The Fish River Canyon is regarded as the second-largest canyon in the world, next to the Grand Canyon in the USA. The appearance of the canyon is very similar to the Grand Canyon: deep, barren, rugged.
Unfortunately the river runs through a desert, and seldom has moving water in it. During the winter months, when the river is reduced to a series of standing pools and the temperature is bearable, the canyon is a popular hiking trail.
Every summer the desert receives its share of rain, and the dry riverbed is transformed into a lively stretch of water with some interesting rapids. The river normally retains a paddling level for close on two weeks, during which competent paddlers can enjoy an otherworldly experience.
The canyon is contained in a national park, and permits need to be obtained before rocking up at the riverfront. Permits can only be arranged via the Windhoek office of the park. Remember that the gorge is inaccessible for the most part, and in the case of a mishap, help will be hard to get.
The first paddleable section starts at the bridge where the road (B4) from Keetmanshoop to Lüderitz crosses the river. The section is 110km long, and takes 4 to 5 days to cover. At the put-in the canyon is still very small, and gradually deepens as one goes further downstream. The section has long flat pools, interspersed with class 3 to 4 rapids. Be careful of a short narrow class 5 and 6 section; there is a waterfall, a 3m slot and some more cascading drops. The take-out is at Hobas, which is the starting point of the hiking trail. The walk out here is tough, so it might be a good idea to take hiking boots along.
The second section is the course of the hiking trail, starting at Hobas and ending at Ai-Ais. The whole section is in the canyon proper. Class 3 to 4 rapids can be expected, with long, flat pools in between. It is a 90km stretch, and takes 3 to 4 days to cover.
The last section from Ai-Ais to the confluence with the Orange River is 70km long. It has some nice class 3 rapids of the boulder-garden type. Although the section is beyond the main canyon, the river still winds through a deep valley and is very isolated.
This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
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