Upington is situated along the banks of the mighty Gariep (or Orange) River, South Africa’s longest river and the natural border between the country’s northern neighbours. When viewed from above, Upington is encircled by a large fertile green strip that runs the length of the river and what has become known as the Green Kalahari.
The area around Upington was first settled in 1870 as a mission station but during this period it was also used as a stronghold by bandits, river pirates and deserters. By 1884 the riffraff had been sent packing and the settlement had grown into a formal town, named after a Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.
Upington is best known for the sweet table grapes grown here, along with dates and a small but thriving wine industry. The town is close to the impressive Augrabies Falls and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, an enormous game reserve shared between South Africa and Botswana.
Top 8 reasons to visit Upington
1. Stop in at the Kalahari-Oranje Museum, housed in the old mission church, to learn more of the town’s fascinating history. The bronze donkey at the entrance is a tribute to the animal that had such a major effect on 19th century industry and agriculture.
2. Take a sundown riverboat cruise on Sakkie se Arkie. Look out for the majestic fish eagle as the sun sets over the Gariep River. Snacks and beverages are served on the boat during the 90 minute cruise.
3. The picturesque Bezalel Wine and Brandy Estate outside of town offers a distillery and cellar tour and tastings of the estate’s wines, pot-still brandies and aromatic liqueurs. The estate is a popular wedding venue.
4. Find out what makes Upington tick by taking a walk through the town to engage with the friendly locals, sample the home-grown food, stock up on deciduous fruit and dates, and cross the 1km bridge over the river to appreciate the magnitude of this vast body of water.
5. The Desert Palace Hotel & Casino Resort welcomes over 18s to drop some cash at the casino in the hope of winning a jackpot. Mini golf, arcade games and restaurant on the premises.
6. Visit the Augrabies Falls National Park to see the colossal waterfall, at its most spectacular during the rainy season. The word Augrabies is Khoi for ‘the place of great noise’, apt for the sound of boundless volumes of water cascading down a 56m sheer rock cliff.
7. The biggest event on the Upington calendar is the !naba Food and Wine Festival.!naba is the Nama word for a truffle found in the Kalahari area. The annual festival attracts most of the big players in the wine and spirits industry as well as craft brewers, top chefs and a host of entertainment.
8. Travel to the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, the South African section of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, for an opportunity to see the regal gemsbok antelope standing starkly vivid against the red dunes, and the black-maned lion resting under a lone tree.
Upington has its own airport for flights to and from Cape Town and Johannesburg. Car rentals are available at the airport, otherwise order a vehicle online. Taxi services operate in the town, as do shuttle and tour operators, however, a hired car is the best option and a 4x4 vehicle the most practical for those wanting to experience the game farms around Upington.
Did you know?
The town’s most famous citizen is Kalahari frontiersman Scotty Smith, a highwayman, gun runner and horse thief who was regarded as South Africa’s version of Robin Hood for his assisting of many a destitute person, mostly women. After clearing up his act, he moved to Upington where he died at age 73 during the 1919 flu epidemic.
The hot dry summers and plenty of water in Upington are the ideal conditions for sweet table grapes. In addition, the winter months are sunny which makes for easy growing of date palms on the desert fringes.
One of Upington Airport’s three runways is 4900m in length, perfectly capable of landing any of NASAs future space travel vessels.