Fish River Hiking Trail
The Fish River Canyon is situated and along the lower reaches of the Fish River, is one of the most impressive natural beauties in the southern part of Namibia. It developed predominantly during the pluvial times – a rainy climatic epoch – millions of years ago, and it is the second largest canyon in the world (with a depth of 550 m), with the Grand Canyon in America is the largest.
The canyon starts near Seeheim, and ends at Ai-Ais natural hot springs and has a total distance of 160km.
The Fish River Canyon has become a popular hiking destination, and is one of the most famous in the southern African region. It is only open for hiking from the 1st of May until the 15th of September and a permit must be obtained. The hike is 86 km in length, it is done in 5 days, with absolutely no facilities. Some hikers do the trail in 3,4 or 6 days, depending on their fitness level,
It can only be undertaken by physically fit people. You have to carry a full back pack and carry as much water as you can in the dry seasons.
We have made our reservation for the hike, a year in advance. (Accommodation at Ai-Ais before and after the hike, and a shuttle to transport us to Hobas), A doctors’ certificate that declares you to be fit for the hike, must be obtained not older than 40 days before the hike starts.
This hike was dedicated to Estelle, our god child, who are battling with cancer. Our group members have tied pink ribbons to their backpacks, to show their support. Stella, you are constantly in our prayers.
Day 1 Hikers View point to Spring in the reeds 5km
The shuttle picked us up at 07:00 on the Monday morning sharp at Ai-Ais. We left our vehicles there at the parking area allocated for hikers. We were a group of 12. The canyon was bone dry, and we had to carry as much water as possible.
At Hobas, we had to present our medical certificates, and there the group has to complete indemnity forms, as well as providing your next of kin contact details. We also had to pay the conservation fee in cash there.
After all the formalities was done, the shuttle took us to the drop of point at the Hikers View point. This is where the descent of 1.5km starts. It is a quite steep descent for the first few hundred meters. There are chains that you can hold onto on the descent, and a good hiking stick can be to your advantage here. We have started with the descent at 09:45, and had ample time to get down into the canyon, and covering a bit of distance before dark.
The descent went slower than we have anticipated, as the backpacks were heavily loaded with extra water. We had an extended lunch break during the hottest time of day. The pace of hikers differs also from one person to the next, and we reached the bottom at 15:00. The sight of the water pool with its greenish colour, at the bottom was a worrying factor for both Fanie and I.
We walked for another few kilometres, and found a spot to set up camp on the sandy river bed, at Spring in the reeds. There was a pool with clear fresh water available, where we could fill up our water bottles and wash our tired bodies. It was a long tiring day, for most of the group members, with the descent and large boulders in the canyon to conquer.
Day 2: Spring in the reeds to Sulphur Springs:11 km
We had an early start, as we had a long distance to cover. It was decided to make the most of the morning shade in the canyon, to cover as much distance as possible in the early morning.
Options for the day to choose from, was builder hopping, more boulder hopping and sandy slopes. We have passed the famous scooter that was left there, and had fun with a photoshoot. There were also interesting finds there i.e. painted rocks and deteriorated hiking boots that was left in the canyon by other hikers.
Some of the group members had started to feel dehydrated, as fresh water was very scarce. Not all the pools were safe to collect water from, as the water is salty, and one can taste the strong sulphur too. Sulphur Springs is a natural hot spring in the canyon, and had a spring with fresh drinkable water too. We set up camp on the soft sandy river banks, about four to five hundred meters from the actual hot sulphur springs. The wild horses evaded us, but we saw fresh spoor around the springs. We have also heard the black back jacal’s calling at night, and warning signs of baboons during the day.
Day 3: Sulphur Springs to Sandy Slopes 15 km
We packed up our gear, before 7:00 and walked the few hundred meters, to the hot sulphur springs. What a treat!!We decided to spend a half an hour there, for the first proper hot ‘bath” in 3 days.
