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.
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 (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.
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!).
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.
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!
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!
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.
** From the Wikipedia article on Upington.
The Kalahari 2011 Series:
- An oasis in the desert
- Take your camera to the bathroom (and other Kalahari safari tips)
- The long road North – Southern Cape to Upington
- The Long Road North – Upington (this post)
- Showing your kid where its food comes from
- Fierce Creatures
- Gemsbok Graphics
- The Long Road North – Upington to Twee Rivieren and beyond
- Campfire story: The Last Outpost
- Slip-Slap-Slop-Slide and other Bush Beauty Tips
- Hey Mom . . . wait for me!
- A tough customer
- Frenzy at the “water hole” – includes the movie
- The Camp Cat