chaib, ‘place of the kudu’.


Vaal River Tributaries

  1. Harts River. Tributary of the Vaal River; rises in the Lichtenburg district and flows 418 km south-west to its confluence with the Vaal at Delportshoop, some 55 km north-west of Kimberley. The name is a literal translation of Khoekhoen # Gaob!garib; ‘heart river’, possibly named after a chief or a tribe.
  2. Klip River (Gauteng). The Klip River is the main river draining the portion of Johannesburg south of the Witwatersrand, and its basin includes the Johannesburg CBD and Soweto. The mouth of the river is at Vereeniging where it empties into the Vaal River.
  3. Kromelmboogspruit. Tributary of the Vaal River. It rises near Heilbron and flows north-west to enter the Vaal between Parys and Sasolburg. The name is Afrikaans and means ‘crooked elbow stream’.
  4. Riet River.  The Riet River is a westward-flowing tributary of the Vaal River in central South Africa. The river flows into the Vaal just before Douglas.
  5. Renoster River. Tributary of the Vaal River which rises in the Heilbron district and flows 160 km westwards to its confluence with the mainstream 45 km west of Vredefort. The river takes its name from the many rhinoceroses (Afrikaans renosters) shot there.
  6. Vals River. Tributary of the Vaal River. It rises in the Bethlehem district and flows northwest for 300 km to its confluence with the Vaal 16 km west of Bothaville. Afrikaans for ‘false or treacherous river’, the name is translated from Khoekhoen Enta, Nta, Entaap, and refers either to unexpected depths in the river-bed or to changes in its course in times of flood. The form Valsrivier is preferred for official purposes.
  7. Vet River. Tributary of the Vaal River. It rises in the Thaba Nchu, Senekal and Marquard districts and flows 242 km westwards to enter the Vaal some 6 km south-east of Bloemhof. Afrikaans for ‘fat river’, the name is said to be a translation of Khoekhoen Gy Koub, ‘large fat’. The form Vetrivier is preferred for official purposes.
  8. Waterval River. Tributary of the Vaal River. It rises near Leslie and flows south-west to the confluence 25 km south of Greylingstad. Afrikaans for ‘waterfall (river)’, the name refers to a fall of 12 m at the confluence.
  9. Wilge River. Tributary of the Vaal River. It rises in the Harrismith district, on the western slopes of the Drakensberg, and flows 400 km to enter the Vaal northwest of Frankfort. The name is Afrikaans for ‘willow (river)’.

The river’s major tributaries—the Klip, Wilge, Vals, Vet, and Riet rivers. The stretch of the Vaal River between Vaal Dam and Bloemhof Dam receives water from southern Gauteng’s polluted streams.

Bloemhof Dam is situated on the stretch of the Vaal River between the Free State and the North West and is also fed by the Vet River. This nutrient-rich dam is an angling mecca. In excess of 600 tons of fish, mainly carp and barbel are harvested per year.