The Fish River Canyon (Afrikaans: Visrivier Canyon or Visrivier Kuil, German: Fischfluss Canyon), is located in the south of Namibia. It is the largest canyon in Africa, as well as the second most visited tourist attraction in Namibia. It features a gigantic ravine, in total about 100 miles (160 km) long, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 meters deep.
The Fish River is the longest interior river in Namibia. It cuts deep into the plateau which is today dry, stony and sparsely covered with hardy drought-resistant plants. The river flows intermittently, usually flooding in late summer; the rest of the year it becomes a chain of long narrow pools. At the lower end of the Fish River Canyon, the hot springs resort of Ai-Ais is situated.
Public view points are near Hobas, a camp site 70 km north of Ai-Ais. This part of the canyon is part of the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The other 90 km of this canyon are privately owned.
|Fish River Canyon - Flischfluss Canyon|
Panorama from Main View Point
|Area||5,900 km2 (2,300 sq mi)|
|Governing body||Ministry of Environment and Tourism|
The Fish River canyon consists of an upper canyon, where river erosion was inhibited by hard gneiss bedrocks, and a lower canyon formed after erosion had finally worn through the gneisses. Both parts have been declared a national monument in 1962.
Upstream, the river runs through horizontal dolomite strata; these metamorphic rocks formed part of the canyon. About 650 million years ago (Mya), plate movement formed a north-south graben, or lowered area, along which the ancient Fish River could flow and eventually erode a flat plain, which is today's upper canyon. Glaciation at around 300 Mya, part of the Dyka glaciation during the Karoo Ice Age, further deepened the canyon. About 60 Mya, South America and Africa separated (due to continental drift) and Africa rose significantly; the consequentially increased gradient of the Fish River enabled it to erode the lower canyon into the hard gneisses, forming the current deeply twisting, meandering system of the lower canyon.
|Fish River Canyon Hiking trail|
Wild Fig Bend
|Length||90 km |
|Location||Fish River Canyon|
|Trailheads||Hobas / Ai Ais|
|Use||Hiking / Trail running|
|Elevation gain/loss||620 m (Loss)|
|Highest point||840 m|
|Lowest point||220 m|
|Season||Winter in Southern Hemisphere|
|Months||1 May - 16 Sep|
|Sights||Spectacular scenery, wildlife|
|Hazards||Steep descent, boulders, rocks, deep sand, slippery river crossings, baboons, snakes, scorpions|
The Fish River Canyon hiking trail is one of the more popular hiking trails in Southern Africa. The immense scale and rugged terrain has drawn many visitors from all over the world to experience what hiking or trail running the canyon can offer.
Apart from the 2 kilometre descent west of Hobas and some optional short cuts, the trail generally follows 88 kilometres of the Fish River through to Ai Ais and is usually completed within 5 days. Although there are a number of footpaths through the canyon, the trail is not fixed leaving the hiker to decide where and how long to hike.
There are no amenities on the trail and hikers have to carry all their needs with them. Open fires are not allowed on the trail.
In times of inclement weather, some shelter in a run-down building can be found at the Causeway () but otherwise sleeping is outdoors.
The weather is usually mild and typical temperatures vary between 5 °C and 30 °C with little humidity. Extreme weather, such as flash floods, stormy winds and rain occasionally play havoc during the hiking season.
Due to flooding and extremely hot summer temperatures reaching 48 °C in the day and 30 °C at night, permits are only issued between 1 May and 15 September.
Prior to arriving at Hobas a hiking permit must be obtained from Namibia Wildlife Resorts  for groups not smaller than 3 and not larger than 30. All hikers must be older than 12 years and a certificate of fitness, completed by a medical doctor must be presented at the offices of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism at Hobas.
In recent years the trail has become popular, particularly during school holidays and long weekends, and permits should be requested well in advance. Bookings for the following year's season open 1 May.
Hobas ( offices as well as Namibia Wildlife Resorts offices and a little shop for curiosities and basic necessities. Camping underneath Camelthorn trees with ablution blocks is available for hikers who plan to overnight at Hobas.) houses the Ministry of Environment and Tourism
The trail ends at Ai Ais where a resort with hotel rooms, chalets and camping grounds can be found.
The trail starts from the car park ( Thereafter the unmarked path follows a gravel trail to the beach at the bottom ( ). On the descent some misleading game trails lead to the north and should be avoided.) 13 kilometres west from Hobas. The descent is steep and chains are provided to assist hikers over the first 100 meters.
The trail can be divided into three notable sections:
Optional short cuts are available. They offer little in beauty but may be a welcome change of scenery and terrain. Popular short cuts are found at:
The river flows stronger early in the season and by September usually dries up to form a chain of stagnant pools. Water is safe to drink, however the use of water purifying tablets are recommended.
River crossings are a notable feature with more than 20 crossings over the course of the trail, and crossings may become a major consideration when water levels are high.
There is no mobile phone reception in the canyon and only two emergency exits are available. Evacuation from the deep canyon is done via stretcher on foot or helicopter and vehicles in the later parts of the trail. Emergency exits can be found:
Documented running through the canyon started in 1990. A group of hikers in running gear attempted to complete the 5 day, 90 kilometer hiking trail in 24 hours. They achieved their goal in a time of 11hrs 42min. In August 2003 this time was lowered to 10hrs 54min. Then in August 2012, after a previously abandoned attempt in 2011, Ryan Sandes completed the course in 6hrs 57min.
|13 July 1990||11hrs 42min||Bruce Mathews, Ronnie Muhl||South Africa|
|16 August 2003||10hrs 54min||Russell Paschke, Charlie du Toit, Coenraad Pool and Tommy van Wyk||Namibia|
|3 August 2012||6hrs 57min||Ryan Sandes||South Africa|
|18 June 2016||6hrs 39min 52sec||AJ Calitz||South Africa|
Unofficial running through the canyon has subsequently evolved into the annual Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon which held its inaugural race on 27 August 2011.
The route starts close to Hobas and after a short section on the rim of the canyon steeply descends 500 meters to river level. Thereafter the contestants mostly follow the river to Ai Ais. They are allowed to plan their own routes and take short-cuts through the canyon provided they reach a number of predefined checkpoints. Shortcuts may greatly reduce the total distance of the race but may also cost the contestant dearly in effort.
Due to the remoteness of the trail, all competitors are required to be self-sufficient for the duration of the event and are expected to have adequate nutrients as well as the stipulated survival gear. Water is generally sourced from the river which is always close by.
Previous trail runners have commented on the difficulty of the terrain: "The canyon is one of the most beautiful places I have seen but at the same time is one of the harshest environments I have run in. I really battled in the canyon due to the extreme heat and terrain and running in there was one of the toughest days of my athletic career." "This canyon is not for the faint hearted and an attempt to run it should not be taken light-heartedly."