On the waterfront
No, we’re not talking about the V&A in Cape Town. Here in the north, in the Highveld, Mpumalanga has its own waterfront.
Secunda is probably the last place you’d expect to find a waterfront. Highveld plains and coal mines, sure. But a waterfront? Unlikely. The locals, however, will tell you a different story. Here, on the edge of town, bordering houses, car dealerships and headframes on the horizon, lies the town’s most popular hangout for young and old. The Lake Umuzi development is next to two dams in Trichardtspruit. On the northern side is the Lake Umuzi Waterfront on the banks of what is known as the “top dam” and bordering this is the Lake Umuzi Lodge and Merchant Hotel. The combination of restaurants, accommodation, function venues and especially family entertainment places is super-popular. Besides the waterfront’s full-time entertainment, there are beer, wine and music festivals during the year, as well as a mountain bike race and a sports festival. And from October last year, campers can also come and pitch their tents here. Lake Umuzi Kamp Oase is brand new and lies on the southern side of the stream, next to the “bottom dam”. This is not the place to come if you’re looking for a quiet weekend to get away
The campsite was brand new when we visited. Here and there the finishing touches were still being applied.
from the hustle and bustle of the big city; there are simply too many activities in and around the campsite. The wedding in the reception hall across the water is going to supply background music all night long and the buzzing of the power station’s chimneys will eventually lull you to sleep.
Before you park your caravan on the campsite’s green lawn, you first have to book in at the Merchant Hotel, which handles the campsite’s bookings. Here you’ll get an entrance permit that looks like your vehicle’s licence disc and that you have to stick onto your windscreen. They also send an SMS to your phone with a cellphone number that you have to phone when you get to the entrance gate. The gate will then open automatically. If you’re towing, don’t drive onto the hotel’s premises – rather park outside next to the road. The hotel’s entrance gate is too narrow for a caravan and even if you do make it, there’s no space to turn around. The campsite is a fiveminute walk from the hotel, opposite the water. There’s a footbridge over the stream, so send the kids to the campsite to go find a stand. You’ll have to drive around the Lake Umuzi development to get to the campsite, though. As soon as you’ve gone through the main gate at the administration building, Lake Umuzi Kamp Oase lies below you. The gate is on higher ground and you look down on the campsite. In the summer >
it really does look like an oasis with the dam, lush green kikuyu grass and willow trees with their long, loose branches blowing in the breeze. When we visited, the camp was brand new – they were still busy with the final touches. The building at the gate is going to be used as a reception office and accommodation for management. The cold-water swimming pool will get a hot counterpart, and the bathrooms still need a few hooks and soap trays. Management promised that everything would be finished by the end of February. The 72 stands are not numbered or demarcated, but the location of the braais and electricity points make it easy to determine your stand’s borderlines. Each built-in braai has two braai places, one for you and one for your neighbour. Most of the stands are 10 m x 10 m, with a few on the edges of the campsite that are a bit bigger. All the stands are even and have a thick mat of kikuyu grass. About half of the stands get shade from the large willows while the rest are in full sun. You can’t book a stand so if you want one in the shade, you’ll have to get there early. The braais have grids, a work surface, light, tap and garbage bin. The electricity boxes are never more than 10 feet away (remember to bring your blue caravan plug). Bring your own braai if you rather want to braai in front of your tent. There are three round boma-type braais with cement benches between the stands on the dam side. It’s not so much a communal boma for all campers but rather for two or three friends camping nearby. On the western side of the campsite, to the far left as you drive in, is the Wilger lapa on the dam’s shores. You can rent the venue for anything from a wedding to an office party. Next to it is a high concrete slab with a steel-frame structure that’s used as a stage during music festivals. Here you
can dance till the early morning hours to music by big names like Francois van Coke, Just Jinger and Watershed. When the lawn in front of the stage isn’t packed to the brim with festivalgoers, it’s available to caravan clubs and large groups. The space is a bit bigger than a rugby field and has 18 electricity boxes each with four power points and a light.
If you’re in need of water for washing bodies or dishes, you have to walk to the main building at the gate. The men’s and ladies’ bathrooms are below the building, to the left and right of the scullery. There are many places that can learn a thing or two from Umuzi in terms of space and layout. The communal area between the shower cubicles and basins is spacious enough that there’s room to move even in peak time. Another clever plan is the wall that separates the toilet and washing areas from each other. There are basins on each side. The layout of the men’s and ladies’ sides differs, but both have the same amenities. The size of the shower cubicles are also the same. On the ladies’ side there are four showers and the wet and dry areas are separated by a wall. The shower and dressing area is not cramped. You can put your clothes on the benches and hang your towel on the hook behind the door. There are also two bathrooms with a bath and basin as well as a bathroom for babies. The six basins are divided between the washing and toilet areas (three on each side) and are fitted in marble slabs with enough space to pack things between the basins. There is a mirror above each one and you don’t have to bring your own hand soap because it’s provided, along with paper towels. The men have seven showers. The seven basins are, like on the ladies’ side, also in marble slabs. The baths and basins don’t have plugs so you will have to bring your own. The scullery is covered and is at the entrance to the bathrooms. The six double basins are also in marble slabs with loads of packing space. >
There is a second smaller ablution building on the edge of the campsite near the dam. You can’t bath or shower here but there’s a toilet and a basin on each side plus two urinals for the guys. You can take a dip in the cold-water pool at the main building next to the bathrooms’ entrance. The round pool is 1,3 m deep. An indoor heated pool next to the cold-water pool is under construction.
The waterfront is where everything happens. Once the kids have discovered this area you won’t see them for the rest of the weekend. Just make sure they have a few bucks in their pockets. The way there starts on the northern side of the camp and it will take you a full seven minutes to get there. Just follow the path over the stream and through the hotel’s parking lot until you’re past the hotel’s entrance gate. Right outside
the gate to the right is a smaller gate that takes you the waterfront. At Rocky Waters your budding golfer can pretend he’s Louis Oosthuizen on the 18-hole putt-putt course. The course is laid out over multiple levels and there are even a few water holes (R35 p.p.). At the Bowling Centre, Mom and Dad can join the youngsters to roll, hit and throw a few balls. The family can play ten-pin bowling (R40 p.p.; R30 for scholars; R20 for toddlers), or, if you can get a group together, you can play action cricket or action netball (from R350 per group). Carnival Square, apparently the biggest jungle gym in Africa, is heaven on Earth for the little ones (R50 per hour). The play area is similar to those you’ll find in family restaurants, only bigger. There are metres and metres of tunnels to crawl through, a big pit with balls, and a windmill. Suddenly the jungle gym in the campsite – which itself is not to be sneezed at – pales in comparison. If you’re in high school (or taller than 1,35 m) you unfortunately can’t play here. And Mom and Dad need to keep an eye on little ones younger than two years. The water play area Aqua Zone is by far the most popular of all the waterfront entertainment. When the doors open at 10 am there’s already a long queue of excited kids waiting, and if you get there at lunchtime you should expect a long wait. But it’s absolutely worth the wait, and once the kids are inside you’re going to struggle to get them to leave. The baby slide will keep toddlers occupied while the older kids can attempt the Fast River Tube slide or the Blou Mamba. The large indoor heated pool is very popular. While the kids are having a blast, the parents can unpack a picnic basket on the lawn and light a fire in the braai. If you don’t feel like having a picnic there are numerous restaurants next to the dam where you’ll find something to eat and drink while you wait for the kids. Opening and closing times differ depending on days of the week and seasons. Visit lakeumuzi.co.za for times and contact numbers.
MAIN ATTRACTION. With a variety of slides, a cold-water pool, and fishing opportunities for the budding angler, it’s clear that water is a huge part of the appeal. The ablution blocks are modern and spacious (bottom).
FUN FOR ALL. Whether you like to make a splash like boisterous youths or simply prefer to sit quietly around a fire under a boma, Lake Umuzi Kamp Oase has you covered. The braais have a light, work area and garbage bin (inset).
GRANDFATHER WILLOW. You’ll have to get there early if you want to set up camp under one of the massive willow trees (main). The campsite also makes provision for the little ones with a huge play area (below).
PICTURESQUE. Luscious green lawns, well-spaced stands, and plenty of activities to keep young and old entertained are all part of the package at Lake Umuzi Kamp Oase.