For a totally different perspective on this giant chasm in the Earth’s crust, you need to hike into the canyon. The classic way to achieve this is to undertake the four- to five-day, 85km hike, which has the reputation of being one of southern Africa’s most challenging trails, not to be embarked upon lightly, as you have to carry all your gear, scramble over boulders, trudge through sand and – at certain times of the year – wade through the river numerous times. Moreover, you only have two emergency exits once down in the canyon. However, there are one or two slightly easier ways to experience the valley floor, though none could be classified as a stroll in the park, since even the day-trip hike into the gorge involves a near-sheer descent and ascent, taking several hours, and walking in extreme temperatures for much of the season.
The Fish River Lodge offers several day- and multi-day guided excursions into the canyon. Their guided version of the five-day hike (as well as shorter hiking options) also means your luggage is transported along the way and the cooking is done for you. If you just want a taster of the riverbed, they have 4WD access from the western edge of the rim, so you can be driven down to explore the rock pools on foot. Alternatively, you can hike down (and back if you still have the legs for it) in a day. A less strenuous multi-day option is the highly acclaimed Gondwana Collection (w gondwana-collection.com) three-day (four-night) mule trek along the northern reaches of the canyon; for this, the mules carry your luggage and the food, while you carry only a day sack, though you still need to be fit enough to cover 45km on foot over the three days. Another plus of the mule trail, as well as the hikes organized by the Fish River Lodge, is that the meals are far more appetizing: a chef’s campfire creations rather than the pot-noodle feasts of the backpacking trail.
Because of the extreme temperatures in the canyon (temperatures can rise into the 40s in the summer months), hikes can only be attempted between May 1 and September 15, though at either end of this period temperatures can still be debilitating. NWR permits cost NS$250 per person, available from the NWR office in Windhoek (w www.nwr.com.na😉 upon presentation of a signed medical certificate (provided by them) that is no older than forty days. Park fees (N$80/person per day) are payable at the MET office in Windhoek in advance or at the park entrance. Hiking groups must comprise at least three people and there is a limit of thirty people on the trail per day. Remember to use biodegradable soap, and take water-purifying tablets. A one-way shuttle can take you back to Hobas from |Ai–|Ais at the end of the trail (N$120/person).