FISH RIVER CANYON

Among Namibia’s many fascinating geological features, the Fish River Canyon is undoubtedly one of its grandest.

Second in size only to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, this mighty 160 km ravine was carved by the Fish River, with the process beginning more than 500 million years ago.

At its widest point, the canyon is 27 km wide and has depths of up to 550 metres.

Today the Fish River runs through the canyon intermittently and is Namibia’s longest interior river.

The Fish River Canyon lies within the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and the main viewpoints can be accessed from the Hobas Gate.

Attractions

In 2010, a new and environmentally-friendly viewpoint for the canyon was constructed for N$ 1.6 million. The viewpoint was designed by Windhoek architect Nina Maritz and enhances the visitor’s experience with an excellent view of the canyon and several posters that provide information about the region’s flora and fauna, the geology of the canyon, the history of the transfrontier park and hiking in the Fish River Canyon.

The view of the canyon from the viewpoint is particularly spectacular and better for photographs at sunrise, though sunset is also a popular time.

From the viewpoints, the canyon winds its way south and ends at the hot springs of /Ai-/Ais. The water bubbles out of the ground at 60°C and is channelled into the pools of modern spa facilities. The water is known to relieve rheumatism. /Ai-/Ais is a popular retreat for Namibians, South Africans and overseas visitors.

The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail offers an opportunity for an intense and full-on experience of this geological wonder. The 85 kilometre route takes 4-5 days to complete and is a serious challenge even to experienced hikers. Some consider it the most challenging in Africa. There are also a number of shorter and easier hikes to enjoy inside the park.

There are a number of good accommodation options and campsites close to the canyon. The quirky Canyon Roadhouse is a must visit even if you’re not staying there.

Flora and Fauna

Mammals you might see in the area include baboons, Hartmann’s zebra, kudu and the smaller klipspringer antelope. Amongst the birds, look out for the rare and majestic black eagle.

The area is mostly very sparse, you’ll find interesting examples of aloes and quiver trees, as well as camelthorn and palm trees in the lusher areas close to the spring.

Geology

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 wore through the gneisses.

Upstream, the river runs through horizontal dolomite rock strata that formed part of the canyon. About 650 million years ago, plate movement formed a north-south lowered area, along which the ancient Fish River could flow and eventually erode a flat plain, which is today’s upper canyon.

Glaciation during the Karoo Ice Age further deepened the canyon. About 60 million years ago, South America and Africa separated due to continental drift and Africa rose significantly; this increased gradient of the Fish River and enabled it to erode the lower canyon into the hard gneisses. It formed the current twisting, meandering system of the lower canyon.