Hiking is obviously the main event here, but following the death of an ill-prepared hiker in 2001, the NWR decided to strictly prohibit day hikes and leisure walks into Fish River Canyon.
Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail
The five-day hike from Hobas to Ai-Ais is Namibia’s most popular long-distance walk – and with good reason. The magical 85km route, which follows the sandy riverbed past a series of ephemeral pools, begins at Hikers’ Viewpoint and ends at the hot-spring resort of Ai-Ais.
From Hobas, it’s 10km to Hikers’ Viewpoint – hikers must find their own transport to this point. The steep and scenic section at the beginning takes you from the canyon rim to the river, where you’ll have a choice of fabulous sandy campsites beside cool, green river pools.
Although some maps show the trail following the river quite closely, it’s important to note that the best route changes from year to year. This is largely due to sand and vegetation deposited by the previous year’s floods. In general, the easiest hiking will be along the inside of the river bends, where you’re likely to find wildlife trails and dry, non-sandy terrain that’s free of vegetation tangles, slippery stones and large boulders.
After an exhausting 13km hike through the rough sand and boulders along the east bank, the Sulphur Springs Viewpoint track joins the main route. If you’re completely exhausted at this stage and can’t handle the conditions, this trail can be used as an emergency exit from the canyon. If it’s any encouragement, however, the going gets easier as you move downstream, so why not head a further 2km to Sulphur Springs, set up camp and see how you feel in the morning?
Sulphur Springs (more commonly called Palm Springs) is an excellent campsite with thermal sulphur pools (a touch of paradise) in which to soothe your aching muscles. The springs, which have a stable temperature of 57°C, gush up from the underworld at an amazing 30L per second and contain not only sulphur, but also chloride and fluoride.
Legend has it that during WWI, two German prisoners of war hid out at Sulphur Springs to escape internment. One was apparently suffering from asthma, and the other from skin cancer, but thanks to the spring’s healing powers, both were cured. It’s also said that the palm trees growing here sprang up from date pips discarded by these two Germans.
The next section of the hike consists mostly of deep sand, pebbles and gravel. The most direct route through the inside river bends requires hikers to cross the river several times. The Table Mountain formation lies 15km beyond Sulphur Springs, and a further 15km on is the first short cut, which avoids an area of dense thorn scrub known as Bushy Corner. Around the next river bend, just upstream from the Three Sisters rock formation, is a longer short cut past Kanebis Bend up to Kooigoedhoogte Pass. At the top, you’ll have a superb view of Four Finger Rock, an impressive rock tower consisting of four thick pinnacles (though they more closely resemble a cow’s udder than fingers).
After descending to the river, you’ll cross to the west bank and start climbing over yet another short cut (although you can also follow the river bend). At the southern end of this pass, on the west bank of the river, lies the grave of Lieutenant Thilo von Trotha, who was killed here in a 1905 confrontation between the Germans and the Nama.
The final 25km into Ai-Ais, which can be completed in one long day, follows an easy but sandy and rocky route. South of von Trotha’s grave, the canyon widens out and becomes drier. Be advised that towards the end of winter, the final 15km are normally completely dry, so you will need to carry sufficient water.