Fish River Canyon
What it lacks in famous wildlife makes up for sublime desert scenery.
FISH RIVER CANYON
Southern Namibia may not seem as prime safari destination at first, but what it lacks in famous wildlife makes up for sublime desert scenery. Sandy plains scattered with Quiver trees (Kokerboom), granite mountains, and imposing rock formations.
One of the most impressive beauties in the southern part of Namibia is the Fish River Canyon. The vastness of this magnificent landscape is breathtaking and situated along the lower reaches of the Fish River. It is the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world, as well as the second most visited tourist attraction in Namibia. It is approximately 180 km long and stretches south from Seeheim down to the Orange River, which forms the border between Namibia and South Africa.
Canyon Nature Park
The 45,000 ha Canyon Nature Park with permanent waterholes and rock pools is a sanctuary for Karoo succulent flora and a wide variety of endemic wildlife such as the mountain zebra, kudu, steenbok, gemsbok and springbok, attracting predators such as leopard, jackal, brown hyena, and the elusive bat-eared fox. During the dry season, the riverbed is often completely dry or reduced to only an occasional puddle.
/Ais-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
The canyon forms part of the state-run /Ais-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and the main entrance is 10 km from the well-known viewpoint of Hell’s Bend. Self-drive tourists, hikers, photographers, and nature lovers worldwide are attracted to this long, thin, meandering river. The northern gate entrance is at the Hobas Campsite and a further 10 km drive takes you to the main viewpoint. Stunning views of the gorge combined with the Nama Karoo to the east and the Succulent Karoo to the west of the Fish River.
In terms of accommodation options for the Fish River Canyon, there is a range of choices from campsites to luxury lodges located in both the national park and in private reserves situated on the upper part of the canyon.
The best time to experience the raw and powerful beauty of nature either with a self-drive or guided excursion on the plateau is just before sunset. The main viewpoint has probably the best outlook, with views that take in the sharp river bends known as ‘Hell’s Corner’ and the Sulphur Springs. It is accessible to everyone, not just those hiking the trail in the canyon. Experience the geological wonder first-hand by going on a guided hike down into the heart of the canyon. Lodges in the area offer guided walks and is possible during the cooler months between May and September.
Fish River Canyon Hiking
Apart from outstanding natural beauty with diverse and unique flora and fauna, the Fish River Canyon hiking trail is well worth a mention. It is one of the most famous hikes in Southern Africa. The Fish River Hiking Trail follows 85 km of the canyon. The hike takes four or five days depending on your group size and fitness; hikers are required to take absolutely everything with them. This unguided, camping hike, starts from the main viewpoint near Hobas, and ends at the /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Spa.
It is a tough self-camping hike, but the rewards include spectacular canyon scenery, the chance to cool off with a swim in the river, and sleeping under the stars. Be aware of high temperatures reaching over 40ºC, it is essential that you are fit, strong, and healthy before you decide to take it on.
Luxury blissfully received after a challenging trek through the world’s second biggest canyon. The sulphurous springs soak away stresses and rejuvenate the body while the beautiful surroundings uplift the emotions. A massage at the edge of the Fish River is simply unforgettable!
The /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs
The /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Spa is based around a major spring, found in the breath taking mountain scenery. There is a cooler out-door spring fed swimming pool, full service restaurant and bar. Guests can enjoy deluxe breakfasts to start the day, casual quick meals at lunch and great dinners to round off their adventures.
The road distance from Windhoek to The Fish River Canyon is 642.3 km, driving there can be daunting. A highly recommended alternative is flying there and experience the Fish River Canyon and surroundings from the sky. The area does have landing strips to accommodate fly-in guests.
Whether you have a few hours or a few days, canoeing trips on the Orange River are a must-do when travelling south of Namibia. Paddling down the river is the perfect way to take in the majestic desert scenery.
The Orange River mouth is a designated RAMSAR site, and is one of Namibia’s globally important wetlands, (the others being Walvis Bay Lagoon, Sandwich Harbour and Etosha Pan), protecting an abundance of bird life. The reed beds and tidal mud flats sustain huge numbers of resident and migrant birds.
The Orange River is also known as the ‘River of Diamonds’, Namibia benefits from diamonds found as they are carried to the Namib coast by the Orange River before being redistributed by currents and winds. The sparkling stones are formed deep underground and are brought to the surface through the earth’s ongoing movement, eroded out of the ground by currents, wind and rainfall. It is due to nature taking its own course that allowed Zacharias Lewala to pick up one of these sparkling stones in 1908 near Kolmanskop. The rest they say is history.
What was not clear at the time was the immense conveyor belt that brought them down the Orange River in the first place. Although the diamond rush happened in a relatively short space of time, the different sizes and grades making their way to the area (and into very grateful hands), took place at various eras in geological history, before sweeping them northwards along the shore and back onto the land.
History closely links with the Namib Desert and the Orange River. Throughout time, this powerful river carried all the sand that now constitutes as the Namib dunes.
The Orange River is an adventure playground as well as a famous geographical feature. One of the best ways to explore an otherwise desolate and inaccessible landscape is to follow the course of the river downstream by canoe or raft. Thrill seekers the world over encounter exciting rapids such as Liquidation, Spook, Diesel, and Eliminato. No canoeing experience is required, and if you feel a rapid might be a bit on the dangerous side, you can walk around and continue your journey on the other side.
The Quiver Tree Forest
The Quiver Tree Forest monument was recorded in the Official Gazette as being ‘a spectacular collection of quiver trees near Keetmanshoop and were described as ‘consisting of approximately 250 to 300 large Aloe dichotoma trees, spread over an area of approximately 500 by 500 yards (457.2 by 457.2 m). The quiver tree gets its name from the habit of the indigenous San Bushmen who made quivers from the branches of the plant as containers for their (poisonous) arrows.
It deserves celebration as one of Namibia’s national monuments as it is one of the most interesting and characteristic plants that grows in a hot, dry southern region of the country, found in Namibia from Keetmanshoop as far north as Usakos.
Botanists have been unable to determine the age of the trees in this forest, and carbon dating in South Africa shows that the quiver tree does not live exceptionally long and claims that they can attain an age of thousands of years are pure speculation and unfounded. Believed the large trees up to 5 m in height could be some 200 years old.
The Quiver Tree Forest situated on the Farm Gariganus, only 25 km east of the town of Keetmanshoop in the Karas Region, proclaimed a national monument on 1 June 1955.
The colonial coastal town of Lüderitz is an interesting place to visit, with its historic mansions, restaurants serving up tasty fresh seafood (don’t miss having local oysters), and boat tours to a Cape fur seal sanctuary and penguin colony. Close by, the abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop is now a ghost town and one of Namibia’s most photogenic places. It is an eerie experience to wander around the town’s crumbling buildings slowly swallowed by the desert sands.
When driving between Lüderitz and Aus, keep an eye out for the herd of wild horses, world’s only wild desert horses that roam this area of the desert, often seen near the road. Another worthy roadside stop is the beautiful Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop, where 250 of the unusual and striking looking trees stand sentinel over grass and boulders.
Sperrgebiet National Park
South of Kolmanksop is the Sperrgebiet National Park, one of Namibia’s newest National Parks, a diamond mining area closed to the public for a century. Most of the park remains off limits but you can now explore on guided excursions, taking you to a 55 m dramatic rock arch on the Atlantic Coast, a diamond mine and to two eerie ghost towns.
Never stop exploring, your next adventure is one click away.