The water comes from the natural hot spring, and we had the most welcoming and soothing bath in these hot springs. One could feel how the aches and pains of the heavy back pack instantly disappeared once you bathed.
Once every one was refreshed, we moved on. On this day, the canyon opens up a bit and become wider. There is also an emergency exit near Palm Springs, but we were all still well, and no one used the exit. On route, we had to refill our water bottles once more. The pools that still had water became less and less and fresh water was very scarce.
Other hikers before us, dug a hole in the ground next to a pool of water, and the clearer water was syphering through the sand. We used different filter systems to sypher the water again. It was a very time-consuming process, and one of my filters had already clogged up because of the algae in the water. The water also tastes a bit salty, and purifying drops/tablets makes the taste even worse. It helps if you add a powdered energy drink or something to enhance the taste.
The lunch break was as usual at 12 :00 to 14:30 where we could take a nap in a shady spot. It helped a lot to have an extended break during the heat of the day. It prevented us from being totally dehydrated and getting heat stroke. The path continues on the dry river bed, until we reached the soft sand of sandy slopes where we set up camp.
Day 4: Sandy slopes to just before Pink Palace 17 Km
We had a long day ahead of us, and we started off early once more. By now one could clearly see that the canyon widens up, and we walked on sand banks and boulders, as that was the terrain that we have walked on every day of the hike.
We were informed that we would get fresh water in containers at a waterpoint that NWR has indicated on their map for us, and we were all looking forward to that. Upon our arrival at the containers, we found that they were empty. Heavily disappointed, we moved on, over a hill that is indicated as a shortcut. Once we started descending the hill, we saw two people walking in our direction.
When they were near us, we realized that it was actually two rangers, who brought us fresh water. They were both carrying 10 litres each, for about 10 km, before they have reached us. We were so glad for this kind gesture, as we were really in dire need of fresh water. Everyone filled their bottles, and we gave the rangers each a large tip for the effort that they have made for us.
This has lifted our spirits again, and we all felt revived. We walked for another few kilometres, and reached another hill, where there was a large water tank, where we could refill our bottles and bladders with fresh drinking water. After descending and walking for another few kilometres, we have passed the grave of the Dutch lieutenant Thilo Van Trotha. Late that afternoon we have eventually reached a lovely overnight spot on the soft sand, where we set up camp for the last night.
We were already all settled at camp, when we again saw two people approaching us. This time it was two other rangers who brought us ice cold beers or cold drinks with ice included. Wow!! That was service!!!It was surely the most expensive beers and cold drinks that we have bought, but well worth every cent. These beverages are being sold at the “Pink Palace” not far from our overnight spot.
Day 5: Pink Palace Back to Ai-Ais.18 km
We have started to walk at 07:00 on the last morning, and stopped at the Pink Palace, where we bought cold drinks and replenish our water bottles with fresh water for the last time.
The trail continues through the canyon, sometimes walking on the dry sandy riverbed, past the 80 km mark, and back to builder hopping again. The scenery changed to the dry river bed, and back to builder hopping.
We opted not to break for lunch, but pushed through to Ai-Ai’s, and rather have a proper lunch there instead. We arrived at camp at 13:00 and we congratulate one another in the group for finishing this epic hike. We made use of the short cuts, and hiked a total distance of 66 km.
As the group leaders, Fanie and I were so relieved that the group had successfully finished the hike without any serious injury, or got lost. Our group were a wonderful team, that stayed, worked together, and finished together. Well done to all our team mates!!
We have crossed the bridge and walked past the entrance gate, when the personnel spotted us coming in. They rang a bell, and everybody that was in camp, started to cheered us on until we reached the front of the reception office, where we hang our bags. That was an awesome gesture, everybody in the group had a sense of achievement and it felt really great. With tired bodies, and blisters on our feet, we hung our bags, and hit for the restaurant to have a proper meal and an ice-cold beer or cold drink.
