Most people won’t even glance at the top left quadrant of the map when looking for a “dream holiday” destination in South Africa.
That little brown corner, largely occupied by the southern reaches of the Kalahari Desert, is lip-chapping dry and the stark landscape is unlike the seaside tourist hotspots like Cape Town and Durban. But if you’re willing to venture into South Africa’s interior, you’ll find Upington to be a surprisingly underrated holiday destination.
1. Centrally situated.
Positioned on the Namakwari Route (Namibia-Namaqua-Kalahari) between Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Namibia; Upington is the most convenient stop on your way to the Augrabies Falls National Park, Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, Fish River Canyon, Namaqualand, and Kalahari Desert.
2. Oasis and gateway to the arid Kalahari Desert.
The city lies in the fertile region of the Green Kalahari and is the only major city through which the Orange River (South Africa’s longest river) passes.
3. Playground for water sports.
Summers temperatures average 35°C (95°F) in the heat of the day, so the cool water of the Orange River is a welcome relief. You can enjoy water skiing, boating, canoeing, river cruises, fishing, and swimming.
4. Great “out of season” retreat.
Although frosts may occur, the winter days are mild and dry, reaching an average 21°C (70°F).
5. 4x4 routes.
If you have 2 or 3 days to spare, the Kalahari 4x4 Trail is a tough 250km route that will test your mettle.
6. Game viewing.
The Spitskop Nature Reserve is a small game park near Upington. With 37km of good gravel roads, 3 walking trails, and a telescope on top of Spitskop Hill, you can view game like oryx, zebra, eland, wildebeest, ostrich, and even camel. The reserve is also home to smaller mammals, birds, reptiles, and typical Kalahari flora. Cyclists, hikers, and campers are welcome.
7. Day trip to Augrabies Falls National Park.
The Khoi people called it “Aukoerebis”, which means “Place of Great Noise”, which describes the thunder of water plummeting down the 56m waterfall and through the 18km gorge. To give some idea of how powerful the falls can be, they recorded 7,800m³ of water per second in the floods of 1988 – over 3 times the average high season flow rate of Niagara Falls.
8. Tastings at Orange River Wine Cellars Co-op.
The fertile valley is ideal for growing vineyards and the extreme summer temperatures cause a high sugar content in the grapes; making the area popular for its fortified wines. The Orange River Wine Cellar Co-op is the second biggest cellar in the world, with 5 cellars situated along the Orange River.
9. Dried fruit.
The SA Dried Fruit Co-op in Upington is the second largest and most modern of its kind in the world. Freshly packed dried fruit is available for sale.
10. History and monuments.
Originating as a mission station in 1875, Upington has a long and interesting history. Landmarks include the Kalahari Orange Museum, Dutch Reformed Church, Roman Catholic Church, Hortentia Windmill, the Donkey Statue, the Camel and Rider statue, and Date Palm Avenue.
In a competition for number one South African tourist destination, Upington will always be a neglected underdog.
But if you’re tired of typical tourist hotspots, consider a new adventure into South Africa’s interior and discover the lure of Upington.
What underrated holiday destinations do you recommend?
Travel tip shared by deshaakonsen