Mention Upington and the mind conjures up visions of a desolate, sunbaked, southern Kalahari desert town, where man's existence is a daily struggle. But how wrong can one be.
Through this harsh landscape that surrounds Upington runs a glittering green ribbon - the fertile Orange River Valley which brings life-giving water from the distant highlands of Lesotho to the town.
This is a town of beautifully landscaped gardens, many rosebeds and large, graceful trees - all wrapped in a geniune atmosphere of peace and tranquility.
The water that gives Upington its cool and emerald character is also essential for the intensive irrigation in the area.
The central business district hums with business activities, also those from a lively informal sector present in town. The bustling, fast growing town of Upington has the fitting motto of "Progressus" (progress). Upington's economy relies on agriculture, tourism and the services industry. Its modern shops, excellent facilities and easy accessibility makes it the centre of this vast region. A large number of major regional economic role players have their offices in Upington.
One is constantly aware of the fact that all these activities are made possible by the Orange River with its never-ending supply of water. Irrigated fields and vineyards stretch for 300 km along the lower Orange River. Here one finds sultanas and raisins, export grapes, champion wines and cotton that stand its own on the world market.
Visitors are welcome at the Cotton Ginnery, at SA Dried Fruit Co-operative where tons of raisins and sultanas are packed daily, and at the Orange River Wine Cellars Co-operative - the second largest in the world - for cellar tours and wine tasting.
Obviously, the Orange River does not only supply water for the town and industries, but is a major source of relaxation and entertainment, like in October, when the SA Dried Fruit Co holds its annual triathlon, combined with fleamarkets and watersports of all kinds and flavours.
The Raisin Festival has a colourful parade of floats, beauty competitions, craft building competitions, potjiekos, pancakes and lots of fun for family and visitors.
Die Eiland, a Holiday Resort is situated on an island in the middle of the Orange River, with a Date Palm entrance avenue of 1 041 metres of Palms planted 9m apart, which makes it one of the longest and densest palm avenues in the southern hemisphere.
Upington is also strategically situated for visits to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Augrabies Falls National Park. Close to home, you also find the Spitskop Nature Reserve, providing sanctuary to herds of Gemsbok, Zebra, Springbok, Ostriche, Eland, Camel and Wildebeest - a perfect place for a day's outing, picnicking, game drives or even doing the hiking trails in the Reserve.
The Augrabies National Park also offers a variety of wildlife to see, as well as a variety of hiking trails, night game drives, Black Rhino, canoeing, mountain biking and river rafting on the Orange River, below the awesome Augrabies Falls itself. This is also a land of contrasts, with various scenic attractions and 4x4 trails for the four-wheel drive enthusiast.
Once you've allowed the eerie Kalahari atmosphere to become part of you, you'll soon heed the call to return to this vastly different landscape that is home to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, one of the world's truly unspoilt ecosystems. Its vast open spaces and endless dune horizons, its predators and clear starlit night skies filled with the sounds of barking geckoes, howling jackals and hooting owls creates a very magical atmosphere not to be missed.
See Encounter Magazine's comprehensive guide on What to do in Upington.
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