Fish River Canyon
Namibia's Fish River Canyon is Africa's Grand Canyon. 161 km long and 27 km wide, and just over 500m deep at its deepest point, this is one of the least visited natural wonders in Africa. As a result, visiting the canyon at sunset will quite often give you a view that is magnificent, unspoiled and more often than not, is something that only you will see.
At the base of the canyon runs the Fish River, and shale, sandstone and lava covers the canyon bottom. Between 1,300 to 1,000 million years old, this forms the main substance of the walls. Crushed to granite and dolorite by the extreme pressure and heat below the surface, then covered in a layer of what was to become limestones, a fault in the crust formed the beginnings of the canyon. During the Dwyka Ice Age a glacier deepened the valley, and when this was gone erosion and more faults in the crust increased the size.
The Fish River runs at the bottom now, and the result is a beautiful layering of rocks which can be seen standing either at the top and looking down, or at the base of the valley looking skywards.
The Fish River is one of the only permanent rivers in Namibia, and was certainly used as a base for the nomadic natives of the country; sites have been discovered that are up to 50,000 years old. The flow is seasonal but the deep pools left behind after rainy season are voluminous enough to last through the dry season.
Another spectacular way to see the canyon is to fly above it. The shear size can truly be appreciated, and the colours of the different rocks and hardy plants that cling to the walls are stunning.
There is a nature park in this area that is known as the Canyon Nature Park, and this has several attractions that are worth exploring.
One of these is the Ai-Ais Hot Springs, which are a wonderfully relaxing way to enjoy the natural features of the rocks although the temperature reaches a blistering 60 degrees Celsius in the height of summer when the springs are closed to visitors.
There are many large animals here, although they can be hard to spot. Zebra and springbok are common, and rock hyrax (dassies), can be seen sitting amongst the rocks. These comical creatures can be hugely entertaining to watch; if they appeal to you, another excellent place to find them is on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, which has views to rival those seen here. Leopards are also around, although very hard to see.
Of the birds that can be found here, the most special are the black eagle, rock kestrel and rock pigeon within the canyon. Ostrich and Karoo Bustard (Eupodotis vigorsii), also known as the Karoo Korhaan, are found on the plains on top of the canyon.
If you would like to walk into the base of the valley, a five day hike can be arranged; this is the only way to see it from the bottom. The view from the top is certainly good enough to skip this if you do not want to hike, and there are several viewpoints which give are all equally memorable.
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