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Rietvlei Nature Reserve is a 3 800 hectare conservancy situated on the outskirts of Pretoria’s south-eastern suburbs. Rietvlei Dam serves as its nucleus, providing a sanctuary essential to the existence of sensitive ecosystems, and as a quality source of water for the City of Tshwane. The dam also brings anglers and yachtsmen to its shores while the reserve is an attraction among nature lovers due to its abundant bird and wildlife.
The Friends of Rietvlei association arranges regular hikes for the public to experience what the reserve has to offer on foot, while it uses the opportunity to interact and provide knowledgeable insights about the intricacies of the Rietvlei ecosystem and its challenges, water scarcity and the importance of nature conservation.
The day hike is an easy three-hour, 7km walk across flat Bankenveld grassland and open plains. Our guide took our group along a route that bisects a network of roads, trails, game paths and fire breaks, ending at the old farm house in the heart of the reserve.
Rietvlei is home to a plethora of reptiles and mammals, as well as 400 species of birds. You can expect thrilling encounters with game such as blesbok, zebra, black wildebeest, and eland, and if you’re in luck, white rhino, buffalo, and cheetah. But don’t expect to get too up close and personal – the animals will pick up your scent from far off and warn their counterparts of your presence as they scamper off to safety.
To this end, it helps to make yourself less of an obvious threat by wearing clothing that blends in with the surroundings. Thanks to the few who thought luminous pink would make as great camouflage, we stood out like blooming purple-pink Pompom weeds – the invasive plant species scattered throughout the reserve. Nevertheless, we encountered eland, black-backed jackal, blesbok, hartebeest, reedbuck and also spotted a majestic fish eagle in the distance on our trek. We were also fortunate to get close to a solitary white rhino bull, which, although inquisitive of our presence at first, kept a safe distance from the very species which threatens its existence.
There’s a distant hum of highway traffic from the roads that hug the reserve to the east and west, yet nature’s calls succeed in suppressing the sounds for the most part. On the northern boundary, the abandoned Villa Mall is an ever-present eyesore that protrudes in the distance like a bastion into civilisation, while the remains of a burst balloon that drifted across from the surrounding neighbourhood lay in the thicket – stark reminders of the impact of development and encroachment.
The landscape and scenery is picturesque in its own right. The soft light around dawn and dusk presents a unique setting for capturing natural scenes and portraits under the warm glow of early-morning sun and against the backdrop of a Highveld sunset.
Being immersed in the environment free from the confines of a vehicle is enlightening, and experiencing the sights and sounds on foot, is a breath of fresh air.
What we learned:
- 15% of Rietvlei’s water is supplied to the City of Tshwane
- The submerged turbines of four solar-powered flotation devices keep the water from stagnating, thereby preventing algae from forming
- Rietvlei Dam’s catchment area extends all the way to the East Rand in the south-east, and is fed by the Sesmylspruit and other upstream contributories
- The invasive plant, the Pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum), reduces nutritious grazing as it has no natural threats
- Due to its abundant grasslands, Rietvlei is an ideal habitat for cheetah
The day hike will only set you back R80 and is well worth the experience.