Hiking Fish River Canyon, Namibia

There’s a legend that attributes Namibia’s Fish River Canyon to a giant snake that terrorised the people and livestock of the area. So hunters set upon it with spears and dogs. Writhing in its death throes, the giant serpent tore winding furrows into the parched plateau.

If you consider that southern Namibia is one of the driest regions on Earth, and that the canyon is the second-deepest in the world (after Colorado’s Grand Canyon), it’s hard to fathom how an intermittent river had the necessary erosive power (fracturing and faulting, the geologists will say) to carve this giant scar into the gneiss bedrock – so maybe it was the snake.

The steep descent into the canyon and the boulder hopping on day two are the toughest parts of the five-day hike. Image credit: Teagan Cunniffe

Intimidating from above? You bet. It’s roughly 160 kilometres long, up to 27 kilometres wide in places and more than 500 metres deep – this latter fact uppermost in our minds on the steep descent into the canyon at the start of the 85-kilometre hiking trail.

Other than peering over the edge from view sites, hiking is the only way to experience the immensity of the canyon. It’s five days of heat, dust, boulder-hopping and trudging through thick sand in an ancient landscape of angular valleys, sheer cliffs, sandstone and silence. And once in the canyon there are only two escape routes. But it’s probably the finest hike I’ve ever done, and the first beer and burger at Ai-Ais Resort was my most memorable devoured to date.

Plan your trip

Do this
Most hike it over four nights, but take an extra night for a more leisurely pace. Carry everything; the river water is mostly fine to drink but can taste odd. Camp at Hobas the night before you start and Ai-Ais Resort when you finish. Leave your car at Hobas and catch a shuttle back to the camp (R350 per person). The trail costs R500 per person, plus R60 park fee at Hobas, and it’s open from 1 May to 15 September.
021-422-3761, nwr.com

Text: Catherine Hofmeyr

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