Ai – Ai’s, Namibia

Only open from 1 May – 15 September

The Fish River Canyon in Namibia is reputedly the second largest canyon in the world (the larges being the Grand Canyon). There is a lot of debate as to whether this is indeed the second largest canyon in the world, most of the arguments seem to hinge on how one measures the ‘size’ of a canyon. Regardless of its ranking in the world of big canyons the Fish River is magnificent and breath-taking in its immensity. The Fish River Canyon probably formed about 500 million years ago. However, was not only created by water erosion, but through the collapse of the valley bottom due to movements in the earth’s crust.

The canyon is part of a nature conservation park. The gate to this park is at Hobas campsite and from here it is a further 10 kilometers to the main viewpoint for the canyon which offers a stunning view. When you arrive at the canyon, as you have no idea it is there. It drops vertically by half a kilometer, out of a flat arid plateau without any warning. As with most rivers in Namibia the Fish River is generally dry however in the raining season (January to April) the river can become a raging torrent

The Fish River Canyon Hiking trail is one of the most famous hikes in Southern Africa. The hike covers 86 km in the base of the canyon, over 5 days with absolutely no facilities, hikers are required to carry everything and find whatever water you can in semi-permanent pools. We also offer a guided hike of the Fish River Canyon which is a better option for less experienced hikers.

Hiking The Fish River Canyon is an amazing experience, however it should not be attempted by inexperienced hikers as the area is very rugged. Please note:

  • Starts from main viewpoint 12 km south of Hobas & ends at Ai-Ais.
  • Once you are in the canyon it is impossible to get out – and in the case of a serious emergency, hikers must be airlifted out of the canyon. This is one of the reasons why hikers must present a recent medical certificate of fitness no older than 40 days and complete an indemnity form, prior to commencing the trail.
  • Hikers are required to be entirely self-sufficient on this hike, and a medical kit is also recommended.
  • Water is normally available in the canyon, but purification tablets are recommended.
  • A minimum 3 people is required to book the Fish River Hike – if there are only 1 or 2 of you wanting to complete the hike, you should consider joining the guided Fish River Hiking Trail. (This guided hike is also an excellent option for less experienced hikers – as the equipment needed to complete the hike is included and the services of an experienced guide make the hike a more enjoyable experience.)
  • The walk is approximately 85 km long, and usually takes between 4-5 days to complete.
  • A decent level of fitness is essential.
  • You will have to carry your own equipment every day, including food and water (all together approximately 12–15 kg per person.)
  • The park is open for these trails from May 1 to September 15 each year.
  • A maximum of 30 persons per day are allowed into the canyon for hiking.
  • Children under the age of 12 are not permitted.
  • Demand is high, so reservations should be made well in advance.
  • No facilities are available, and hikers sleep outdoors for the entire trip.
  • Foot care is important, before, during and after the hike
  • Hikers must report at Hobas before commencing the hike, with recent medical certificates of fitness (no older than 40 days), and to complete an indemnity form.
  • Hikers are advised to stay over at Hobas the night before the hike commences, starting point must be arranged.
  • 7 – seater one – way shuttle service from Ai-Ais to Hobas is provided, contact details of service provider will be on permit.

The Trail

The Descent:

It is recommended to arrive at Hobas early enough to do the descent on the first afternoon of the trail, as the trail starts from the view point about 12 kms from the campsite at Hobas. The steep descent into the Fish River Canyon takes between 1-2hrs and most consider this to be the most strenuous section of the trail. At the bottom of the descent, there is a large sandbank that makes an ideal campsite for the first night of the trail.

From Hobas to Palm Springs:

This section of the trail should take 2 days to complete, (that’s if you are expecting to complete the Fish River Hike in 5 days.) The terrain is rugged, and marked by large boulders and rock pools, so allow for plenty of time to negotiate the obstacles. Palm Springs is the site of thermal sulphur pools, the perfect venue to rejuvenate those tired and aching muscles. Date palms grow around the spring, which give rise to the place name.

Palm Springs to the Causeway:

After breakfast there is a climb up a hill, with beautiful views of a rock formation consisting of four thick pinnacles, known as the ‘Four Finger Rock,’ from the top. Another highlight along the trail is the ‘Von Trotha’s Grave.’ Second Lieutenant Thilo von Trotha, a nephew of the well-known Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, died here in 1905 during a confrontation between German soldiers and native Nama’s. As a reliable source of water, the Fish River has always been considered as an oasis of life, so watch out for the many mammals, reptiles, plants and insects along the way.

The Causeway to Ai-Ai’s:

This last part of the trail takes about 4 / 5 hrs. The canyon is much wider, and the hiking is easier – the thought of a cold beer and a dip in the hot springs at Ai-Ai’s, should be all the motivation needed to see you home!

