Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park and Fish River Canyon With a length of 650 kilometres the Fish River is the longest river in Namibia. Its source lies in the eastern Naukluft mountains and it runs south-west of Ai-Ais into the Orange River. Because the Fish River gets already dammed up in the Hardap Dam near Mariental, it carries only little water for the remaining stretch of its journey.
The canyon at the lower course of the Fish River belongs to the most impressive natural beauties in southern Namibia. The Fish River Canyon is up to 550 metres deep and after the Grand Canyon in America the second biggest canyon in the world. The canyon winds its way over a distance of about 160 kilometres through the rugged Koubis mountains down to Ai-Ais. The canyon starts near Seeheim and ends after 161 kilometres near Ai-Ais.
The canyon is part of an official nature conservation park. The governments of Namibia and South Africa agreed in 2003 to merge the Namibian Fish River Canyon Park and the South African Richtersveld National Park to form the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park. Near Sendelingsdrift at the Orange River a ferry was established and a border post has been opened.
The northern park entrance is still situated at the restcamp Hobas. From here it is another 10 km drive to the Canyon rim where one has a stunning view of the famous "Hell's Bend".
Hikes through the Fish River Canyon are popular. However, they require good fitness and can only be undertaken during the cooler winter months from May to August. A permit from Namibia Wildlife Resorts in Windhoek is needed. The 86 kilometre hike takes 5 days.
Much shorter and easier, but also very attractive hikes are available at the private Canyon Nature Park which is 45.000 hectares in size. The Fish River Lodge - part of the park - lies only metres from the Canyon edge and offers breathtaking views. Excellent hiking opportunities can also be found in the "Gondwana Canyon Park" on the eastern side of the canyon. Gondwana is private as well and covers an area of 100.000 hectares. The reserve offers very attractive accommodation options.
From the Fish River Canyon it is only a stone's throw to Ai-Ais at the southern end of the canyon. Thermal water, 60°C hot and rich in sulphates and fluorides, gushes forth from the springs of Ai-Ais. In the Nama language "Ai-Ais" means "burning water".
The thermal bath next to the hot spring is a popular recreation resort, especially during the winter months. The water is particularly soothing for people suffering from rheumatism. Of course, healthy people enjoy the spouting water fountains as well. There are indoor pools with various water temperatures and an outdoor pool.
Top: "Hell's Bend". Left: In the Fish River Canyon.