by Ron Swilling
Ostriches, baboons and quiver trees clinging to the rocky soil characterise the drive through the terraced mountain scenery to Fish River Lodge. A rocky road finally leads down to the stone chalets and central area, where you are greeted by the plateau opening up into the striking landscape of the canyon like an enormous yawning mouth of geological history.
With barely a hint along the route of the splendour of the scenery to come, the view when you arrive is breathtaking. To keep the decorative elements to the minimum and maximise fully on the grandeur of the view, the lodge was constructed with stone from the surroundings – reflecting the old lammerhuisies (lamb houses) that still dot the area – and glass, cement and steel. Ten chalets on either side of the central building share the panorama, giving guests the visual treat of the immensity of the environs. In the early mornings, as light creeps into the canyon, sleep competes with beauty until, with eyes wide open, you lie in bed and absorb the majestic sight. This is not a time to squander. At times you are astounded by the silence; at other times you hear the wind whipping through the canyon, and you have the feeling of being on the edge of the world.
The high-roofed and spacious rooms are perfect bases to relax, if you have a chance, and the veranda provides a space to sit in or a deck where you can sleep under the stars. An outside shower is an additional feature and worth the open-air bathing experience when the weather is good. With stylish lamps and cane chairs, the interiors of the rooms mirror the modern style of the central building and echo the neutral colours of the canyon. The bathrooms, nearly as large as the rooms themselves, provide an area to unpack luggage and a luxurious pampering space. A large pebbled-floor shower completes the effect.
Steep walking via Jelly-leg Gorge
The scenic sundowner drive to a location overlooking the meandering Fish River is a recommended activity to toast the sunset-splashed landscape. For the rest of your stay, you may be torn between soaking in the view, either from your room, the pool or veranda, or partaking in a day canyon hike or drive. For the more energetic, the 14-km hike is a rock-and-roll experience of steep walking into the canyon depths via Jelly-leg Gorge until level land is reached.
Groups of Hartmann’s zebra watch warily from a safe distance and kudu scatter stones in their wake. A lunch stop and swim in a river pool is a huge reward and the hikers have the option of retracing- their steps or opting for a slow bumpy return drive to the lodge. The canyon day drive descends into the base of the canyon for river dips and lunch. On both trips the knowledgeable guide offers information on the geology of the area, flora and fauna, giving a greater understanding of the land. The lodge also offers a five-night 64-km hike, the first and last nights enjoyed at the lodge, the other three in the canyon itself.
A noteworthy tryst
Nights at the lodge are spent in the large sprawling central area, with two fireplaces warming up the interior during the winter months. The worn wood of Caprivian pestles, a large riempie (leather thong) table and a shongololo (centipede) couch are striking furniture pieces, while artistic photographs of stone tools and a colourful Nama patchwork dress decorate the walls. White weathered kudu horns adorn the dining-room tables and ostrich eggshell chandeliers hang from the ceilings.
At Fish River Lodge, sound – or the lack of it – complements the scenery, which transforms in colour with the movement of the sun across the sky. At times you are astounded by the silence; at other times you hear the wind whipping through the canyon, and you have the feeling of being on the edge of the world. The lodge offers the opportunity to take pleasure in the view of the second-largest canyon in the world… in comfort. This experience is a noteworthy tryst with 500 million years of Earth history and unparalleled beauty.
Fish River Lodge is situated on the western rim of the canyon within the 45 000-hectare nature park.
This article appeared in the April/ May 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.