Fish River Canyon in Namibia

About

There are a few schools of thought as to where the Fish River Canyon stands on the worldwide scale of largest or deepest. However, regardless of its status, the canyon is one of Namibia’s most visited places and is an adventure wonderland bound to win over even the most world-weary traveller.

Its arsenal consists of brilliant sunrises and sunsets, restful silences echoing through its crags, luxury accommodations, and rustic campsites, as well as thrilling activities to try out.

Location

The canyon stretches across the south western corner of Namibia, gouging a 160km long, 27km wide, and 550m deep crevice in the scrubby landscapes bordering South Africa. The surrounding towns of Grünau, Seeheim, Keetmanshoop and Noordoewer are abuzz with a constant flow of adventure seekers and tourists on their way to capturing unforgettable moments in this setting.

Brief History

The Fish River Canyon has been shaped and formed by the Fish River for the last 650 million years, assisted by glaciation and continental shift causing disruptions in the Earth’s crust.

Archaeological sites dotted around the canyon suggest that human beings have been in this area for at least 50 000 years. It was not until 1968 that the area was recognised as a National Park, known as the /Ai-/Ais Fish River Canyon National Park.

In 2003 this park was joined with South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park to become the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park. It was Namibia’s first cross-border conservation area. Today the entire canyon and its surrounding areas are enclosed by protected land.

Since then, accommodation nearby and within the park has been carefully constructed to satisfy the whims of every traveller, while still taking this fragile environment into consideration.

Fish River Canyon Accommodation

When visiting this iconic site you can choose from a wide range of places to lay your hat. The Parks Board provides campsites, rooms, and chalets at /Ai-/Ais and campsites at Hobas which can be booked via NWR.

There are a number of private operators offering both standard and luxury accommodation nearby and 2 private reserves bordering the national park.

Amenities

Many of these bring value-added on site amenities to the party including:

  • Spa facilities
  • Swimming Pools – both mineral and cold
  • Restaurants
  • Guided Walks and Drives
  • Canoeing
  • Abseiling
  • Rock Climbing

Children

Children are catered for at most of these establishments, with specialised activities to encourage an appreciation of the natural world.

Conferencing

Group bookings and conferences are also encouraged, and most of the best resorts provide state-of-the-art facilities to ensure a hassle-free visit.

Fish River Canyon Activities

Extreme Adventures

Hiking

  • Fish River Canyon Trail

The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail is known worldwide as a true test of endurance for those who love strenuous walks in nature.

The Hiking Trail commences at the Seeheim Gate for 85km along the bottom of the canyon to /Ai-/Ais and usually takes 5 days. Be prepared to rough it if you intend to take this route though. No open fires are allowed along the way, you need to lug everything you need along with you, and your bedroom is underneath the stars. Supreme fitness and a medical certificate are required to tackle this arduous trail and it is only open during the winter months (1 April to 15 September).

  • Canyon Klipspringer Trail or Fish Eagle Trail

A less strenuous version of the trail harnesses the power of mules to do all the heavy lugging, while you traipse along with just a rucksack for your daily needs. You will be put up in a campsite with kitchen and bathroom facilities for each of the four nights, but you still get to sleep al fresco.

Horse Trails

Several tour operators offer horseback trails for days at a time traversing the Fish River Canyon Park, Gondwana Park and Aussenkehr Park. These outings cover some tough going and are for experienced riders only.

Gentler, shorter rides are up for grabs at some of the surrounding lodges, where all abilities are catered for.

Trail Running

Every year in June, the Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon sees hundreds of athletes attempting to negotiate the 5-day hiking trail in under 24 hours!

4×4 Trails

Guided off-road adventures around the canyon and deep into its picturesque side gorges will show you what your trusty 4×4 is for, revealing historic hideaways along the way. Tours can be arranged for hours or days depending on your preference.

Gentler Pursuits

These exertions are only a small sample of what is available in and around the canyon. Other activities include:

Walks and Hikes

Take a gentle meander along the rim of the canyon. Most of the resorts surrounding the canyon offer guided walks or marked trails with stunning views into the canyon.

Scenery

There are so many ways to admire the canyon from above, take a drive to the viewpoints at:

  • Main View Point

This newly constructed lookout point dazzles at sunrise and sunset with views over the sharp bend of Hell’s Corner. Don’t forget your picnic basket and cocktails for this scenic affair.

  • Hikers’ Viewpoint

Located at the start of the hiking trail this gorgeous spot overlooks a vast expanse of the canyon.

  • Kooigoedhoogte Pass

Gaze down over the four thick pinnacles called Four Finger Rock.

  • Sulphur Springs Viewpoint

This lookout provides a panoramic view over the canyon above sulphur springs, where those on the trial get to immerse themselves in a soothing natural spring.

The Seven Sisters Mountain Range

Take a trip to see the Seven Sisters, at the very start of the Waterberg massif. You will recognise them as the subject of many photographs and paintings.