Tips for the hike:
Rating: Difficulty: 8-9/10.
Difficult due to the elements and environment. If the canyon is dry, carry as much fresh water as possible. (Rather leave the extra set of clothing and carry water instead). In dry months you can easily get dehydrated if the water supply is not sufficient, and water that is actually available, is not always good for human consumption. Have at least 3-4l water per person per day.
Be mentally and physically very well prepared. Do your own research, and check the current water situation before you go, on the Facebook page” I hiked the Fish River Canyon”, and on the NWR Website.
Carry only necessary items. If you have to carry additional water and your pack is already too heavy, you might struggle. We all had only two sets of clothing, but socks and under -ware for every day.
Do additional ankle and knee exercises before the hike.
Take the following in your first aid kit:
Rehydrates /Drip drop (available at Outdoor Warehouses)/ Any other supplement to assist you with hydration.
Blister kit (Needle and thread, and tea tree oil). Dip the tread and needle in Tea tree oil. Push it through the skin of the blister to release the fluid. Tie small knots on both sides of the thread were the needle goes in and out. Cut off the remainder of the thread and leave it as it is. Blister plasters are handy too, but might not work on this rockery terrain, as they have the tendency to roll up under your sock and cause more friction. Blister socks are new on the market, and worthwhile to test.
Broad spectrum anti biotics, medication for nausea, and diarrhoea. Energy drinks in powder form that can be added to the water. (Game, Drink’o pop, or any other energy drink to your personal taste). Drink as much fluid as you can during the day.
Bio degradable soap and wet wipes. Cut and file your toe nails short before the hike. (This helps to prevent losing toe nails).
Have a proper map of the area. (a satellite communication “SMS” device, or satellite phone is handy to have as well).
A light weight tent is optional. Some of our group members slept with just a ground cover underneath their sleeping bags.
We carried a very light weight tent weighing 1.1kg only. It kept the sand out of our sleeping bags and back packs. You also have a bit more privacy when you want to change clothing. Take sunscreen, and a hat. Hiking boots with ankle support, that are still in good condition, and hiking stick is advisable too. It helps a lot to support your balance when boulder hopping.
Warm clothing for the cold nights, and rain gear. If the river flows, water shoes are advisable for river crossings, as well as a survival bag to put your gear in.
Please consult the NWR (Namibian Wildlife Resorts) for the most current prices of the hiking trail, accommodation, and shuttle. Prices increases annually. Visit their website. Also confirm the latest water conditions with them before you start your hike. They have “water marshals’” available to drop off water, or to fill water containers at water points for the hikers.
The situation can also change from season to season. (We wanted to hike the FRC a few years ago, but during that season, the river was in flood, and the trail was closed). The rescue facilities are limited; no helicopters are stationed nearby and there is no cell phone reception in the Canyon.
It was very important to us to had travel insurance because of the drought and water situation. We did this hike from the 6th to 10th of August 2023.Earlier during this particular season, many hikers withdrew or cancelled their hike because of the water situation. Some were even medically evacuated due to dehydration, or injury.
Our medical aid does not cover injuries outside the borders of South Africa. We took out a[A1] travel insurance policy (with Brytes Travel Insurance company) that covered us for the period of the hike only. This included medical evacuation from the canyon (air lift via helicopter), and medical care at a medical facility nearby. It has also included a few other benefits and options, i.e. vehicle accident cover, etc. The cost for the 8 days was R450.00 per person. Prices may increase annually, and it is worth while to contact them if you prefer to do so.
The products/ food/ gear that are referred to here, are things that we use, or prefer, or helped us on our hiking expeditions since we have started hiking. Personal preferences may vary from one hiker to the next, regarding gear, food and products used.
All information given above, is based on our personal experience, circumstances, observations and views of a certain hike.
It might differ from other hikers’ experiences or views, or different weather conditions and circumstances.