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The Kalahari in a long weekend

Here's how you do it...

Airlink flies 3 flights a day, just 80 minutes in the air, from Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Top Traveller Tip: The midday flight makes for more relaxed traveling.

Upington's runway is the longest in Africa, certified to land a NASA Shuttle of it goes astray. It also lands big Airbus planes carrying new model cars for and crews to test them on these long, hot roads. VW, Mercedes and BMW were all in town during the same week as Portfolio's James.

Pick up your car and take a very leisurely drive to Keimoes, 50km down the Orange River. You'll pass a massive solar plant (this region is a world leader in sustainable solar energy) and stop for a brandy or wine tasting along the way.

It's called the Green Kalahari because the wide floodplain of the Orange River is covered with huge vineyards. On the left of the road are vines and palms, on the right, rocky desert.

At Keimoes is Ou Skool, a quirky guest house in a former school - you'll sleep in a classroom, now remodelled into a comfy room. Dinners are in the "koshuis" (school dining room), the staff work from the headmaster's office. It's fun rather than high-end, which suits the character of the region. You'll probably see dusty camping types who've travelled days to get here, desperate for a cold Tafel beer and white cotton sheets. Try not to feel smug.

The next day, drive 40km along the back road to Kakamas. It's not tarred but in good condition, and it takes you past lots of quiver trees, or kokerbome, the rare other-worldly looking aloe trees only found here.

Stop at the farmhouse of Tannie Marina whose kokerboom nursery has hundreds of specimens grown from seed. They're easy to take home - and even grow indoors if you're heading home somewhere cold.

Next on the road is Kakamas, a dusty dorp which is home to the madly eccentric Pienk Padstal selling all sorts of retro collectable kitsch and locally made goodies - pick up dates, mosbolletjies, grapes and koeksusters for the road.

After Kakamas it's 20 minutes to Dundi Lodge, where palms, a sparkling blue pool and elegant rooms await.

You'll want to see the Augrabies Falls of course, which are 5km away - but inside the national park whose gates close at 6pm. And it can be very hot until 6pm.

Top Traveller Tip: Book dinner at the rest camp, and you can arrive later, walk trails around the camp, and see the falls at sunset when it's cooler and the desert is beautifully photogenic.

For the next day, if you're feeling adventurous, drive on 100 km to the remote but luxurious Tutwa Lodge for the night which is owned by the same people as Dundi.

Or if you're in need of a lazier weekend, chill by the pool and book the night drive in an open vehicle inside the national park, operated by SANParks. Like us, the animals escape the heat of the day, and at night you can see elusive creatures like leopard, aardvark, aardwolf, genet and other species hard to spot anywhere else.

After all that hard adventuring, it's back towards Upington via ultimate chill spot African Vineyard Guest House - where water runs through streams and canals through magnificent treed gardens and the hospitality is honest and generous - so elusive these days.

The bird life is abundant and there are plenty of quiet spots to read a book or stroll through the vineyards, tan by the pool or have an afternoon snooze in the deep, cool rooms for the ultimate unwind.

Then it's just 20 minutes back to the airport, and you've ticked off the Kalahari from your bucket list and have plenty of stories to impress your friends plus you've made friends with Elmarie at African Vineyards and promised to return...

Click here for more Portfolio places to stay in the Northern Cape.