Above you an African fish eagle hangs on the thermals, its mournful cry the only sound in this vast, silent place. Below you an astounding rent in the earth – 550 metres deep, 27 kilometres wide and 160 kilometres long. This is the magnificent Fish River Canyon.
One and half billion years of geological history have been exposed by the determined passage of the Fish River, Namibia’s longest interior waterway. The reds, greens, browns and pinks of the rock bastions and turrets are best seen and photographed at sunrise and sunset from one of the well-appointed viewing platforms. Situated in the far south of the country, the canyon is preserved as part of the Ai-ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park but like most places in Namibia, you can enjoy this astounding natural phenomenon without jostling for space. Take a five-minute walk away from the viewing platforms, find a solid rock to sit on and contemplate your surroundings in absolute solitude.
The Fish River Canyon is home to one of the most beautiful multi-day hikes in Africa. The 86 kilometre-long trail, after a dramatic zig-zag down, follows the base of the canyon and takes about four to five days from Hobas to Ai-ais.
Depending on the season the Fish River can be either a trickle or a raging torrent. Even in the dry winter months there are still strings of rock pools, home to warblers and bishops and welcomed by hot hikers. Hot springs occur on the canyon floor, too. These are accessed from Ai-ais. Ai-ais means ‘hot water’ and is the charmingly onomatopoeic name given by the Nama goatherd who discovered the springs in 1850 while searching for his goats. These springs, around 60˚C, create an unusual ecosystem that attracts many types of water birds, including the stately goliath heron. The spectacular winding drive down to the canyon at Ai-ais is one of the highlights of a visit to this area.
A huge variety of unique flora can be found here, including the photogenic quivertree and many other beautiful aloes and succulents. Unusual animals also abound. The dragonlike leguaan (Nile monitor lizard) and the endemic Nama padloper tortoise are two reptiles to look out for. The compact klipspringer with its specially adapted hooves for ‘rock jumping’ can sometimes be spotted in its perilous habitat around the cliff edges where it feels safe from predators. Other canyon residents include mountain zebra, kudu, steenbok, gemsbok and springbok, attracting predators such as leopard, jackal, brown hyena and bat-eared fox.
Fish River Canyon