Africa trips

Fish River Hiking Trail - June 2012

Overlanding Trips

We did the Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail on 27 May 2012

On our way to Ais Ais we entered Namibia at Noordoewer. The border crossing was quick and without any hassles.
Just after we entered Namibia at Noordoewer we took the road to Rosh Pinah. About 1km from the Engen garage there is a little supermarket on the right. I stopped there to buy airtime for our Namibian sim card. In South Africa I was looking everywhere for a little aluminium kettle which can take about 4 cups, for the hiking. I could not find anything. Those of you who have traveled in Nam before will know that most of the shops are very interesting because you find anything from food, spare parts and… a small aluminium kettle.

The first 50km of that road (C13) has been tarred up to Aussenkehr. The last time I traveled on that road it was gravel and only the small piece at Aussenkehr was tar.

Some 5km or so after Aussenkehr you get the C37 which turns right towards Ais Ais. This is a lovely gravel road.

Road to Ais Ais

Road to Ais Ais

Ais Ais Park

Ais Ais Park

We reached Ais Ais late in the afternoon. We found the rest of the team there, pitched our tent and had a braai.

Ais Ais was in a rather good condition. The ablutions were clean and the pool had clean water in.

To book camping or accommodation in Ai Ais please call NWR in Cape town on 0214223761

Camping at Ais Ais

Camping at Ais Ais

Ais AIs

Swimming pool at Ais Ais

On Sunday 27 May it was time for the big hike.

We booked the first shuttle which left at 08h30. It is very convenient, you pay R150.00 per person and they take you to the starting point of the Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail

Taking the shuttle - Fish River Hiking trail

Taking the shuttle

Inside the shuttle

Inside the shuttle

Ready for action, the team before we went down the canyon

Start of Fishriver Hike

Start of Fish River Hike

Fish River Canyon start of Fish River Hiking trail

Fish River Canyon

Going down is very steep. It took us about 2.5 hours to go down. They say that it normally takes you between 40 minutes and 2 hours to go down, but because Elmi has acrophobia it took us longer.

Going down the Fish River Hiking trail

Going down the Fish River Hike

The first two days are very tough. You either walk in thick sand or climb over big rocks. That while your bag is heavy. Your bag do get lighter later on but then also the terrain gets easier. I think it would be good to do it the wrong way around so that you can end on the rough terrain with ultra light bag.

It is important that you are strong enough to lift your bag. Before you attempt to do the Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail, do this simple test; Load your bag to the full weight you would carry. Sit down on the ground with your bag on your back. Now see if you can get up without any help.

You will be climbing big rocks with your bag and you must be able to lift yourself plus your bag onto those rocks.

The whole hike you walk on huge rocks, round rocks, soft sand or lekker hard ground.

The pictures below will give you an idea of what to expect. You will get many of these big rocks during the first 2 or 3 days.

Big Rocks at Fish River Hiking trail

Big Rocks

Some more big rocks at Fish River Hiking trail

Some more big rocks

Big rocks

Big rocks

We crossed the river 28 times during the hike. At most places you will find these round rocks as you get closer to the river. Even on the last day you will get some of these.

Round Rocks at Fish River Hiking trail

Round Rocks

Round rocks

Round rocks

Boulders next to Fish River

Boulders

You will walk on loose sand very often. We had gaiters which kept the sand and stone out of our shoes. To me the gaiters were the most important thing I took with on the trip. You get gaiters for sale at the outdoor shops, but most of them are expensive and they do not look very comfortable. I had ours made by our PA from very thin and light canvas.

Soft Sand at Fish River Hiking trail

Soft Sand

The bonus of the hike is the hard ground. When you cut a corner you should head for the foot of the mountain and this is where you will find these hard patches. On this hard ground you can easily reach speeds of 5km/h

Hard Ground

Hard Ground

We camped in the fish river canyon for 4 nights. Elmi and myself were the only ones without tents. It is not a must to have a tent. If you are willing to carry the extra weight it can be helpful. We were lucky, we did not have much wind and it was not very cold but I have heard of others who went hiking and they had stormy winds. I can just imagine how terrible it must be to sleep outside in your sleeping bag while the wind is blowing the sand into every orifice it can find.

Some people are concerned about snakes and scorpions. We did not see one scorpion on the whole trip, not even at night around the camping fire. We found one snake on the trail.

