Karoo Routes: Upington to Augrabies

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The trip starts here: The famous Donkey Statue in Upington.
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The trip ends here: The roaring Augrabies Falls.

Words and Photographs by Chris Marais

The road from Upington to Augrabies in the Northern Cape is no longer than 120km, and yet you could linger for a week on this route.

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.

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Fried fruit and table grapes – the specialty of the area.

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.

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Quivertrees stand guard over a bleak yet lovely landscape.

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.

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The water wheels of Kakamas – a time-honoured tradition.

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.

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The pool in the centre of the canyon at Riemvasmaak.

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.
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    Herding goats in a tough country…


Upington to Augrabies: hand-drawn map by Gil Vermaak.
Upington to Augrabies: hand-drawn map by Gil Vermaak.

5 thoughts on “Karoo Routes: Upington to Augrabies

  1. Kyle Quintao says:

    Hi there

    I am a filmmaker from JHB.

    I would really appreciate it if you could help me with some information. I would like to spend a few days towards the end of September in the Karoo to take photos and make a video skateboarding on the vast open roads, but I really wouldn’t know where to start. I would like to just hit the road and pitch a tent when it gets dark but I would like to plan accommodation before and also have a really scenic route planned that is tarred road (Preferably smooth tar and wide)

    Any feedback would be really appreciated.

    Yours Sincerly
    Kyle Quintao

    • Julienne du Toit says:

      One of the quietest and best tar roads can be found between De Aar and Philipstown (stay at Rooipoort guest farm – speak to Kay or Andries Fourie kayfourie0@gmail.com). Another mostly immaculate blacktop can be found between Bloemfontein and Jagersfontein (take the Curie Road offramp south of Bloem). There is a Digger’s Lodge there, but ask advice from Gillian at http://www.glaasstudio.co.za in the town. How far away from Jhb can you travel and do you need downhills?

      • Kyle Quintao says:

        Thanks for all the information! are these routes quite scenic? Philipstown would be my limit, im actually going to Graaf Reinet afterwards so if there is anything in that direction too would be a great help.

        Thank again!

  2. Connie Flint says:

    Hi. I hope to visit the Augrabie falls in Jan/February 2016, but am having difficulty finding info regarding the amount of water in the falls. When is it best to visit?

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