Historical Sites

The canyon has been inhabited for millions of years and you will find proof of this at:

  • Apollo 11 Rock Shelter

Found in the Huns Mountains to the north of /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Game Park the rock paintings here are believed to be some of the oldest in Africa, dating back 27 000 years.

  • On the Trail

A further 9 archaeological sites have been identified on the floor of the canyon, but can only be viewed while on the 5-day trail. These date from the Middle and Early Stone Ages.

  • Mesosaurus Fossil Tour

Take a trip to Keetmanshoop to see the thousands of trees in the Quiver Tree Forest, an intriguing dolerite rock field called Giant’s playground and the site where the remains of a Mesosaurus lie solidified in time.

Relaxation

Immerse yourself in the healing hot waters at /Ai-/Ais at the southern end of the canyon.

Airborne Antics

A smorgasbord of scenery unravels before you, revealing nooks and crannies not visible from the ground when you take to the air in a helicopter or light aircraft. Helicopter flips depart from the Vogelstrausskluft helipad. Many charter companies operating from the Sossusvlei area incorporate flights over the canyon as part of your exploration of Southern Namibia.

Wining & Dining

Burgers and Beer

Cañon Roadhouse: Stop off for cold beers, burgers like they used to be before fast food, Australian cheesecake and Route 66 kitsch for instant refreshment near the main viewpoint.

Wine Tasting

One of Namibia’s only wine farms is to be found just off the main drag outside Keetmanshoop at Kristal Kellerei.

Other a la carte choices

More traditional meals may be enjoyed at /Ai-/Ais, Canyon Village and Fish River Canyon Lodge.

Mount Canyon Farmyard

This iconic pit stop is a traditional roadside market brimming with arts and crafts, homemade kudu pies, rusks found on the way between Keetmanshoop and the canyon.

Fauna and Flora

Like most sites in Namibia, the Fish River Canyon is home to an extremely diverse range of plants, mammals, reptiles, insects, birds, and fish.

The klipspringer is one of the best-known and it shares the habitat with mountain zebra, kudu, gemsbok, springbuck, steenbok and the rare grey rhebok. Predators to look for include leopard, jackal, brown hyena and bat-eared fox. You may be lucky enough to spot a padloper tortoise, especially after an afternoon thunderstorm.

Skimmer dragonflies are a novelty flitting above water sources, while sharp-toothed catfish and yellow fish writhe below. Platannas, marbled rubber, and Boettger’s caco frogs are also present around the pools and streams of the canyon.

Queen’s purple, Doubleday’s orange, Kalahari orange and red tip butterflies are often seen feasting on the caper bushes and shepherd’s trees.

The Karoo girdled lizard, Nile monitor lizards, black-necked spitting cobra and Cape Cobra are some of the most notable reptiles.

There is a herd of wild horses resident in the southern area of the canyon at Garub.

Birding

Over 240 species of birds inhabit the Fish River Canyon and its immediate surroundings. Keep a look out for:

  • Egyptian goose
  • Olive thrush
  • Black-headed, grey and goliath heron
  • African black duck
  • Abdim’s and black stork
  • Cape robin chat
  • Reed and white-breasted cormorant
  • Dabchick
  • Black-headed canary
  • Cape sparrow
  • Hamerkop
  • Martial eagle
  • Fish eagle
  • Rock kestrel

The pools at /Ai-/Ais are excellent for birding.

Packing List

A camera is essential to record the wonders that you will experience at the Fish River Canyon. Pack a sturdy pair of hiking boots, sunscreen, sunglasses, binoculars and a walking stick or trekking pole if you are planning to head for the more extreme trails. A warm jacket comes in handy at night. Always travel with water in your vehicle while in Namibia.

Getting there

Driving

It seems all roads lead to the vastness of the Fish River Canyon and you can approach it from any direction. The roads are gravel but usually accessible by ordinary sedan car. However, we do recommend that you call ahead to make sure of the road conditions. A 4×4 is first-prize for exploring Namibia to its fullest.

From Windhoek:

Take the B1 to Karasburg, and on to Keetmanshoop, then the B4 to Seeheim. The C12 from Seeheim leads to Hobas and /Ai-/Ais on the C37.

From Lüderitz:

Take the B4 to Seeheim and then the C12 and C37.

From Vioolsdrift (South Africa):

Proceed to Noordoewer along the B1, then take the C12 to /Ai-/Ais or proceed along the C10 and C37 to Hobas.

By Air:

From Hosea Kutako International or Eros Airport in Windhoek, you can charter a plane to airstrips serving the following areas –

  • /Ai-/Ais
  • Fish River Lodge and Vogelstrausskluft
  • Seeheim
  • Grünau, Keetmanshoop, and Bethanie

Transfers:

Transfers from Windhoek to Fish River Canyon may be arranged with a private coach company.

For more information or to book your trip to the Fish River Canyon in Namibia, pop Namibia Travel Guide a message via our contact us page, and we will gladly assist you. 

Disclaimer
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.

 

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