Facilities:

No facilities are provided on the trail and although sleeping in the open, a tent is not necessary.

Accommodation at Hobas: 12 km from starting point of trail

  • 14 x Campsites set among shady trees at the top end of Fish River Canyon.
  • Ablutions, Braai/BBQ area Swimming Pool and a Kiosk selling basics and cool drinks.
  • NO RESTAURANT.

Accommodation available at Ai-Ais Resort at the end of the trail.

The resort offers 43 rooms in total with 36 of them being brand new. 12 of the rooms have a river view, are en-suite with a bath and are equipped with air conditioning, an outside shower and a tea / coffee station.

The 7 premier chalets are suitable as family or large group accommodation and they have an en-suite bathroom, tea / coffee station and air conditioning. Being a self-catering accommodation, the kitchen is equipped with a 2-plate stove, kettle, fridge, cutlery. pots and a microwave oven. The chalets boast 2 verandas, both with mountain and river views.

The rest of the 24 rooms are equipped with air conditioning, tea / coffee station and are en-suite. They also have spectacular mountain views.

  • 7 x Premier Chalet/Family Chalet •12 x Riverview Double rooms
  • 20 x Mountain view Double rooms •Camping
  • Camping site – Riverview Room – Mountain view Room – Restaurant and bar – Swimming pools and Spa.
  • Accommodation at Hobas and Ai-Ais before and after the trail is not included in the trail rate.
Climate:

Day-time temperatures during the winter months are generally pleasant, fluctuating between 20C and 25C from May to September.  The temperature combined with the dry atmosphere create ideal backpacking conditions.  Evenings are usually mild, although temperature of 5C or lower occur.

Wildlife:

In the canyon you may encounter several species of mammals, such as wild horses, Mountain Zebra (Hartman zebra), Kudu, Klipspringer, Leopard, Steenbok, Baboon and Springbok. The most common rodents include mice, rats, dassies, and dassie rats. Bird life includes surprises like Pelicans, Black Eagles, Fish Eagles, Kingfishers, Lovebirds, Wild Ostrich and various species of waterfowl and wading birds, such as Herons.

Reptiles and insects are in abundance and you may come across huge Leguaan lizards; snakes (such as Cape Cobra, Black Spitting Cobra, Puff adder and Horned adder) as well as Geckos. Various locusts, butterflies and moths are also present. In the natural pools of the Fish River are found an abundance of fish, such as Barbled catfish and Yellow fish.

Vegetation:

Namibia’s national tree, the Aloe dichotoma or Quiver Tree is mostly found in the south of the country. There are beautiful examples of these in the Fish River Canyon. The trees can reach an age of about 300 years, and flowering occurs during wintertime from May to July.

Other plants include various species of succulents, such as the very poisonous Melkbos. All plants are well adapted to the semi-desert environment and can survive severe droughts of up to 5 years.

Trail Behaviour:
  • Do not scar the environment with unnecessary fireplaces. Please use existing ones.
  • Wood is very scarce. For the first two nights use a small gas stove and use only dead wood – never break off branches.
  • Do not litter – it will be uncovered by elements or animals. This is not only unsightly but can cause injury to animals and hikers.
  • If you smoke, remember to put your stub in a litter bag.
  • Only biodegradable soap should be used in the river. If unavailable, a good swim is normally enough to clean up.  Also refrain from using detergents in the water.
  • Do not feed the animals and the birds. Some animals, especially baboons, soon learn to associate humans with food if they are fed and later become aggressive scavengers. In addition, you may pass on harmful bacteria to the animal.
  • As toilets are not provided, human waste can be disposed of by using the “cat method”. Toilet paper should be burned or properly concealed and weighted down well.
First Aid:

A well-equipped first aid kit should be included:

Antibiotic Antihistamine cream / & tablets Bandages, wide crepe, small gauze, triangular
Cling wrap Cotton wool Eardrops
Deep Heat Eye drops and ointment Gauze squares
Glucose tablets Healing ointment for cracked skin Isotonic drink
Lip balm Mosquito repellent Nail scissors
Needle Painkiller (disprin/panado) Plaster strips & zinc oxide
Safety pins Throat lozenges Sunscreen lotion
Tissues Tweezers Wound dressings

A Few Suggestions Regarding Food

  • Instant noodles / Pasta & sauce
  • Instant Soup
  • Soya / Dehydrated foods
  • Biltong
  • Nuts & raisins
  • Powdered milk
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Provita / crackers
  • Biscuits
  • Chocolate
  • Fruit
  • Tea / coffee / sugar

Rates:

  • N$/R600.00 per person/ trail
  • Excludes park usage fee payable on arrival. (R80.00 per person / R10.00 per vehicle – up to 10 seater)
  • The park fees are paid once off at the Hobas office on arrival.
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