As humans, we struggle with the concept of time. We can make New Year’s resolutions for a year which we can adhere to (mostly not). But when asked about where we will be in five years, it becomes a bit more difficult to imagine because of the time and variables involved. The same is true when looking back in time. We can easily understand changes that have happened to us and in the world over the past five years, thanks to a combination of the relatively short timeframe, having lived through this period and of hindsight. When it comes to a hundred years, however, it is a lot trickier to understand, or even to remember collectively, the changes caused by things like politics, wars and more importantly the degradation of our natural environment. Going back 300 million years is inconceivable.
Text and Photographs Le Roux van Schalkwyk
These thoughts were running through my mind as I woke up in my bed at the Fish River Lodge. Having arrived the night before, I had no idea of what was waiting for me at sunrise. With stars and a sliver of moonlight during the night, I could see the Fish River Canyon only as a dark hole in front of the lodge, but not much else. But the first rays of sunlight changed everything. Situated directly on the edge of the canyon, the Fish River Lodge offers a view that is breath-taking in every sense of the word. While my eyes were still getting used to the great expanse of ravines in front of me, all I could think of was what a tiny spec I am not only in the world, but in time itself. What a humbling feeling, but also strangely soothing.
The Fish River Lodge is the only lodge that is situated directly on the edge of the Fish River Canyon and offers a view that one does not tire of, no matter what time of day. During my stay I constantly caught myself staring out over the canyon while trying to imagine, with my limited knowledge of geology, how all of this was formed over 300 million years.
HIKING INTO THE HEART OF THE CANYON
In an area like this I become greedy and always need to explore more than just the views. Fortunately the Fish River Lodge caters for my kind of visitor and offers a variety of activities that allow you to experience the 45 000 hectare Canyon Nature Park with its interesting Karoo succulent flora and endemic wildlife.
By far the best way to truly get immersed into the environment is by going on a guided hike down into the heart of the canyon. Guests can choose to do a day hike or one of the overnight packages with a choice of hiking and sleeping out in the canyon for one to three nights. All hikes start early in the morning when hikers are taken from the lodge to a drop-off point from where the ascent into the canyon starts. The first segment is a challenging climb down the sheer rock face of the upper canyon wall, after which the trail traverses rock-strewn wilderness down a deep gorge, appropriately called “Jelly Legs”, because the climbing really makes your legs feel like jelly. Going over these tricky segments of the trail is difficult at certain points, but the experienced guides will get you to the bottom without any problems.
At the bottom the slog continues, but over a much more even terrain. With the current dry conditions the surroundings look as if you were going on a Mars expedition, but they are still beautiful nonetheless. After about 14 km inviting rock pools are reached, where a packed lunch, cold drinks and a relaxing swim refreshes tired bodies. Having recuperated, a short walk takes us to the overnight campsite, already set up by the backup team. A proper glamping experience with everything from tents with stretchers, matrasses and comfy duvets to a toilet and shower all set up between tamarisks against the backdrop of a high cliff to the north. Sundowner drinks and a fire-lit dinner prepared by the dedicated chef round off a long day of excellent hiking, and then it’s off to bed for some well-deserved sleep. Doing only the one-day trip, a car is ready to pick us up and take us back to the lodge after breakfast the next morning.
For those who booked one of the longer hiking packages, you will be guided further downstream where you will be able to see more of the ancient rock formations as well as birds and animals. Each night you will be treated to the same luxurious, wild camping setup.
Guests not so keen on donning a pair of hiking boots can explore one of Africa’s most impressive geological features on a canyon day drive. Be prepared for a bit of a bumpy ride as the track down into the canyon is a rocky one, but nevertheless a rewarding experience. While expertly manoeuvring the vehicle down into the depths of the canyon your guide will provide details on the surrounding rock formations as well as the fauna and flora found along the way. The Fish River Canyon is more than 500 metres deep and 27 kilometres at its widest point. The excursion down to the riverbed will take you through a geological journey that reveals the formation process which took place in a combination of continental shift and erosion over the course of 300 million years. The whole outing takes about seven hours, and being able to cover more ground than on foot you get a better picture of how some of the oldest rocks in Namibia, the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex dated at around 600 million years, were transformed into the second-largest canyon in the world.
A drive on the plateau just before sunset is a great way to end a day at the Fish River Lodge. A guide will take you north along the rim of the canyon with two completely different but equally stunning views on both sides of the vehicle. To the east the canyon with its endless vistas is blanketed in the soft light of the setting sun, while to the west the silhouettes of quiver trees and euphorbias stand out against the orange sky and the mountains on the horizon. A stop at a viewpoint just before the sun dips behind the mountains allows for unbelievably panoramic views of the canyon and the meandering Fish River while you enjoy some snacks and a drink.
RIM WALKS AND FAT BIKES
If you like doing things at your own pace, take an unguided walk from the lodge along the rim of the canyon, allowing you all the time you want to reflect and enjoy your insignificance in the face of the size and age of the Fish River Canyon. To go a bit faster, rent a fat bike and cruise along the same track.
Being stuck in the confines of a city we easily forget how big and old our planet is. When we do get reminded of this fact it creates a feeling of comfort, because you realise that no matter how overwhelming you think your daily stresses are, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter in the bigger scheme of things