The Long Road North – Upington

This post is part of  Kalahari  Series II – 2011. The previous post in the series is The long road North – Southern Cape to Upington. Also see Kalahari Series I – 2009.

Although Upington seems like our home away from home when we head up to the Kalahari, it has been a while since we spent a significant amount of time there. Usually we arrive in the late afternoon, and leave again the next morning, not having the time to stay and look around. Our first trip up to the Kalahari in 2003, was more of an exploration of the Northern Cape and we visited all the little towns around there, while based in Upington for several days. I guess that that is why it seems so familiar to me. So I tried to a little word association game. What do I think of when I think of the word “Upington”. The first words that come to my mind are: Orange River, oasis, green, fertile, dried fruit, golf course, Silver Bull. I asked Willie the same question and he said: hot, isolated, nice people, bad Spur (fast food chain restaurant). When I look at the two lists, it is all that and obviously a lot more that we haven’t appreciated yet.

Upington viewed from the air. (Image source: Rick Walker via Wikimedia Commons)

According to Wikipedia:

Upington is a town founded in 1884 and located in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, on the banks of the Orange River. The town was named after Sir Thomas Upington, Attorney-General and then Prime Minister of the Cape. It originated as a mission station established in 1875 and run by Reverend Schröder. The mission station now houses the town museum, known as the Kalahari Orange Museum. The museum is also the home of a donkey statue, which recognizes the enormous contribution that this animal made to the development of the region during the pioneering days of the 19th Century.

The elevation of Upington is 2742 feet (835 metres). It is the closest large centre to the Augrabies Falls, arguably the greatest of South African waterfalls. The landscape is very arid but the soil is fertile and crops such as fruit are grown in irrigated fields. The area is best known for its export-quality grapes, raisins and wines, which are cultivated on the rich flood plains of the Orange river . . . Read more . . .

The Orange River from the road bridge, in the foreground a foot bridge across the river. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The Orange River (the longest river in South Africa), is the lifeblood of this town. Without it the agricultural activities along its banks wouldn’t exist. There would be no Northern Cape wine industry – renowned for its “low tanin red wines, 5 year old Pot-stilled brandy, a mampoer range and liqueurs”**. The Upington region also accounts for about “40% of South African grape exports”, and is the home to the South African dried fruit industry.

The opposite view from the road bridge over the Orange River. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Other claims to fame include famous people like Alice Krige (a South African actress who is known internationally) and a rather dubious character called Scotty Smith (a South African Bandit, affectionately known as “the Robin Hood of the Kalahari” – earlier times in that part of the world were rough!).

The runway at Upington airport – one of the longest in the world! (Image source: Rick Walker via Wikimedia Commons)

Upington also has an airport which has what is said to be “a runway, spanning 4900m (over 3 miles), one of the longest in the world and the longest in Africa”**. Then there is the famous golf course – very green (irrigated) fairways in the very drab landscape. In a landscape which is very arid, Upington really is an oasis with no shortage of water. So unlike in other areas of South Africa, the irrigation required to maintain the golf course is not a controversial one.

The Upington golf course. (Image source: Rick Walker via Wikimedia Commons)

I agree with Willie that the local people are warm and friendly. They seem to have more time for each other. Some very good storytellers have come from the Northern Cape. Being the hub or gateway town to the Kalahari and other tourist areas, it is a very busy town. The locals cater well to the many “foreigners” who pass through their town daily. Although Upington has some better restaurants, the local Spur is alas not one of them!

Monday morning “rush hour” in downtown Upington! The unimpressive traffic volumes belie the fact that this is a very busy town. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The “camel statue” outside the Upington police station. ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The “Camel and Rider” statue, in front of the police station was erected in recognition of the camel mounted police who used to patrol the area. With the bandits running around in the Northern Cape in the old days, they definitely would have needed these!

