Why have we chosen to go to Upington, a small dorp in the arid region of the Northern Cape? Well, it is the gateway to Namibia, to the Khalaghadi, and to the Augrabies Falls, about 100kms away.
Before I even wax lyrical about Upington, let’s plot our route – Port Elizabeth, over Darlington Dam, abeam Graaff Reinett, to Prieska, then more or less following the Orange River to Upington. The vertical navigation for this trip is around 7500 ft minimum, and the weather looks clear. We have four hours endurance, and the trip is around three hours, so all is well – easy peasy.
Previous inland trips have proved rather uncomfortable with the thermals that develop in the heat of the day over much of the Karoo, so we start our journey early. But our trip is thwarted by extreme winds buffeting us from both sides, and ahead. It challenges our fuel’s endurance and our nerves. Turns out this time, though, we flew through a tornado!!
The town of Upington is an oasis in the desert, that’s for sure. The airfield is about five kilometres north of the town, and we make our way to our guest house, an even more welcome oasis in the town of Upington. It is down a meandering brick road from the street, through vineyards that seem to be alive with birds, and to a guest house right on the banks of the mighty Orange River. Our extremely well appointed room has a balcony with built in braai and is the perfect spot to chill after our gruelling but exhilarating flight here.
Day two sees us heading for Augrabies, past Kanoneiland, a vast plantation of vines, I am told that are primarily for table grapes and grape juice. My doctor has told me of legendary fresh dates available from the local padstal, and informed me that we should buy some on our way to the Falls, because we’d want another lot on our return. Sadly I am the only lover of dates, so our visit to the padstal is only outbound. The farm stall is a whimsical delight, with some really photogenic items outside. Car doors rust and creak pushed up against old drums, succulent plants grow willy-nilly out of car carcasses that have been retired here very long ago. Old enamelware mugs clatter in the breeze, and a very old lady sits quietly outside watching our progress here.
We pass Keimoes and Kakamas and eventually turn toward the National Park of Augrabies Falls. We start seeing Quiver Trees, something I have never seen before, except for those in photos, and we eventually arrive at the camp.
The end of 2011 saw a massive flood come through the Augrabies Falls, when the Orange broke its banks, and new waterfalls were forged in the granite cliffs. Pictures record this phenomenon, and we soon realize we are walking on newly made walkways to the Falls, as the floods have eradicated the old ones.
What a worthwhile visit! Such majestic beauty of the Falls, the birdlife and wildlife, in the form of Hyraxes, or dassies, which are so used to humans they are almost tame. After a little vertigo, we walk all around to as many vantage points as possible. The Falls must drop at least 300 feet.
Our flight home again begins even earlier the next morning, with us practically waking up the airport personnel to go through their security checks. The runway, I am told, is one of the longest in the world, and has been a back up landing site for the NASA space shuttle. It certainly feels weird taxiing on the runway to the threshold where we do run ups and take off.
My camera battery dies as we become airborn, and I can see the Orange River vineyards before us, waiting for their photo opportunity, so I have to commit to memory all the imagery of our return journey.