Namibia's Fish River Canyon
The first time I visited the Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia I was standing just a few paces away from the edge of the reputedly second largest canyon in the world - and didn't realise that it was right there, because the ground is so incredibly level that it lines up almost perfectly across the vast chasm.
The Fish River Canyon was created around 500 million years ago when the bottom dropped out of that part of the world following serious movements in the earth's crust. Since then, wind and the occasional rain have sculpted the richly colored rocks into a work of art that exists nowhere else in such an arid environment.
We entered the Fish River Canyon National Park at the Hobas Campsite, paid a modest fee, and traveled on for another ten kilometers before we came across several other motor vehicles parked seemingly aimlessly in the rocky sand.
I walked across towards a friendly looking soul, remembering to be careful even though I do not have a morbid fear of heights. I had been warned at the gate that the half-kilometer drop down to the one hundred and sixty kilometer long sharply twisting canyon is as dramatic as it can be scary.
I found the view almost indescribably breathtaking. Later the same day we were lucky enough to be standing alone at the edge of the abyss on a windless afternoon. The silence was almost deafening and the only sound that we thought we heard could have been the eerie cry of a lone raptor somewhere overhead.
Aside from the fact that it is illegal to do so, it is perfectly possible to scramble down the steep sides to the tempting flash of an occasional pool of water at the bottom of the canyon; but beware before you try. Even in the cooler months it is hellishly hot down there, and a great deal harder to scramble up again. If you love to hike, join a pre-booked organized group outside the January to April rainy season under the control of a seasoned guide. The Fish River Trail is eighty-six kilometers long, you have to carry everything with you, and it takes five long days to scramble over the huge boulders that litter your path.
Later that day we discovered the luxurious Ais Ais Hot Springs Resort, which lies at the southern end of the Fish River Canyon. It is a welcoming sight, not only to hikers arriving at the end of their fifth day on the exhausting Fish River Trail, but also to tourists seeking a place for the night, or perhaps just a delicious meal washed down by a cooling drink. Ais Ais means burning water in the indigenous language, which is also the noise my partner made after entering the hot water for the first time. After an exciting day capped by a leisurely meal we were easily convinced that there can surely be few finer things than resting your body in the warm thermal waters under the vast African sky as the cool of night returns.
The Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia is a world class tourist destination that is a must for every serious eco-tourist. Allow two days for the experience – the first for exploring the canyon, and the second for chilling out in the dramatically rugged scenery surrounding Ais Ais.