Interesting looking older building along the main road. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The Silver Bull – our home away from home in Upington. LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

We always stay at the Silver Bull in Upington. It’s a quiet B&B. At least most of the time! Occasionally it gets used for parties and braais/barbeques – and seems to be a favourite with the local police. Which means you’re very safe, but who do you call if they make too much noise?! A feature is the off-road secure parking, which is important if you have a 4×4 loaded with a lot of valuable gear. You can see a photo gallery of The Silver Bull here. I like staying there because it’s cool and very clean with uncomplicated decor, and the most wonderful beds ever – crisp, white sheets with puffy duvets and soft blankets for cold nights. Just what you need after a long day’s driving in the heat.

Sunset over the Orange River. (Image source: Rick Walker via Wikimedia Commons)

For more information about Upington click here or on Wikitravel here.

** From the Wikipedia article on Upington.

The Kalahari 2011 Series:

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Categories: Lifestyle/Travel

Author:lisa@notesfromafrica

I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)

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16 Comments on “The Long Road North – Upington”

  1. August 31, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    How fun that the police used to ride camels! Uppington sounds like a lovely town, and Silver Bull would seem the perfect place to stay. I’ll try to remember that–and to avoid the Spur! However, I would love to know what constitutes fast food in SA. What does the place serve? Any chance you could do a post about this?
    Kathy

  2. August 31, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    Bad Spur – ha! Love that sunset photo.

    • September 1, 2011 at 7:37 am #

      Yes, bad Spur as opposed to the good one (from your description) you and Joe went to.

      The sunset photo is amazing. I also loved the aerial shots of Upington which Rick Walker took. Thankfully, he put them on Wikimedia Commons! 🙂

  3. August 31, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Oh, and thanks for the plug about my Spur post. Kathy, I hope you enjoy it. PS: We stopped at Wimpy out of desperation on our most recent road trip. Joe has a cheeseburger and actually really enjoyed it! My toasted cheese and tomato, however, was not so hot.

  4. September 1, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    Out of curiosity – where is the Spur located?

    You know I love a certain Wimpy burger and the best versions I’ve had of it so far is at the Wimpy by the Engen fuel stations.

    • September 1, 2011 at 7:47 am #

      Do you know Upington? It’s in Schroder Street, near the Protea Hotel. Here on Google Maps: http://g.co/maps/j5gp

      Places like the Spur and Wimpy are still okay if the food is well prepared. We always used to eat at the Spur in Upington before driving up to the Kalahari. The last couple of times though, the food was not cooked properly and we had to send stuff back. Which we will only do if the food is really raw still.

  5. Sarita Botha
    September 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    You obviously had a bad experience at the Spur, but hopefully by now you found a nice place to eat.

    • September 1, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      I’m sure that Upington has some fine restaurants too, but when we get back from the Kalahari we just want something quick and uncomplicated. We haven’t looked around for a new place to source dinner yet, but will probably go for takeaways next time.

  6. jacquelincangro
    September 1, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    I also thought it was funny that the local police in Upington used to ride camels. They don’t seem like the most agreeable animals, especially in an emergency!

    The bed at the B&B sounds lovely.

    It’s interesting that you and Willie had very different word associations when you thought about Upington. 🙂

    • September 2, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      Yes, very interesting how are word choices didn’t overlap at all. I don’t know how Willie could have missed the river in his list of words! It is what makes the town what it is. 😉

  7. September 1, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    I have only been to Upington once and that was for a business trip – I landed on that loooong runway (after having to turn back to jhb on that flight). After reading your post, I am sorry that I did not take time out to look around more. With regards to the fast food chains in SA – I used to love wimpy food but must say that it has generally deteriorated or my pallet has become more refined. I can still do a good Spur though 🙂

    • September 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

      Upington is a great place to base yourself if you’re exploring that area e.g. visiting places like Augrabies and Pofadder (well maybe not! 🙂 ).

  8. Lu
    September 8, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    I’ve only ever passed through Upington – and have never stopped to take the time to I once to explore it. I do know that one of the reasons for the long runway is because it was constructed as a back-up runway for re-entering space shuttles by NASA.
    Don’t know if any actually landed there though 🙂

    • September 8, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

      Wow, that’s an interesting bit about the reason for the long runway. You’ve probably also heard about the motor vehicle test tracks in the Northern Cape? That supposedly can be seen on a satellite photo. Not sure if this is an urban legend or not.

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