I first started setting up the 2-sleeper Crown Trax caravan at Site 6 of the main campsite. The main campsite has six campsites all with electricity, a braai facility and potable water. The main campsite was chock a block full, but Hettie Vermeulen had kept the last of the campsites alongside the small water canal open for me.
Hettie and Neels Vermeulen, the owners of Riverside Paradise, were waiting to welcome me to their piece of lovely bushveld. Hettie is obviously a good reader of people for she immediately said, “Wouldn’t you like to have a look at the bush campsite first??
She had read me like the proverbial book? Taking a short walk to the well-shaded camp alongside Elands River turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. I wasn’t worried about not having electricity; the well-grassed campsite with the lazy river in the shadow of a steep krantz on the other side of the stream was my idea of bushveld tranquillity.
Riverside Paradise is on 35 hectares of prime bushveld close to both Pretoria and Johannesburg. The resort is part of a much larger surrounding conservancy and there are no fences between Riverside and its neighbouring farms. The ‘river runs through it’ would be a good description since the small Elands River runs through the non-electrified bush campsite where I set up camp.
Don’t be fooled by the word ‘bush’ the lower campsite, like the dedicated 6-stand caravan sites, are all on well-watered and trimmed grass. Hettie shared a fascinating fact, she said, “The Elands River is the only A-grade River in South Africa.”
The Elands River has its origins in a small valley higher up in the mountain behind the camp and the Vermeulens put the water through a further filtration, but I can tell you that the Riverside Paradise water is pure! “You know that small water channel that runs past the caravan stands was built in the days of Paul Kruger,” Hettie said.
It’s a 5.5km drive on a good gravel road down from the R573. I loved the rural tranquillity before I had even reached the Riverside Paradise entrance gate. This small intimate camp, with its limited stands, certainly lived up to its Riverside Paradise name.
Down at the bush camp there are two fenced campsites. Here I met Zander Conradie and his fiancée Tanya van der Walt. Zander and Tanya had brought Tokkie their cockatoo along for the weekend. They both almost echoed each other as they said, “It’s just so private and peaceful down here at the camping venue…” They also both spoke highly of the nearby fully-equipped kitchen. This facility made camping in a tent a hassle-free experience. Everything you needed was practically on your doorstep. The two enclosed tent campsites are really first class. They are large, extremely private and close at hand is a fully-equipped kitchen with a fridge and freezer, a kettle, pots, pans, cutlery, a kettle and cooking facilities. Outside are two neatly tiled washing-up basins with piping hot water. I set up my computer at one of the large tables in the kitchen and watched two kids having the times of their lives canoeing in the river below me.
The boys were Jan Hugo and his younger brother Ruvan. Polite and well mannered, I later met their folks, father PW and his wife Marlene Kruger, from Pretoria. The Krugers also had their beloved dog Zoey, a beagle, while their chums the Burmeisters had their little dog Sakkie along for the weekend. Apparently the Krugers had introduced the Burmeisters to camping. The couple were now ‘born again’ campers and they often head out camping with their friends, the Krugers. Asking the couples why they loved Riverside Paradise I can sum it up as follows: They love the fact that there’s no cell phone reception at the camp, that there are only six caravan campsites, that they are big and private, and they love the feeling of having their own piece of bushveld to themselves. Young couple Zander and Tanya also spoke about the tranquillity and feeling of having your own piece of bushveld, all to yourselves. Both couples spoke about the joy of bringing their pets along. So few campsites allow this, they said.
Camping right next door to the Krugers and the Burmeisters was a young couple with a tiny baby. The couple had hired the camp’s fully-equipped caravan for the weekend. Further along were Pieter and Leonné van Greunen who were camping with their daughter, son in law and three young kids. Pieter and Leonné are frequent campers at Riverside Paradise. Pieter said, “Although the campsite is so close to Pretoria and Joburg, it feels so remote and far from the city…” He went on to say, “It’s a great birding spot, the ablutions are first class – actually all the facilities are first class – and there is plenty to do.” And he and the family raved about the Zebra Hiking Trail and taking a picture on the grass lawns down next to the Elands River.
I took photographs as moms and dads had a game of soccer. Riverside Paradise is made for families with kids. It has a jungle gym, a swimming pool and two canoes with life jackets available for the kids. Neels Vermeulen is a chartered accountant by profession and was busy building the new wedding and celebration centre in front of the caravan campsite. This venue will be wheelchair friendly, with its own large private kitchen. It will also have toilets and showers. Talking about showers and toilets, there are two ablution blocks at the resort. The older block’s men’s section has a shower, toilet and urinal. The woman’s section a bath, a shower and two toilets. The new ablution block has two showers and three toilets in both the men’s and women’s section. There is a dedicated place for the ladies to use their hairdryers, with power points etc. All the campers, especially the ladies, commented on the extreme cleanliness and neatness of the ablution facilities.
As the names implies, this campsite is about some 35 hectares set alongside a pristine hillside stream. Riverside has a five-kilometre hike, the Zebra Trail. On the trail and around the camp you’ll find zebra, kudu and nyala amongst plenty of smaller animals like mongoose, spotted genet and serval. I noticed the sun-whitened droppings containing mostly crab shells down near the river edge. Hettie immediately agreed with me, “There are otters down at the Elands River. We have a gentleman that always comes and camps on his own here. He said he has seen an otter more than once.” Sitting quietly down at the river after my braai I regretted not bringing my binoculars. There’s a rich bird life at Riverside Paradise.
But… just say there is an important game of rugby, or you need to make an urgent cell phone call, or you just feel like a large steak? Pop into the Wa-Wiel Pub & Grill at the Sandwani Game Reserve, which is literally just as you turn off the R573 for the short gravel road down to Riverside Paradise. Sandwani apparently has a pretty good 4×4 course if you feel like testing your off-road skills. I would also highly recommend a visit to the small historic village of Cullinan, home of the famous Cullinan diamond. This historic town, a mere 20 kilometres away, is really well worth a visit. Cullinan also has a large, well-stocked Spar and liquor store and a couple of good restaurants too.
In conclusion I think my introduction pretty much sums up this small jewel, bigger is not always better. If being far from the madding crowd with your friendly, well-socialised dogs is what you you’re looking for. I would highly recommend Riverside Paradise. It’s a small well-run campsite with lots to offer.