If you sleep outside, it is always good practice to keep your sleeping bag rolled up and closed until you go to bed.

Sleeping under the stars

Sleeping under the stars

Those who took tents all took these little Campmaster 2 man tents. They are very light, just big enough, cost about R300.00 and weights less than a kilo.

Camping in the fish river

Camping in the fish river

The best time of the day was the evenings next to the fire. Again we were lucky, there was firewood. Because the river is in flood during summer, you will most probably find wood in the beginning of the season. If you do the hike later in the season you will most probably not find any firewood, or will have to look very hard for it.

Around the camp fire

Around the camp fire

We crossed the river 28 times in total. The river crossings will also be determined by the time of year and the water level.

Most of us could just hop over the most of the crossings but some had to take off their shoes and walk through the water. I later did the same and realised that actually it is better to walk through than hop over. If you walk through the water you get time to rest and relax. When you walk through the cold water your feet can relax. When you get to the other side you have to spend time wiping your feet and you hear the water running through the rocks.

We took our crocks with and used that for the river crossings. The rocks are not sharp so you will also be able to do the crossings bare foot if you really have to. Make sure your feet are clean and dry before you put on your shoes.

Wet feet = blisters. Sand on feet = more blisters

River crossing

River crossing

River Crossing

River Crossing

There was enough water in the river and the water was clean. So we could get water from the river all the time and drink it as is. Some of us had water bottles with filters on, but most of us drank directly from the river.

The filter in the bottle works very well to filter out the little bit of mud that is in the water.

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Food was mainly in the form of Pasta and Sauce in the evenings and Provitas in the morning and afternoon. Elmi took some Oats so Easy for breakfast, but hey, I must be really dieing before I eat that stuff. We also took some nuts, energy bars and dates for snacks. We added some extra tuna, chicken or mince with the pasta and sauce.

Elmi dehydrated mince for us. She took 750 grams of lean mince and dehydrated it to 250 grams. It is very easy to do yourself; You prepare the meat with salt and whatever herbs you like with not much oil and water. When it is ready you spread it out on an oven pan and put it in the oven at about 70 to 80 degrees Celsius, until it is dry. Open the oven door every now and then so the moisture can escape, or leave the door slightly open, the same way your Ouma use to dry out rusks.

The type of food is very much up to you. Try and take food that is light. Bags of tuna is lighter than tins of tuna and it is easier to carry or get rid of an empty tuna bag than a tin.  We combined tuna in packets with the Pasta and sauce.

Pasta and sauce is very good food for a hike because it gives you the carbohydrates your body need for endurance, Why you think the comrades athletes to “carbo loading” the week before they run the comrades. They do it mostly by eating pasta.

It is also advisable to take one packet of Game per day. You need something to restore your electrolytes. You drink lots of water and you must put something back. I am not a big game drinker but I promise you, by the second day you will be glad that you did take some game with.

Supper

Supper

I still have one of those very old miniature gas stoves. One canister was not enough, on the 4th morning I replaced the first canister.

We did take some tea, filter coffee and rusks. But by the second morning I realised that some cup-o-soup tastes much better in the chilly mornings than a cup of tea. Next time I will leave the tea at home and start my mornings with a cup of soup

The scenery in the canyon is awesome. It really is beautiful. On the 4th day we even had some clouds which helped to take better photographs. Our little Nikon packed up on day 4 due to sand, so we could not take any further pics in the canyon, luckily I got plenty of pics from the others.

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

Inside the fish

Inside the fish

4 fingers at fish river canyon

4 fingers at fish river canyon

Fish river scenery

Fish river scenery

Here we are at one of the the well known Vespas. Read the full story here

Vespa in Fish river canyon

Vespa in Fish river canyon

Depending on your pace you should reach the Sulphur Spring at about the 2nd or 3rd day. The water at the springs are about 65 degrees Celsius. It is very nice to spend some time there and relax in the hot water, but be careful not to burn yourself.

Some of the guides say that it is not advisable to camp at the springs due to the sulphur vapors, but there is a very nice camping spot a couple of hundred metres after the springs. If the wind blows in the right direction it is a very nice spot to stay for the night.

Suplhur Springs at Fishriver canyon

Sulphur Springs at Fish river canyon

Suplhur spring

Sulphur spring

Bathing at Suplhur Spring

Relaxing at Sulphur Spring

At the end of day 4 we reached the Soldier’s grave. We camped just on the other side of the river of the soldier’s grave.

