I will start off by saying that this was the nicest group I have hiked with in a long time. The men we so patient and helpful with the 3 slower ladies (They would hike ahead, put down their backpacks and go back to help the girls at the back. I don’t think you will find many men do that.) The team spirit was just super amazing. We started as a group and we ended as friends planning our next hike…
About the Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon, in Namibia, is the second largest canyon in the world, only being surpassed by the Grand Canyon. It is approximately 180kms long. The Fish River Hiking Trail follows +-90 km of the canyon but you can cut it down to 67 km by taking shortcuts that have been marked out.
The hike, starts from the main view point near Hobas, and ends at Ai-Ais Hot Springs Spa and can be done between 4 and 7 days. We opted for 5 days, but at the rate we walked, we could have done it in 4 as we only had 2 and a half hours on the last day, thanks to the men leading us. 🙂
Day 1: Getting to and Descending the Canyon – 1.76 km descent and 2 km to overnight stop.
There was a bit of an issue with our shuttle to the drop off point but we eventually left at 9.30 am. (Read my tips below regarding the shuttle) The shuttle took us to Hobas, where we handed in our 3 documents and R60. From here we were taken to the drop off point. Once we finished taking photo’s we started the downhill descent at 12.30pm. Yes, it is rather steep and slippery but once you pass the chains and find your balance with your heavy backpack, you get into the motion and move a bit faster. My legs felt like jelly the 1st half hour but we took it slow and got down in just over 2 hours. Remember to stop and enjoy the view as it is magical from day 1. We reached the bottom and stopped for a snack and some even had a quick swim. This was our first water stop and I was a bit worried when I saw the muddy water and realized I had to drink that for the next 5 days. But we survived… 🙂 We were told the water did not need water purification drops, but we all decided it was a safer option and the water tasted fine. I didn’t add any game or flavouring to my water but some of the other did.
After our rest we only managed to go 2 km until we reached the 1st suggested stop. We had our first cold river wash, cooked our dinner, had some wine, explored a bit and settled in for our 1st early night. It was full moon and very light with the odd cold wind trying to find its way into your sleeping bag.
Day 2: (16 km)
We left camp after breakfast at 8.15. They say that this is the hardest day but that is only because of the terrain. You have lots of clambering up and over large rocks that sometimes feel like mountains with a heavy backpack. The whole hike has lots of thick sand with many river crossings and lots of bolder hopping. Balance is really needed to some degree. A hiking pole helped me with the river crossings and thankfully the rivers were not deep and we could get over them without having to swim. We only stopped briefly to wait for the girls at the back to catch up or to enjoy some of the main lookout points and then moved on again.
The best stopping point was at the Vespa Memoria. “ Vidi, the scooter is the last of the trio, Veni, Vidi & Vici, that made their way down the canyon in an expedition in 1968. More info about the trip can be found here.”
It was slow going but when we arrived at the Palm Springs only 3 people had a quick swim. (The thermal sulphur pools are 65 ‘C where it comes out at the stream) There were just too many insects and the eggy smell of the sulphur was not enticing enough to camp here so we hiked a bit further. The going was slow and tough over the big rocks and we were tired. We finally decided to stop between a lot of trees and soft sand for the night. My friend and I decided to pitch our tent because of the chilly wind. I don’t regret carrying that extra 2 kg. We had a refreshing bath, made dinner and were all in bed just after 7 with instructions to be ready by 7.30 sharp the next morning.
Day 3: (21 km)
The nights were long because we went to sleep so early, but it made getting up at 6 easy and that gave us enough time to be ready by 7.30. The 3’rd day was the longest and for me, the hardest. Long stretched of soft sand, boulder hopping and even uphills with long stretches of nothing, via the short cut. It was a long day with very little rest. Still not sure why the men pushed us quite so far but with their help we made it.
Keep a close eye on your map for the short-cuts. Most are clearly marked on the trail with white paint on prominent rocks, but you might miss them if you’re not sure where you are.
We stopped for about 45 min at the Zebra Pools at about 10.30 for a very cold and shallow swim but it was enough to refresh us to carry on.
The Vasbyt Bend felt like it had no end, but we eventually stopped and set camp a few km past the 40 km mark, very tired and weary at about 5.30 pm. Sadly it was not a good spot as the water was very shallow and muddy. Not my favourite night.
Day 4: (18 km)
I really did not sleep well and seeing that I heard some of the men talking at 5 am, I decided to get up and make coffee at 5.30. My back was tired and soar and I couldn’t lye there waiting for 6 am. I guess I will hear about my early morning coffee making noise for a long time to come. Ha, ha, ha
As usual we left at 7.30 for another fairly long day with long stretches of level walking, to soft sand and river crossings and boulder hopping. My feet were starting to burn by mid-afternoon and I started walking faster and faster to just get to our camp. By now a few of the group had blisters, bruises from falling over the boulders and had wet boots from falling while crossing the rivers. My backpack did feel a little bit lighter but as the day passes and the body gets tired it seemed to get heavier again.
The shortcuts were uphill but offered beautiful views of a rock formations like the four thick pinnacles, (known as the Four Finger Rock). Another highlight along the trail is the ‘Von Trotha’s Grave.’ Second Lieutenant Thilo von Trotha, a nephew of the well-known Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, died here in 1905 during a confrontation between German soldiers and native Nama’s.
