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25 Things about Upington

Bridge in Upington
  1. Upington is much more than a stopover town. Centrally located on the Namaqua Route, it lies virtually midway some 804 km from Joburg, 894 km from Cape Town, 973 km from Windhoek, an absolute gem of a place.
  2. Bounded by the fertile Gariep River Valley and the Kalahari, Upington is the principal city in the region, an ideal winter holiday resort or a base from which to explore the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Augrabies Falls National Park.
  3. The town itself is a tranquil haven tucked along the banks of the Gariep (formerly Orange) River, and is today almost totally reliant upon agriculture, tourism and service industries.
  4. Upington covers an area of 30 901 hectares and is officially the hottest town in South Africa. In summer temperatures often rise to over 40 degrees. Island, river and water-based activities provide a welcome respite even during winter.
  5. Sited on one of the main crossing points on the river, the area originally became known to the early European explorers of the 1870s as Olyvenhoutsdrif, from the abundance of olivewood trees in the area.
  6. Pirates and brigands abounded on the islands surrounding the drift, terrifying the community, and in 1870 a local chieftain of the Koranna people, Klaas Lucas, appealed for the establishment of a mission station for protection as well as to teach the local populace to read and write.
  7. The Rev Christiaan Schröder was dispatched from Cape Town to commence work accordingly. Ownership of the area at the time was claimed by a certain Klaas Pofadder, a local Koranna but of a different group to Lucas, who wanted the Mission Station closer to his own home but gave his ‘consent’ for the building work at Olyvenhoutsdrif.
  8. The Cape Government secretly wanted the mission to be a bridge between the local Koranna groups in the north and the growing number of white settlers around Olyvenhoutsdrif - the renegade ‘problem’ provided a good enough reason to sanction the project. The mission was established in 1873 and became a tremendous success all round.
  9. The grave of one brigand known as the ‘Robin Hood’ of the area, George St Leger Gordon Lenox, alias Scotty Smith, can still be seen in the local cemetery. His inscription reads 'Never to be forgotten'. How true.
  10. Reverend Schröder was quick to realize the irrigation possibilities along ’the Orange’ following the inspiration and toil of a former slave, Abraham September. September had discovered that one could lead the water out of a lateral branch of the Orange River on to some alluvial soil on his farm. These canals were dug by hand and with the help of donkeys, and some are still in use today.
  11. A pontoon ferry service across the river was introduced and Upington became the main administrative centre for the region, and a commercial, agricultural and educational centre.
  12. Irrigated fields and vineyards today stretch for some 300 km along the river, producing export quality grapes, sultanas, raisins, watermelons and cotton.
  13. Olyvenhoutsdrif was ultimately renamed in 1898 in honour of the visit of South African Attorney General of the time, Sir Thomas Upington, who came to inspect the area during the second Koranna War of 1879, between Cape Colony forces and the Koranna led by Klaas Pofadder. Upington established a police station to become known as Upington, that still stands on its original site. Upington was granted municipal status in 1898.
  14. One of the surrounding islands in the Gariep River is Kanoneisland, named during the second Koranna war after a cannon that Pofadder’s men forged out of a hollowed out aloe stem. It was loaded with gunpowder and stones and pointed at the Colony’s forces, fired once, promptly exploded, and killed several Korannas.
  15. War has featured prominently in Upington’s history. Shortly after the First World War began, the South African government decided to invade German South West Africa, now Namibia. 6 000 men were assembled and encamped at Kakamas outside Upington intending to attack the Germans. Having received wind of the plan, a German expedition was dispatched and four of their field guns opened fire on the South African forces across the river. The ensuing battle lasted six hours and after the Germans withdrew, seven men had lost their lives.
  16. A monument was erected on the site by the Volksbund Duetschen Kriegs-gräberfürsorge in 1960 and the remains of six of the dead soldiers whose bodies had been traced were interred there.
  17. In town, visit the Kalahari Oranje Museum, the original church and mission station with its period furnishings. It has a life-sized monument of a donkey, sculptured in bronze by Hennie Potgieter, which symbolizes the unselfish contribution these animals made in developing the region. The Church Hall built in 1946 also boasts a beautiful mineral collection, a collection of fine San items, as well as a blacksmith's workshop and other tools and implements.
  18. Another interesting animal monument is at the entrance to the police station. The Camel & Rider statue stands in memory of the Mounties and their horses that once policed the harsh desert territory nearby.
  19. During the Boer War, Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, recruited and equipped a Canadian cavalry regiment at his own expense for service in South Africa. 537 officers and men, as well as 599 horses of the new regiment sailed from Canada on 18 March 1900 and arrived in Cape Town on 10 April. Supposedly General Kitchener was astonished at the size of the newly arrived Canadian soldiers. Their commander, Sam Steele, is said to have replied "My apologies, sir. I combed all of Canada and these are the smallest I could find."
  20. Upington is also conveniently close to the world-famous Augrabies Falls, one of the five biggest in the world. Named after the Nama word ‘Aukoerebis’ meaning the place of great noise, the water thunders down the 56m drop when the Orange is in full flood, being unleashed into the 18km abyss of the Orange River Gorge.
  21. The adjacent Augrabies National Park offers a variety of wildlife, as well as hiking trails, night game drives, canoeing, mountain biking, and river rafting below the falls themselves.
  22. A spectacular wildlife experience is a trip through the nearby Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, named after the truest of all desert antelope, the black-and-white masked gemsbok. Proclaimed in 1931 as part of Bechuanaland Protectorate, the park covers almost a million hectares.
  23. The Park has three overnight camps offering cottages, chalets and huts – Twee Rivieren, the main camp, and the Nossob and Mata Mata with caravan and camping facilities at all three.
  24. More than 10% of South Africa's vineyards - 23,5 million vines - are cultivated along the lower Orange River. The SA Dried Fruit Cooperative whose factory covers an area of more than 2 ha processes and packs all dried sultanas in the country. Products are sold on the premises. The Oranje Rivier Co-operative Wine Cellars is a five-cellar co-operative and is the second-largest commercial wine cellar in the world. Wine tasting & tours are offered.
    Phone: 27 (054) 332 4651 .
  25. For full information on all Upington’s delights, contact the Tourism Information Centre in Kantoor Schröder Street on
    Phone: 27 (054) 332 6064

Article courtesty of South African Magazine Article by Michael Jackson

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