I attended a friend’s birthday party at Joe’s beer house one evening and as is the norm sometime during the evening the conversation shifted to travel. On this particular night the focus was mainly on local travel. Someone around the table, I can’t remember exactly whom, we were all around one of those long tables that seat about 30 people, started sharing their experience of the Fish River Canyon hiking trail. As more and more people joined the conversation I quickly became amazed at what I was hearing.
People were sharing stories of a self-sustaining 5 day hike that stretched over 85 kms inside the second largest canyon in the world. Could this be possible? How could such a place exist in Namibia and I’ve never heard of it? I made a mental note and the next day the research began. I did not take a lot to convince me that the hike needs to go onto my list and get crossed off as soon as possible.
In May 2015 Tobi, Jonny and I decided that we were going to attempt to complete the Fish River Canyon hike. Starting in Windhoek it is nearly a full day’s drive to the Hobas campsite if you are in no rush like we were. We stopped in Keetmanshoop to do our final shopping and enjoyed our final restaurant meal at the Wimpy fully aware that it will be a while before we see a decent meal. The camping at Hobas is basic, but most importantly they have a swimming pool, cold beer and hot showers.
Sleeping over the night before the hike you have two options, either at the Hobas campsite (the starting point of the hike) which allows you to start the hike early the next morning or at the NWR Ai-Ais resort which is at the finish. From there you can book a seat in the NWR land cruiser which will take you to Hobas the next morning, but you won’t be able to start as early. The bonus is that your vehicle will already be at Ai-Ais when you finish the hike.
The hike starts at the Hikers View point about 10km away from the campsite. There is no official transport to drop you at the start so you’ll have to make a plan. We hitched and were lucky when another friend from Windhoek who completed the hike the previous day picked us up. Not only did they give us a lift but provided invaluable insight on what to expect and a some motivational hugs form the ladies. Its once you reach the viewpoint that you fully comprehend the magnitude of the canyon and realize that it needs to be approached with the utmost respect.
From the viewpoint the path steeply descends into the canyon dropping 500m in altitude along the way. This is best done in the early morning when the canyon wall provides you with shade. Once you reach the bottom the hike commences. The first two days of the hike is quite tough and extremely challenging, but it gets easier from day three onward depending off course on how fast you go. After you pass Lt. Von Trotha’s grave the canyon flattens out and the going gets much easier. On your last two days you’ll be able to cover considerable distances.
Our hiking strategy was to get up a 5 am, start hiking at 6 am until 11 am. Lounge in the shade next to the river until 3:30 pm and hike another hour or two and find a great overnight spot. Worked very well and we completed the hike in 4 days.
The hike ends at Ai-Ais, where I recommend you spend the night and relax in the hot springs enjoying ice cold Namibian beer. The canyon offers beautiful scenery, quite a bit of wildlife and loads of photo opportunities, so take a good camera. The hike was an amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone that is physically and mentally able to complete this.
-drinking water from the river is safe, if on your hike the river is flowing there is no need to carry many liters of water, simply take from the river
-take a pillow its worth it
-marshmallows over the fire at night with hot chocolate, highlight of the day
-a small gas stove is a must for quick coffee in the morning
-don’t go overboard with hiking gear, a good pair of well-worn sneakers, thick socks, pants and t-shirt will do
-remember sunscreen and a hat is a must
-get up early and hike in the morning cool, spend 11am-3pm in the shade resting, eating recovering and swimming.
-get a map that indicates the short cuts and use them
-Jonny was our scout and often wandered far ahead of us, which saved us a lot of time in unnecessary back tracking