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Review: Fish River Canyon Ride

Specialist Holiday - Horse riding


Fish River Canyon

  • By SilverTraveller Holland

    35 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon

  • Sep 2011
  • Solo

39 people found this review helpful

The Fish River Canyon in the south of Namibia had long been on my list of 100 Places to See Before You Die. The second largest canyon in the world (Grand Canyon in the USA being the largest) it seemed a good idea to see it on a horse riding holiday. But the question was, am I up to long hours in the saddle and camping?

I had met the new owner of the Namibia rides on a previous riding holiday in Botswana so I sent her an e-mail saying (briefly) I am 74 years old, have had a hip and knee replacement, can no longer mount a horse from the ground, must have a mounting block or a rock or tree trunk from which to get on the horse, hate camping as I cannot crawl into a small tent and if I get down on the ground to sit or lie I have difficulty getting up again. I thought the reply would come back that this ride would not be suitable for me; but no, I was assured that there would be no problems.

So I went ahead and booked. With two other members of the group I flew to Cape Town in South Africa to be met at the airport by our driver and a local woman, both of whom were to join us on the ride. On her luggage trolley was a set of wooden kitchen steps – "my mounting block" I queried? And so it was! And I could not have done the ride without it – just the right height for me to get on my horse, with the aid of someone giving me a helping push from behind.

It was a long drive to Namibia from Cape Town, over 600 kms and we stopped overnight at a small town called Springbok, still about an hour from the border. The scenery was amazing: bushy scrubby terrain with masses of colourful wild flowers, rocky outcrops, hills and mountains in the distance. No habitation and no traffic on the road. One of our group, an American,who said he is in "Finance" was on his Blackberry for ages with talk of lawyers, hedge funds and being pro-active. I was hoping he would get no signal on the ride but unfortunately he subsequently produced a satellite phone… .. and was in daily contact with Wall Street. The next day on to the frontier and then a further hour to Mule Station where we met the rest of our group; six of us paying clients plus our guide and eight (!) helpers, including the two who had accommpanied us from Cape Town. The others had flown into Windhoek, capital of Namibia, and driven down south to join us.

After lunch we met our horses for our first ride. I didn't catch and name of my horse at first but was told it was the same as the ice cream. Ben & Jerry's, I asked? But it was Benotti, not that I had ever heard of it. She was a lovely horse, just right for me. She had been the lead horse previously so always wanted to be at the front which suited me fine.

On our first afternoon we rode for about two hours and stopped at a viewpoint for our first sight of the Fish River Canyon, at this point not very dramatic but we were to see it again later in the week. On to our camp, a pleasant surprise: fixed tents large enough to stand up in with proper beds. A brick built ablution block, open air but with hot showers and one could sit on the lavatory gazing down into the canyon! We had drinks outside then dinner was prepared and eaten in the indoor dining room.

For our first full day of riding we made ourselves sandwiches for lunch, as the support vehicle would not be able to meet us, and these were packed in our saddle bags. It was a day of mainly walking. Very wild countryside and up and down rough stony paths. At one point everyone got off to walk their horses down a very steep rocky path. As a disabled geriatric I had special dispensation to stay on and ride my horse down. She was wonderful, very sure footed and stepped very carefully down and over huge rocks. There was a sheer drop to one side and I closed my eyes.

We stopped for lunch by the Fish River and some of the group braved the chilly water for a swim. After another long 3-4 hour ride in the afternoon, again nearly all walking, we rode into Canyon Outpost camp. Again with fixed tents, even bigger than yesterday, with proper beds, pillows, duvets and towels. I could get used to this kind of camping.

The next day we started on foot up a very steep slope and a man from the camp carried my mounting block, the kitchen steps! For lunch today we met up with the support vehicle and had a delicious pumpkin, or maybe it was squash, soup. Proper folding chairs were placed in a semi circle and we sat in the sun. None of that awful scrambling to sit on the ground! The afternoon was a shorter ride with a chance of some longer trots and a few canters. We overnighted at the Canyon Roadhouse, a proper hotel with other guests, a swimming pool, restaurant, shop etc but we were apart from them in our own tents and with our own food. Some of the group slept outside but I was glad to be in tent as it was very damp and cold in the night.

