Things you should know about the Fish River Canyon.
It was always our plan to visit the Fish River Canyon on our Namibia trip. Then someone told us we wouldn't be able to see nor access it during the african summer season. So for just a second, we hesitated. Should we go or not?
In the end, we went (thank god), but this confusing remark made us realise how easy it is to miss out on things because of inaccurate information.
So here's what we learned from our own experience at the Fish River Canyon.
When you drive up to the park, you first have to register and pay an admission fee at Hobas Restcamp. We paied 80 Namibian dollars per person and 10 N$ for the car.
After that, you follow the road (for about 10 km) up to the main viewpoint. It blends in perfectly with the surroundings and offers tables, benches and wooden rooftops for some shade.
Several large information boards inform you on the history, geology and the inhabitants of the area. No toilets yet, but it sure seemed as if they were building some...
No need to get up super early and rush over to the canyon first thing in the morning. In contrast to most places, it's prettier when the sun is fully up, lighting the entire surface. Otherwise you'll have these big dark and harsh shadows on your pictures.
We didn't know, so we arrived (too) early. No problem, we installed our camping chairs and enjoyed a breakfast with a view. Life can be good!
It's true, you can't just randomly descend into the canyon on your own. It's too dangerous for a number of reasons. Heat strokes, heart failures, ... you name it, it has happened to people before. Some of them died because there is no cellphone reception and the only way to get out of the canyon, when you're hurt, is by air and even then, there are no helicopters stationed nearby...
So for safety reasons, you need to book a permit if you want to go hiking down the canyon. There are of course a few criteria to obtain this permit. First of all, you need to be over 12 years old. Secondly, you'll need to present a recent medical certificate stating that you're in good health and sufficiently fit. This certificate can't be older than 40 days. And finally, you need to form a group of minimum 3 and maximum 30 people.
The permit is only valid between the 15th of april and the 15th of september. Potential flash floods and temperatures up to 50°C make it too dangerous to hike the canyon during the african summer season.
Very popular amongst hikers is the 4-5 day hike. Going from Hobas to the hot springs at Ai-Ais, you'll be covering a total of approximately 86 km. This hike involves carrying your own equipment and food every day, sleeping in the canyon and walking about 20 km per day.
Apparently there's also a one day guided tour which you can book at the Fish River Lodge. Although it doesn't involve sleeping in the canyon, it's still a ten hour hike, so I wouldn't underestimate it!
So what can you do at the canyon without a permit?
Well after we had our lovely breakfast (which isn't a bad way to start your Fish River Canyon experience by the way), we started following the path along the edge of the canyon. It takes you a few hundred meters to the right and leads up to Hikers View, where the descent of the 86 km hike starts.
From up here you have a lovely view and you get a glimpse of the trail on which those brave hikers start their challenging expedition. A big sign warns you not to descend on your own.
Afterwards we walked back up to the main viewpoint and then further to the left, following the path to the viewpoint at the other side.
There's plenty of space to walk and the trail is flat, but it's covered in stones so it's best to watch your step in order not to sprain any ankles.
Bring a hat or something to cover your head on sunny days. There are no trees to run to for some shade.
One of the few things growing at the canyon is the Gifboom. While we were balancing on the tip of our toes, trying to get a lovely macro picture without touching it, Bernd suddenly cursed. He felt a sharp pain in his foot. I first thought he got bitten by a snake, hiding under the rocks beneath the plant.
Luckily there was no snake involved. He apparently stepped into one of the thorns that had fallen off the Gifboom (or Euphorbia virosa). We found the villain sticking in the sole of his shoe, big like shark teeth and solid like stone! Watch where you put your feet around these things folks!
If you have difficulty walking or just a very limited amount of time, you can take the car and drive up to both sides. There's plenty of space to park and you'll then be a few meters away from the viewpoints.
Would we have been happier if we could have just walked down to the river? Yes, probably, but the restrictions are there for a reason. And the view from up above was more than worth driving down to the south of the country.
After all, this is the second largest canyon in the world we're talking about...!