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Resort Review: River of Joy, Free State


I had left Johannesburg late, so I arrived at the River of Joy Country Guest House in the dark. Luckily, the caravan park is easy to find as – it’s just 1km off the N1 highway, some 25 kilometres north of Bloemfontein.

I parked on a large grassed stand next to the communal ablution block on a typical, freezing-cold Free State winter’s night…what a pleasure it was to have a piping-hot shower in the neat facilities! After giving two friendly sheep dogs a goodnight pat, I turned in for the night.

The next morning proved that River of Joy, situated on the banks of the Modder River, is a small, friendly, rural campsite that I wouldn’t hesitate to revisit. The best spots are close to the river, so I’d be sure to choose a site overlooking the water on those occasions; and I would also remember to bring a fishing rod, as there’s good carp and barbell fishing in the river.

There’s more water-fun available, too − canoes are available for rent if you want to go out for a paddle.

River of Joy is a good venue for travellers wanting a safe overnight stay in a tranquil environment very close to Bloemfontein. The camp consists of 15 shaded and grassed stands, all with electricity. The borehole water in the shared taps is safe to drink.The resort also has six self-catering units and a conference/function centre with a large, fully-equipped kitchen.

The campsite has a real farm feeling about it: you’ll find ducks, geese and a small flock of sheep grazing in the grounds. There is also a diverse bird population in the area, so bring your binoculars.

Also be on the lookout for Oom Kallie Hearn, who arrived as a visitor with his caravan four years ago, and hasn’t left! He has a luxuriant white beard, so you can’t miss him. These days, he acts as the assistant of Bertha Niehaus (the owner River of Joy) when she is away from the resort. He is a warm, affable character and obviously relished showing me around; and I suppose he also feeds the ducks and the lone old turkey, as they all seem to hang around his Gypsey caravan.

If you are at the campsite for more than a stopover, make sure you get out to the nearby Boyden Observatory, a short 12km drive away. This observatory was originally located in Arequipa in Peru, but the whole observatory was packed up and shipped to the Free State back in 1927 because of this area’s excellent conditions for star-gazing, and also for its atmospheric stability. The auditorium can seat up to 100 people, or 200 on the roof for open-air sky shows.

To view some wildlife, take a 52km drive to the Soetdoring Dam Nature Reserve, where you’ll find not only gemsbok, eland, and black wildebeest, but also lions. And, if you weren’t getting any bites in the Modder River, take your fishing rod along to catch a kurper or yellowfish.

If you are planning a city outing to Bloemfontein, there are some marvellous museums. Pop in at the Anglo Boer War Museum, or visit the Oliewenhout Art Museum. In town, there are shopping malls for you to stock up with supplies, as well as a golf course, a zoo, a ten-pin bowling alley, and a theatre – all just 20km from River of Joy.

Essential Info

  • No. of Stands: 15 shaded and partly-shaded sites
  • Electrified Stands: All the sites are electrified with standard 3-point plugs.
  • Taps: The sites share nearby taps with drinkable borehole water.
  • Number of baths/showers: 2 men’s showers and 2 ladies’showers
  • Laundry facilities: Laundry facilities are available
  • Pets: Pets are allowed
  • Normal Tariffs: R190 for two people (R250 in December High Season)
  • Pensioner Rates: On application.
  • Nearest town: Bloemfontein, 25km away


  • Canoes available for hire
  • Fishing in the Modder River
  • Good restaurants within 30 km from River of Joy
  • Plenty of museums, a lion and cheetah farm, and a Nature Reserve are all in close proximity to River of Joy


  • Firewood for sale
  • Communal ablutions
  • Washing line
  • Pets allowed
  • Good security
  • Braai facilities available
  • 6 self-catering chalets
  • Laundry service available
  • All stands are electrified
  • Grassed stands – most with shade
  • 15 caravan and camping facilities
  • Credit card facilities available
  • Playground with one trampoline
  • Connection by normal household 3-point
  • Drinkable water taps shared by camping sites
  • A picnic-stand on a gazebo overlooking the Modder River, plus others on the river bank.

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Words & Images Richard van Ryneveld

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