We had a mid-morning stop and then carried on to Bikini Beach. As we were crossing the river before this stop, we saw a group heading in the same direction and 3 of our men ran ahead to make sure we got the camp for the night. Ha,ha,ha
This was probably the best night of the hike. After our evening routine we all sat chatting, eating sweets (that some still had in their packs) and waited for the stars to shine bright so that our appointed hike leader could give us a wonderful start gazing talk with his green laser pointer. By 8.30 it got really cold and we all climbed into our sleeping bags and tents. It was the coldest and wettest night of the trail.
Day 5: (9 km)
We were all up and ready by 7.45 am. The last day was short but we still had that thick sand and lots of boulder hopping. The last section of the hike feels endless and we couldn’t wait to reach the end and exchange our backpacks for a large ice-cold beer at Ai-Ais. We finished at about 10.30 and enjoyed our beers, sandwiches and a loooong swim in the warm spring pool. I even had a magnificent message at the Spa. It was great to sleep in a soft bed and have a nice kudu steak to end my day.
Fish River Tips and Suggestions
Booking your Fish River Canyon Hike, Accommodation and Shuttle. (June 2018)
The trail is popular so you’ll probably also need to book at least a year in advance. It’s only open from 1 May to 15 September (the drier months of the year) and is most busy during the South African and Namibian school holidays. Be prepared for the possibility of some light drizzle, but it doesn’t usually rain hard in winter.
A maximum of 30 people allowed to start the trail on the same day. Bookings of less than three people are not allowed. Children under 12 are not allowed. The hike costs R310 per person and is secured via a deposit of 50%
The hike bookings were made through NWR and they also provided us with the necessary documents (see below).
Once at Hobas, you will need to pay park entry fees of R30 (Namibian citizens), R60 (SADC citizens) and R80 (international citizens).
Please check with Namibia Wildlife Resorts for the latest fees when making your booking
Namibia Wildlife Resorts
Cape Town Office
Telephone: +27 (0)21 422 3761
We booked at Ai-Ais but you can also stay at Hobus – I did the accommodation booking via Mad Bookings but apparently you can also book directly with Ai-Ais.
Tel (+27): 013 751 2220
The Shuttle: Try and get the 1st Shuttle of the day! You can book a shuttle to take you from Ai-Ais to the starting point just past Hobus. I was told by e-mail and phone that it was 1st come 1st on the shuttle, but we found out that you can phone Ai-Ais, book and pay your shuttle in advance. It is R260 per person and is about 1 ½ hours’ drive that you really don’t want to do with your car. If you do you still need a lift to go fetch it at Hobus afterwards anyway. Ai-Ais phone number: 064 63 683677 /676
You must have a doctor’s certificate declaring you fit and healthy. Only valid for 40 days.
You will also receive 2 forms. The one is a 1-page indemnity document and the other a 2-page conservation declaration document. Both must be presented at the office in Hobas before you start with your Medical Certificate and entry fee. If your medical does not cover you to be rescued by chopper in case of an emergency you can take out a fairly cheap one with Hollard Insurance for those 5 days. (+-R260) They are becoming very sticky with this at the Hobus entry point. Also have your medical aid number written down somewhere as they ask for it at the sign in point.
Fitness is definitely required for this hike and should not be attempted by inexperienced hikers. Endurance is essential; must be able to handle long days of walking; there are a few short, steep climbs.
A Slingsby Map of the Fish River Canyon is available at Hobus but rather be safe and get one beforehand. Take at least 2 maps with you and keep them in a waterproof bag. If you are like me and cannot read maps… either learn, join a group that have hiked it before or find a hiker to join you that is great at reading maps and guiding the group (Like I did 😊 )
Pack for the Fish River Canyon: Keep you pack as light as possible!!
Clothes – Pack light clothes that you can rinse out in the evening. I Zip-Lock EVERYTHING because it stays dry and also helped keep the sand out. – 1 set of spare clothing is enough | Pyjamas or something light to sleep in. I had light weight thermal pj’s as the evenings were cold. | 2 extra pairs of socks were perfect for me but some manage with only 1 spare. | Warm jacket, rain jacket, fleece top to layer if cold | 2 sets of underwear – our stuff got dry every evening except for 1 night.
Toiletries – Decant into small holders if you cannot find the travel size things. Toothpaste, Toothbrush, Environment friendly soap, Deodorant, SUNSCREAN, Zam-buk for lips and even cuts. Light weight towel or wrap also works well. Half a roll of toilet paper and a light spade.
Food – this is up to you entirely but keep it light! Most of us don’t eat that much while on a hike and always take way too much food. You need breakfast, light lunch and dinner and then 1 or 2 snacks per day. If taking alcohol, decant it into plastic bottles before you leave. NO TINS! You must bring out your rubbish. 1 gas canister was enough for 2 of us for coffee in the morning and dinner at night. Share your cooking pots and food where you can – buddy up as it really helps keep weight down.
Sleeping – You can either sleep in the open (take a groundsheet for rain cover and it helps to keep sand out of your sleeping bag) or in a lightweight tent. We had a mix in our group. The wind picked up at night and sand in the face isn’t a great thing to wake up to so I’m glad I took a tent. Take a super-warm sleeping bag regardless. Thermal inner also helps. I use my jacket as a pillow but you can take a blow-up pillow. Sleeping mat – even the soft sand is hard.
Other items: Head torch | walking pole – helped a lot with river crossings over boulders | flip flops for the evening (optional) | camera and spare batteries | bandanna if you use one | lighter | A basic medical kit – Take painkillers, muscle creams and plasters for blisters and aches | Water Purification drops. They now make them odourless and tasteless -yaay, or a water filter if you prefer | duck-tape |Gaiters
We heard of so many groups splitting up during the hike and getting lost, that it’s quite scary.
“If you book as a group… stay together as a group and support one another”