Words and Photographs by Chris Marais
You could stay on the N14 for some of the drive, or prefer to take the parallel dirt road west from Upington. The latter is a little more colourful, a little more challenging.
If you haven’t been to Upington in a while, prepare for changes. It’s not the sleepy little river settlement you remember. The dried fruit industry used to be the only show in town, but now local mining and, more excitingly, regional tourism are also big players.
On any day in Upington it’s Adventure Supply Central, as huge numbers of 4X4s stock up and prepare for their journeys north to the Kgalagadi, or west to the flower country.
We’ll follow the Orange out of Upington on a dirt road on the river’s southern flank. We drive through tiny worker-hamlets punctuated by orchards, quivertrees and black-rock outcrops, with the Mother River always in sight. In fact, the local tourism body calls this the Kokerboom (quivertree) Food & Wine Route.
The ‘river pirate’ part of this route originates around Keimoes and the various islands in the river. The river pirates used various islands as their hide-outs after robbing the locals and anyone moving through. Eventually Sir Thomas Upington – Attorney-General of the Cape – had them mostly sorted out.
We move down to Kakamas where, rumour has it, the Kalahari’s only sushi chef hangs out at the Kalahari Gateway Hotel. Hmm. Perhaps one day we’ll see a face-off between Kalahari Sushi and Karoo Sushi (Karushi) from Beaufort West.
Both Keimoes and Kakamas have very interesting old water wheels that move the life-giving stuff from the Orange up into the vast vineyard complex along its banks. Down at the river we stop for a meal at Die Pienk Padstal (The Pink Farmstall) and then shop up a storm, buying ‘road food’ for the rest of the journey.
From Kakamas we follow the river up to the Augrabies Falls and settle in for the night in a chalet at the national park. Take care when you cross the rocks to look at the noisy falls, and use the handrails where provided. It’s really worthwhile taking photographs out there, but beware of the spray.
If time permits, we drive a short distance north to the village of Riemvasmaak and camp in the canyons nearby. There’s a hot spring pool, camping facilities and even a few chalets. We’re doing this trip in one of the cool months (May or September) and the temperatures in the canyon are just right. Come here in the middle of summer and you’re bound to bake.
- Disclaimer: The River Pirate Route is a Karoo Space name for this route, and not necessarily recognised as such by tourism authorities or easily found on a municipal map. After your trip, you are encouraged to come up with your own name for this route – and tell us about it in Your Karo0.
- Like this story? Visit the Karoo Space e-Bookstore and pick out a special package of traveller’s companions.