This 85-km, five-day Fish River Canyon trail is reputed to be one of the toughest hiking trails in southern Africa, and is not suitable for beginners or the unfit. Although the trail is more or less flat, loose sand and large boulders make progress tiring and this, added to the fact that hikers have to carry all provisions with them, cause some to take the option of an early emergency ‘escape’ route from the canyon. For those who are fit and determined enough to complete the trail, the five days are a magical wilderness experience, offering opportunities for game and birdwatching as well as wonderment at the scale and power of nature.

Day 0 – Cape Town – Hobas – Bottom of canyon
Five South Africans, a crazy Aussie, Irishman and New Zealander set off bright and early (3am) from Cape Town to hike the Fish River Canyon Trail.

Our mission was to head north, cross the border into Namibia, then straight to Hobas where we would do the necessary paper work before dropping off the edge into the canyon from where the fun and games would begin. We were in two vehicles so, after the paper work had been done, we all piled into one vehicle and headed off to the start of trail which is 12km away. It was 14:45, bang on time as 15:00 was the planned ETA.

Usually one of us would drive back to Hobas and hitch a ride back to the start but this time we were fortunate to meet a Dutch couple who kindly volunteered to dropped off our vehicle for us and leave the keys at the office where we would fetch in five day’s time.

In the past I found this is the easiest, and most relaxed, way of hiking the canyon (drive up and descend same day and start the actual hike early the next morning).
The descent is rather steep and tricky and if you haven’t done it before you need to take extra care of foot placement as rocks are slippery and loose. It was a bit of a battle with the last person taking 3hrs to descend which would usually take a seasoned hiker just over an hour.

Eventually we reached the white, sandy beach at the bottom which would be our overnight spot for the day. We collected a few pieces of fire wood and made a little ‘kuier vuur’ while we prepared dinner and watched the sun set on a long and tiring day. It gets dark early in the canyon so 10-11 hour sleep sessions is not unusual.

Day 1 – Bottom of canyon – Sharkfin Rock – Wild Fig Bend

Woke up at 5am, giving us 90minutes to climb out of bed, make something to eat and drink, pack up the kit and ready to leave before first light at 7am. In the canyon it can get very hot so the key is to leave early and be one step ahead of the sun and get at least two hours walking time before the heat starts to bite.
The plan was to stop at the Vespa scooter for a few pictures and then have a break later at Sharkfin Rock, lunch at Wild Fig Bend and overnight at the Walls of Jericho.
Day one was always going to be tough and some found the large boulders and sand difficult to navigate across so a decision was made to drop anchor at Wild Fig Bend and make up for lost time the next day.

In the past I found this is the easiest, and most relaxed, way of hiking the canyon (drive up and descend same day and start the actual hike early the next morning).
The descent is rather steep and tricky and if you haven’t done it before you need to take extra care of foot placement as rocks are slippery and loose. It was a bit of a battle with the last person taking 3hrs to descend which would usually take a seasoned hiker just over an hour.

Eventually we reached the white, sandy beach at the bottom which would be our overnight spot for the day. We collected a few pieces of fire wood and made a little ‘kuier vuur’ while we prepared dinner and watched the sun set on a long and tiring day. It gets dark early in the canyon so 10-11 hour sleep sessions is not unusual.

Day 2 – Wild Fig Bend – Palm Springs – Zebra Pools – Table Mountain

Up bright and early, had breakfast and folded up camp. On our way we approached the first emergency exit and all decided that bailing isn’t an option so we proceeded towards Palm Springs where we had a half hour tea break.

Our next stop was the river bend at the 21km mark. This spot is usually a good place to swim but unfortunately doesn’t provide any shade at all. We stopped here for an hour and then moved further and had a nice lengthy lunch break at Zebra Pools. On the top of the granite rock you will find a number of memorial plaques positioned.

After lunch we walked for about another 40mins and set up camp on the white beach by Table Mountain.

Sulphur Springs, also known as Palm Springs. According to legend, during the First World War two German soldiers sought refuge from internment in the canyon.

One of them was suffering from skin cancer and the other from asthma. However, after bathing in the hot springs here these ailments were miraculously cured.

Whether true or not, these springs, bubbling up from a depth of 2000m at a rate of 30 litres per second, offer much-needed relief for sore feet and muscles after the long first day’s trek.

Day 3 – Table Mountain – Vasbyt Bend – Dassie Bend – Camel Thorn Rest

As soon as it got light enough to see where we’re going we started walking and after about 90minutes covering about 6km we stopped just before Vasbyt Bend where we took a short break.

We then proceeded to Dassie Bend, just past the 40km mark, and took an hour break. Another lengthy lunch break was had just before Camel Thorn Rest and thereafter moved to the white beach just before the 50km mark where we set up camp for the night.

Day 4 – 50km beach – German Soldier’s Grave – Causeway – Fish Eagle Pools

We got to the German Soldier’s Grave very early as it was just under 5km from where we slept on night 3. The grave was looking nice and neat as the memorial plaque had been recently touched up with a fresh coat of gold and black paint. We took a few pictures and headed directly for the jeep track on the left of the two water crossings which would lead us directly to the Causeway.

At the white hut we posed for a group photograph before heading off to the base of the shortcut at the 70km mark where we had a 90minute break. It wasn’t too hot so many opted for a bit of shade while two or three others went for a swim in the river.

Our lunch break was had at the bend just after the Big Rock. There’s some good shade there and the water is fairly deep for swimming. We rested here for two hours before the hour slog to our overnight spot at Fish Eagle Pools.

As it was our last night in the canyon, some of us sat around the fire a little longer before heading off to our sleeping spots. On my way to bed I encountered a scorpion, the first one I’ve ever seen in the canyon. He didn’t look so friendly so I lifted him up with my frying pan and gently deposited him a fair distance from camp. I prefer to sleep alone at night.

Day 5 – Fish Eagle Pools – Ai-Ais

This day we could afford to lie in so lie in we did. Ai-Ais is only 6.5km down river and getting there is under two hours steady pace. We all surfaced around around 7am and slowly packed up camp before heading off at 8am.

On the trail out I saw what looked like a small piece of snake skin. On closer inspection I discovered it was actually a live baby puff adder. Another first for me as I have never seen a puff adder in the canyon before. Took a few pictures and continued with our journey before mommy and daddy came looking for it.

On arrival at Ai-Ais, Colin, the Aussie, and I managed to get a lift to Hobas to fetch the two vehicles at a cost of R200 each.
We spent a few hours in Ai-Ais where we ate, drank and freshened up. The journey home would begin at 3pm.

We headed south, crossed the border into South Africa and stayed at a place called Oewerbos on the Orange River.

Those that struggled in the canyon vouched they would return but be better prepared next time. Hiking the canyon is infectious. The beauty and tranquility is good for the soul and, although it can be a bit tough at times, there is plenty of time allocated to relax and unwind.

Cape Town Hikes will be doing a guided tour through the canyon 10-14 May 2018.

For enquiries and prices email: info@capetownhikes.co.za