A pleasant ride the next morning with some long trots and canters and then a long stretch where the ground was very rough with big stones and the horses had to pick their way carefully. They were all unshod and were amazingly sure-footed. Today was a shorter ride, about three hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. Our overnight stop was wonderful. We stayed in a Mexican style lodge called Mountain Camp built around a grassy courtyard with bourganvillea and rooms with en suite bathrooms.Comfortable bed, warm duvet and nice hot shower.

No riding the next morning. I stayed in the nice warm bed till 6.30 am then re-packed eveything as the next four nights were to be in what our guide called "primitive" accommodation. Our support vehicle, a "bakkie" – that's a pickup truck to you and me – would be exchanged for a huge truck and trailer for from now on everything had to be brought with us: tents, camp beds (which they call "stretchers" and mercifully were not used as such) bed rolls (which comprised duvet, pillow, and waterproof cover [we brought our own sleeping bags]) shower, loo, chairs, tables, food for the horses, (there were 12 of them) water for the horses and food and drinks for us.

But this morning we all piled into the people carrier and we drove to see the Fish River Canyon. And pretty amazing it was too. We had great views of the river winding far, far below us. It was forbidden to venture down into the canyon unless one was undertaking the 80 km hike alongside the river. And for that there had to be a minimum of three people together who all had to have a doctor's certificate of fitness and to carry everything, food, tents, water, cooking stuff etc, with them for the four day hike as far as the Ai Ais hot springs at the end of the canyon. There was no way of riding down into the canyon at this, or any other point and the hike is undertaken by very few people.

Our afternoon ride of two hours took us to our first "primitive" camp site. Nothing primitive about that – sitting round the camp fire on proper camp chairs, sipping gin & tonics with ice (where did that come from??) and lemon and a delicious dinner of curry, sweet potato and pears stewed in red wine, and lots of wine to drink. I was very happy with this "primitive" camping!

Made sandwiches for our lunch the next day as, for only the second time, the bakkie was unable to meet us. The scenery today was spectacular but the riding in the morning quite slow with a lot of walking over rocky terrain. Today was very hot and there were a lot of flies but in the afternoon we only rode for just under two hours. There was a wonderful sunset and we climbed up a hill behind the camp to take photos before a deicious dinner of lamb shank and apple pie with cream! I don't know how they managed to cook all that over the camp fire.

Today we were to visit the Ai Ais hot springs. We walked for half an hour leading our horses who were to trot, loose and untacked for 25 kms along the dirt road with the bakkie in front and the truck and trailer behind. We piled into the people carrier again to go to the hot springs where we had a pleasant swim in a pool and a quick dip in the indoor very, very hot spa water before a picnic lunch and back to re-join the horses for our afternoon ride. The scenery changed from now on, was less rocky and more desert. It was very hot today with a temp of 37 deg. which felt even hotter in the desert. But the terrain meant that we could ride faster and from now on we enjoyed some fast canters and gallops.

Our last full day of riding turned out to be a half day which was a pity as the terrain today had enabled us to do more fast riding which we had not been able to do at the beginning of the week, and we rode into camp at 1.30 pm for a lunch of spag bol. Spent the afternoon relaxing then climbed up the hill behind us to watch the sunset. Not quite as spectacular as earlier in the week . This was our last night in the tents.

We had a few trots and a nice gallop up to a high ridge for our last ride next day then a long trot downhill and walked through an amazing narrow gorge, the Kings Throne canyon with rocks towering above us. Most spectacular. Finally a fast canter up a steep hill and there was Melinda, one of the support staff with the bakkie, bottles of champagne and a snack lunch of cheese, dried salami, biltong and pitta bread! The group photo was taken and then we rode down to the Orange River where we to stay at a very nice lodge for our last night.

We walked down through miles and miles of vineyards, a sea of green in the middle of the desert. Water for irrigation is taken from the river. These were vines for table grapes, not for wine and there was a very large village of straw houses for the workers who are employed in the vineyards. Some people live there permanently but extra staff come down from northern Namibia in November for the harvest.

We said a sad farewell to our horses who were loaded into the truck and trailer to be driven home to Mule Station, a four hour drive away.

We had ridden 320 km in nine days. An incredible ride. Some truly awesome scenery, I rode a wonderful horse and enjoyed the company of the group and was amazed by the excellent food and the hard working support group.

I can now tick off the Fish River Canyon. Only another 99 Places to See Before I Die. 


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