Soldier's grave

Soldier’s grave

Day 4 camp

Day 4 camp

Everybody in our group were fit. We did about 20km on day 4 and again about 20km on day 5.

At lunch time on day 5 (our last day) we were all a bit tired

Day 5, exhausted

Day 5, exhausted

It is not easy to determine beforehand how much you should walk on one day. The first 2 days are difficult and you do not cover great distances. Day 3 is a bit easier but you still do not do much on one day. The main thing is not to get despondent during the first three days if you do not cover great distances. You will make up for it on the last 2 days. When you hit the hard ground on the short cuts you can easily reach 5km/h

There are numerous shortcuts on the route, but after the sulphur spring you will get the first of 4 big shortcuts.On most of the big short cuts you will be away from the river for quite some time, so make sure everybody take enough water from the river before you leave the river.

Short cuts

Short cuts

Shortcut at Fishriver

Shortcut at Fishriver

When you reach the Ais Ais dam you are almost finished. The Ais Ais dam is about 500 metres from the end.

Ais Ais Dam

Ais Ais Dam

We finished late on the 5th day. We were blessed that we did not have any injuries or anybody who suffered to finish.

We hanged up our bags in front of reception, took a group photo and then headed straight for the bar to have an ice cold Tafel Lager. I am not a big beer drinker but even for me the beer afterwards were very nice.

The end

The end

The Team from left to right: Elmi Pretorius, Pieter Pretorius, John Cannon, Bradley Cannon, Antionette Becker, Hennie Becker, Jordan Cannon, Tony Hattingh, Gavin Hattingh, Athelia Hatting and Benita was taking the photo.

Benita Hatting (Tony’s wife) arranged everything, but did not hike with us, she guarded the camp for us.

I would like to thank each and everyone of you for a wonderful experience.

Athelia dumped everybody’s photographs onto her laptop and she shared it with us. So I am not sure who’s photographs I used in this article, but thank you for sharing

You can download my track below:

Lessons Learned:

  • Even if you are strong enough to carry your bag, do not carry unnecessary weight. What is 14Kg today feels like 24Kg after 5 days.
  • We took extra clothes which was a total waste. You can do with two sets of clothes. You can wash clothes every day. So you need one set to wear and one which is busy drying.
  • It gets very hot in the afternoon from about 12h00. Get up early, start to walk when it is cool and stop for an hour over the hottest part of the day. It also works well if you get up, start to walk and eat breakfast at your first stop after about an hour’s walk.
  • A tent is all up to you, but I do think that if the wind is blowing a tent would be very nice to have.
  • It gets cold at night, take a beanie with. If you keep your head warm your whole body will be warm, especially when you go sleeping.
  • We did it in 5 days but I think my next one I will do in 6 days. It will give me more time to take in the beauty of the environment.
  • Those who had it said a walking stick helps a lot, again personal preference.
  • Keep sand and water away from your feet. We did not have any blisters because we took care not to walk with wet feet or with sand in shoes.
  • My wife used a pair of short stockings under her socks and she also did not have any blisters.
  • Take time to take in some of the beauty, smell the fresh air and taste the fresh water. 5 days are over before you know it.

The day after the hike we left for Luderitz.
Our first stop was at the Canon Roadhouse.
There are some very interesting cars and stuff at the roadhouse and is worth spending an hour or two. The coffee is good but the cake is nothing to write home about.

canon-roadhouse (1).JPG

There was a crazy Italian couple who was touring Africa on this little Vespa, complete with pispot helmets and all. When they left they packed even more bags on the Vespa
See http://www.terraeasfalto.it/fish-river-canyon/

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They even have a nice little camping site, with hiking trails at the back of the roadhouse.canon-roadhouse (7).JPG

They nicely converted the plaasdam into a swimming pool

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From the Canon Lodge we followed the C12 to Seeheim
Next to the road we saw this lime kiln. The Holoog kiln was used in early 20th century. Opposite the road from it is a railway station where they loaded the lime onto the train.

Kalkoond

Everywhere there were plenty of grass, the veld really look good.

Grass in Namibia
Namibia

We reached Luderitz at about 16h30 which did not leave us much time to buy what we needed and head for the camping site.

