A Day Hike into Namibia's Fish River Canyon
Hiking in the Fish River Canyon
Words and pictures by Roderick MacLeod
I woke up after spending a night in the Fish River Lodge knowing that my day would be a busy one. I had signed up for a full day hike into the second largest canyon in the world: the Fish River canyon. The hike would be a ten-hour affair; five hours into the canyon and five hours to get out of the canyon before dark settled on the land.
As you can expect the day started early. Breakfast was served at 5:30am and despite the hour everyone was in high spirits.
Dube, one of the guides at the lodge.
The night before the hike I had had a chance to chat to some of the Fish River Lodge’s staff about the hike and what I should expect. The response was always along the same lines: It is a tough hike and should not be attempted by the frail or lazy. A good pair of shoes is an absolute must and a healthy pair of lungs will, of course, help. The Fish River Lodge, as part of the full-day hike package you can purchase, provided me with water and food for the duration of the hike.
Into the Canyon
Once our guides for the day (Ben and Desmond) had introduced themselves to us we set out for the point at which we would begin our descent down into the canyon.
Our vehicle was left perched on the canyon's rim.
We would see it as a dot, many hours later, looking up from the canyon floor.
An hour after beginning our descent I noticed how spectacular the formations in this canyon are. The dried up river beds, the gullies, the outcrops of strangely sculpted cliffs are all a treat for anyone with an interest in natural beauty. It is incredibly interesting to witness the changes to your surroundings as you descend into the canyon for the first time.
Rain-sculpted and sand-blasted, a face emerges from the cliff...
A long dried-up river bed
A gully in the morning sun.
On account of the many different landscapes in and around the Fish River canyon there is a varied collection of wildlife. The chances of sighting a few of these creatures increases when you are on foot. The park is home to many mountain zebra, various antelope, eagles and even a few rhino. Unfortunately I did not see any of the rhinos. I did however find traces of their activities on the path we were using.
Rhino dung on the hiking trail.
Naturally created hiking trails
Many visitors at the lodge spoke of their encounters with the mountain zebras of the region. The reason why people have encountered so many of these animals is because the trails that I and everyone else hikes on are in fact the selfsame paths created and used by the animals. There is a distinct effort on the part of the park officials and lodge owners to keep the hike as natural as possible.
When hiking the Fish River Canyon you will literally walk on the paths the local animals use...
There has been no clearing of boulders or cutting of trails. This means that when scaling up or down the mountain you have to figure what the best route will be. Since the rocks in the canyon are frequently breaking off the cliff faces and rolling down the slopes no two hikes into the canyon are identical.
The Half-day hike viewpoint
After three or so hours of hiking we came to a type of plateau which was about half the way down into the canyon.
We had reached the halfway point of the half-day hike, which meant we were one quarter through the full-day hike. We could see the river and the canyon floor below us. We were then told by Ben (our guide) that we would be heading further down the canyon and further along the river toward our destination: A natural rock pool in which we could have a refreshing dip before turning around and heading back out of the canyon.
View from the half-day hike turnaround point.
Below to the left is the Fish River.
Between the half-day hike turnaround point and the rock pool was the part of the hike I found to be the most treacherous. The landscape suddenly flattened out and i found myself walking on cracked rock and around small thorny shrubs. Constant attention was needed to avoid spraining an ankle or twisting a knee.
Ben surveys the harsh beauty of the canyon surrounds.
Your prize for making it through these trials is an hour of relaxation at the rock pool. After 4-5 hours of non-stop hiking this rock pool becomes more than just a pool, it becomes an oasis. Water cooled rocks and shade from the surrounding cliffs will give you all the comfort you need after having spent hours in the arid heat.
The seemingly bottomless rock pool at the floor of the canyon.
Onward and Upward
After we had relaxed sufficiently at the rock pool we picked up our bags once more and headed back along the path we came down on.
My hiking companion preparing to leave the rock pool behind.
The hike was nothing short of glorious. I was constantly struck by the massive beauty of the canyon. From the moment I stood atop the canyon to when I was seated on its floor, to when I once again stood atop its cliffs I was filled with a sense of wanderlust and excitement. The hikes and hiking options offered by the Fish River Lodge make it easy to say this is the perfect spot for just about anyone who wants to go hiking in the Fish River canyon.
Even our guide, Ben, had to take a few breathers on the way up.
How to get there - Where to stay
The Fish River canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world and it can be found in Namibia’s Southern Karas region near the South African/Namibia border.
As with most places in the South of Namibia the best way to get there is via the small town of Luderitz. The drive from Luderitz to Fish River canyon is a lengthy, but relatively straight-forward drive. A car capable of dealing with rocky dirt roads is strongly advised.
Almost the entirety of the canyon is now a protected nature reserve and there are several lodges one can stay at around the canyon. It should be mentioned that the Fish River Lodge is the only lodge that is perched directly on the rim of the canyon, the other lodges are a little bit removed from the canyon.
If you wish to hike in the canyon you will need a guide as private hikes are no longer allowed since numerous tragedies have befallen ill-prepared private non-sanctioned groups of hikers.
Most of the lodges offer guests a variety of activities to choose from. So if there are people unwilling or unable to hike, do not fear. Activities in the Fish River canyon range from scenic drives to horse back safaris so check each lodge out and decide what is best for you and your traveling companions.
Here is a list of some of the places you can stay at near the Fish River Canyon: