“The warm Kalahari sands will blow over my footprints,
but the warmth of the Kalahari people will be printed in my heart. I came as a stranger, I left as a friend” – Author unknown.
Upington is surrounded by the harsh Kalahari landscape – vast, orange-coloured plains and semi-desert – but through Upington runs the fertile Orange River valley. More than 10% of South Africa’s vineyards, or 23.5 million vines, are cultivated along the lower Orange River. Upington can best be described as a Kalahari town and an emerald oasis on the banks of South Africa’s biggest river.
The idea behind the name, Kalahari Oasis Route, is that Upington is the oasis of the Kalahari, a fertile place that offers travellers protection and is a restful and pleasant stopping place: a place to stock up on essentials, such as fuel and foodstuffs. Upington is certainly not a quiet town; there is always a hum of activity in the unofficial gateway to the Green Kalahari.
Two of the main attractions of the Green Kalahari are the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Augrabies Falls National Park. Lying 268km to the north of Upington is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – one of the world’s largest conservation areas, 3.7 million hectares in total, and Africa’s first transfrontier park. The Kgalagadi means ‘land of thirst’, and was created by merging the Kalahari parks in South Africa and Botswana. The Augrabies Falls National Park lies 120km to the west of Upington, comprising an area of 820km², and the actual Augrabies Falls are 191m high, making this the sixth-highest waterfall in the world.
Upington is the gateway to the wonderful attractions of the Kalahari region, but there are a number of attractions in Upington itself, making it more of a destination than a stopover. Places of interest in the town include the statue of the camel rider outside the police station, standing in memory of the mounties and their mounts who policed the harsh desert territory; and the date palm avenue at the entrance to the Eiland Resort – these palms were planted in 1935 by officials of the then Department of Lands and were declared a national monument in 1982.
The avenue is 1 041m long and it consists of more than 200 date palms planted 9m apart, making it one of the longest and densest date palm avenues in the Southern Hemisphere. Visitors can also enjoy bird cruises on the Orange River, adventures and activities in the surrounds and of course the open spaces and night skies. The skies are clear and unpolluted, with bright stars at night.
There are also some beautiful old churches and historic buildings.
A Hottentot chieftain, Klaas Lucas, realised the value of being able to read and write. He also knew that the missionaries could help his people to acquire these skills, so in 1870 he appealed for the establishment of a mission station at Olyfenhoutsdrift (meaning ‘ford at the olivewood trees’). Reverend Christiaan Schröder was sent up from Cape Town. Permission to establish the Olyfenhoutsdrift Mission was secured from Klaas Pofadder, who claimed ownership of the area.
Building work began when foundations were laid in 1873. Pioneer settlers such as Japie Lutz and Schröder were quick to realise the irrigation possibilities along the Orange. They hand-dug the first irrigation canals in 1880 and some of them are still in use today. Since then Upington has grown rapidly and become the commercial, agricultural and educational centre of the Gordonia district. The latter was named after Sir Gordon Sprigg, a former prime minister of the Cape Colony.
Upington is well known for its mild to hot days all year round and minimal rainfall. Humidity is however very low, which makes the hot days enjoyable.
Average summer temperature:
- Max 34.6°C
Average winter temperature:
- Min 3.5°C
- Max 20.6°C
Average annual rainfall:
- Northern Cape Expo; and
- Donkiedag festivities.
- National Tourism Month festivities; and
- Tourist craft market.
Ysterspan Festival: Kalahari Kuierfees (visitor festival) – talk of the town for the month of October. Surpass yourself in the triathlon or shop till you drop at the flea market. The Kalahari Kuierfees is lots of fun with first-class entertainment that caters for the whole family, ranging from rides on a donkey-cart to art exhibitions and shows by cabaret artists.
Mayor’s Carols by Candlelight: Contact Upington Tourism for further information: +27 54 332 6064, firstname.lastname@example.org
There is definitely more to Upington than just being the gateway to the Kalahari. Upington is a town that is opening up to incorporate Pabalello and the surrounding communities, a town that is embracing its past and its present, a town that aims to showcase its diversity of people, its rich history and culture. Paballelo is situated just outside Upington and, with the aim of highlighting the culture and heritage of the Upington region, a number of attractions in Paballelo, including art projects and a guesthouse, have been identified to join this route. Paballelo also has a lively nightlife, with taverns and live music. Paballelo has stories to share, and these tales are being developed into a tour that incorporates the story of Poppie Nongena, a black woman’s struggle in apartheid South Africa, and probably the best known, that of the Upington 26.
The Upington 26 story details the events of the killing of a policeman in Paballelo and the dramatic trial that followed. In 1985, at a soccer field near the entrance of Paballelo, the Paballelo community gathered to discuss rental problems they were experiencing. The events that followed entail tear gas being thrown by the police, the crowd panicking, an 11 year old boy being shot and paralysed by the police and a policeman being killed. Fifty-four people were held after the riot, 26 were charged and 14 people were sentenced to death, including a 60 year old woman and her husband, for the so-called ‘common purpose’ killing of the policeman. They were all eventually released.
The people of Upington and Paballelo are working together to make the Upington area an interesting and varied tourism destination. The established guesthouses on the route are all involved with the community in one way or another – through training, transfer of skills, increased exposure and other socially uplifting activities.
The hospitality and friendliness of the people is well known throughout South Africa, and visitors are encouraged to welcome the opportunity to meet Upington’s interesting characters.
Upington Tourism Oath:
“I will ….
Smile and say ‘hola’ to tourists
Keep my town clean
Keep tourists safe
Always give good advice
Show off our friendly people and beautiful places, and
Make sure tourists have a ‘jol’ and come back to Upington.”
From Upington to:
- Johannesburg – 804km
- Cape Town – 894km
- Windhoek- 973km
- Kimberley- 411km
- Augrabies Falls NP -120km
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park- 268km
- Groblershoop -121km
- Keimoes- 40km
- Kakamas- 80km
- Pofadder- 206km
- Kenhardt- 130km
- Rietfontein- 219km
- Durban- 1200km
- Nakop -132km
- Rietfontein- 233k
- Onseepkans -254km
- Vioolsdrift -337km