“Surely this can’t be true.” Waldi Fritzsche puts what all of us are thinking into words when we feel the first drops on our sweaty shirts. We quickly seek shelter under the tarpaulin attached to the back-up vehicle on one side and held up by two of us on the other.
by Sven-Eric Kanzler
There we are, crowded together, mournfully staring at the sausages in the sizzling pan. Rain in the Fish River Canyon, an area where the annual average is 80 millimetres! This year it will probably be one single downpour only, right here and now. All of us are exhausted after the long strenuous ride; we just want to have a quick bite before turning in. And now this! “Did you know that barbecued sausages are able to swim?” Suddenly everyone bursts out laughing and the tenseness dissolves into cheer…
On horseback in southern Namibia, through the second-largest canyon on earth – this is another grand new adventure offered by The Namibia Horse Safari Company. The more than 300-kilometre tour takes participants from the upper Fish River Canyon to the Gariep/Orange River. And we are the six privileged people invited for the pioneer ride!
Some of us already know each other from previous horseback adventures with our riding guide Waldi Fritzsche, who has arranged and led horseback tours through Namibia’s remote areas for 16 years. Her desert tour through the Namib is one of the most challenging and prestigious rides in the world. New at her side is Telané Greyling. The PhD biologist is known for her intensive studies over several years on the Wild Horses of the Namib, and she has vast experience in handling horses. The third member of the new team is Manni Goldbeck, co-founder of the privately owned Gondwana Cañon Park, who knows the canyon area like the back of his hand.
On the way to the starting point it already becomes clear that this is a horseback safari of the special kind. A four-wheel drive takes us to Augrabis, the northernmost part of Gondwana Cañon Park. The road consists of just two tracks and the vehicle labours through rocky terrain, up and down slopes, along a dry riverbed, further into the harsh wilderness. In a valley with a gurgling spring, green reeds and tall trees we suddenly see an enchanted little house – the starting point of our adventure ride into the Fish River Canyon.
The next morning we’re on our way – eight riders, ten horses and four mules. Each of us carries water, but otherwise only a small bag with necessities to reduce the strain on the horses. The first stage is relatively even and easy to negotiate – an ideal opportunity to become acquainted with horse and terrain. But soon enough the route demands total concentration of riders and horses as we negotiate steep paths, slippery rocks, stones of all shapes and sizes, knee-deep sand. We often have to dismount and lead the horses by the reins.
Kayaking the Orange
Our reward is enjoying the many contrasts of nature: a spring lined with green in a barren landscape; soft hills followed by a sheer drop from the lookout point at the canyon’s rim into the gorge on a narrow zigzag path. The geological formations, the many enormous layers of rock laid bare by the waters of the Fish River and its tributaries, are overwhelming, too.
In the evening the supply team welcomes us at the camp, already pitched, thanks to tracks laid out painstakingly; without them even the off-road vehicles would not have made it here. Waldi, Telané and Manni decide to replace vehicles by mules in future. Much as we love nature, we are nevertheless somewhat relieved to catch sight of our enchanted house again at the end of the third day: after nights in the open it seems like a luxury hotel!
Over the next days the scenery is totally different, but no less impressive: sweeping plains covered in yellow savannah grass, and now and then we spot springbok and kudu between quiver trees and euphorbias. From Cañon Mountain Camp we drive the 26 kilometres to the canyon’s main lookout point for sundowners – and to marvel at the meandering system of gorges, some 500 metres deep, through which we moved further upstream just a few days before.
The following day we see the canyon scenery from a different angle: we enjoy panoramic views from an elevated point in the slightly sloping, endless plain. After passing a mountain range we continue along deserted roads and across vast, sparsely vegetated plains, moving steadily downward into the enormous valley eroded by the Gariep/Orange River. The last day holds a series of highlights: the narrow King’s Throne Canyon ends at a lookout point over the Gariep/Orange River, lined by deep green vineyards, far below. Shortly afterwards we have reached our destination. Our horses drink their fill at the river, and soon afterwards we are off on a kayak tour!
As the cherry on top, our adventure ends with a visit to the Wild Horses of the Namib. While our horses are transported back to their home farm west of Windhoek, we continue to Klein-Aus Vista west of Aus, close to the area in the Namib-Naukluft Park where the wild horses have lived for more than 90 years. Telané Greyling explains during a sundowner drive how the horses adapted to their habitat. Since she has studied them for years, she knows each of them, about 160 in total, and tells us several of their life stories. A more beautiful ending to a horseback safari is hard to imagine…
This article appeared in the Aug/Sep ‘07 edition of Travel News Namibia.