The camping site was the biggest disappointment of my whole trip.
About 15 years ago I camped there and it was the most wonderful camping site. Now there are two factories across the water which makes a terrible noise 24/7 and the camping site is neglected. Us included there were the big total of 4 vehicles in the whole camp. Ablutions were dirty and not well maintained.

A cold wind was blowing but luckily we stay on the West Coast and have learned a thing or two about camping in the wind by now.
So while everybody else were occupying the top stands with the nice view, we went for the bottom ones to hide behind a big rock.

Luderitz camp
Luderitz camping site
Luderitz

The next morning we left early because we had much to see and far to travel.
We first photographed some of the lovely old buildings in Luderitz.

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luderitz-kerk.JPG

Then we went to the Dias Cross. Luderitz also has a lagoon, very much like Langebaan, just much smaller. You have to drive around the lagoon to get to Dias Cross which is almost right opposite the camping site. There is a coffee shop at Dias Cross, but it was not open yet, not sure if it is still operational but it did look as if there is still something happening.

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There are very much nothing on that stretch of road, but that nothing is so beautiful. Even though there are nothing we did find some Springbok.

Dias Kruis, Luderitz
Dias Kruis, Luderitz
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luderitz-lagoon.JPG

We gave Kolmanskop a skip. It was already too late to take proper photographs (light too flat) and besides that the next tour was only due in an hour and half and I did not feel like paying R55.00 per person for something I have already seen before without a guided tour. It would have been nice to see how they restored that main house because last time I visited we photographed the dilapidated house which are now beautifully restored.

Now check this out for “The Story of Africa”
Between Aus and Luderitz is this railway line. All I can think is that they started to upgrade the old narrow track to a wide track because in history books the railway to Luderitz do get mentioned.

The whole thing has been prepared, the area where the railway must be on has been lifted, culverts were build everything.
For 23km they packed the sleepers next to the line ready to be packed and then you get the railway tracks lying next to the road ready to be installed.
That must be about 70,000 sleepers.

They never finished it. The manufacturing dates on the sleepers are April 2001 and was manufactured by Griniker.

Everything is there, can can finish another 23km of the line which leave them with only 20 to finish it to Luderitz, but here it has been for 11 years now.

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The picture of the tracks below is only half the tracks, the other half were behind my back.
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Just before Aus we visited the “Wild Horses”
They are so wild that I walked around between them and they did not even move. Not even the Hilux scared them as they were standing all over the parking area.
There are hundreds of them and they really do not look very good nor very happy.
My personal opinion is that because they now get water they are not wild anymore and secondly nature cannot take its cause and there are too many of them. It is believed that they originate from horses left behind by military forces in the first world war. So if the same family has been breading among each other for almost hundred years you will understand why they don’t look very good.

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A nice tree on the way to the Wild Horses

Kameeldoringboom Namibia

There is not much going on in Aus. There is one huge guest house with restaurant which seems to be doing well, besides that there is not much going on.
The church at Aus

Aus Kerk

Outside Aus you find the remains of the Prisoner of War camp.
This sign tells the story

POW Aus

From Aus we headed South towards Rosh Pinah.
we saw lots of Springbok, Ostriches, and Eland and Gemsbok next to the road

gemsbok

We reached Rosh Pinah at about 14h30 and headed for the Spar to buy meat for the evening, BUT, the Spar was already closed.
The only other option were the “U-Save” which did not have meat and some dodgy “market” at the garage of which the meat looked more like horse meat. So we decided to rather eat what was left of our hiking food.

The road from Rosh Pinah to Noordoewer is absolutely beautiful. Part of it is next to the river, just on the other side of the Richtersveld National Park.

We crossed the Fish River where it flows into the Orange river and I took this picture.

Visrivier in Oranje rivier

We headed to Amanzi River resort for our last night’s stay.
We were delighted to hear that they do sell meat and boerewors at the office. So we could have a last braai for the trip.
Amanzi is a wonderful place and I would love to stay there for a couple of days on my next trip.
It is on the river and you often hear and see the fish eagles there.
Amanzi is 12km from Noordoewer

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The next morning we had breakfast and headed back home.
I first filled up both tanks at Noordoewer before we crossed the border since fuel is about R2.00 per litre cheaper in Namibia than in South Africa.

This trip report was compiled by:
Pieter Pretorius
http://www.4x4direct.co.za