Around 161 km long and purporting to be the second largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon) the magnificent Fish River Canyon drops nearly 550m in unexpected fashion from the surrounding flat desert plains of the Nama Karoo.
The canyon formed around 500 million years ago from a fissure in the rock due to tectonic movement and erosion by the Fish River. The river is now dammed upstream near Mariental (the Hardap Dam) and so only flows in summer when it becomes a raging torrent, whereas there is only a dry riverbed with occasional pools at other times.
The endless panoramas and colours in the changing light of day are breathtaking. As well as geological interest, Fish River Canyon and the surrounding area is home to diverse and drought-resistant flora including various succulents, Namibia’s national tree, the quiver tree (kokerboom) and the poisonous melkbos. Large animals are scarce but include wild horses, mountain zebra, baboon, klipspringer and kudu. Dassies and dassie rats populate the rocks and reptiles such as leguan, geckos and various snakes enjoy basking in the heat of the day. Birds include black eagle, African fish eagle and ostrich.
Of archaeological interest are petroglyphs and Stone Age tools left by those who lived and travelled through the area in times long past.
The Fish River Canyon is famous for a tough, 86km five-day hiking trail ending at the Ais Ais hot springs at the southern end of the canyon. However there are some shorter options as well as nature drives and accessible viewpoints such as the famous ‘Hell’s Bend’ near the northern park entrance.