Local folklore tells of a leviathan snake that preyed upon the livestock of ancient herders in the region. Subdued finally by arrows of the tribe’s bravest warriors, the monster’s death throes tore giant furrows in the earth, creating the southern hemisphere’s mightiest natural canyon.
Formed during wet Pluvial times some 500 million years ago and probably the early result of a massive seismic collapse that formed the deep valley bottom, this, the world’s second largest canyon is 27 km at its widest point and up to 550m deep. Geologically, the canyon extends some 160 km into the interior, with the Fish River flowing through it intermittently, collecting mostly in deep pools.
A mecca for southern African tourists and one of Namibia’s prime eco-attractions, the canyon, the Ai Ais Hot Springs on the floor of the canyon and the surrounding Huns Mountains are part of a reserve encompassing an area of 346 117 km², which also forms part of the newly declared Ai Ais Huns Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.
The park is home to many unique plant species, including xerophytic Halfmens and Quiver trees and wildlife that include dassie (hyrax), klipspringer, squirrel, mountain zebra, monitor lizard, baboon and occasional leopard.
A variety of resorts and accommodation facilities within a broad radius of 100km serve this area. Some of the most well known are located either in the reserve or just adjacent to it.
Among those in the park are the Hobas Camping Site at the entrance to the park and the Ai Ais Hot Springs Resort at its southern end. “Ai Ais” means “burning water” in the Nama tongue and refers to the sulphurous hot waters welling from the floor of the canyon. This modern spa resort includes indoor and outdoor pools, with chalets, camping and caravanning sites, a shop, restaurant and filling station, while a landing strip, 11 km from the resort, is available for fly-in guests.
Outside of the park, just 20 km from the canyon’s main viewpoint is one of Karas’ most remarkable tourism projects. Contained within a huge, game-stocked private eco reserve is the Gondwana Cañon Park, housing three exceptional resorts: Cañon Lodge: An inspiringly designed complex of 30 luxury thatched bungalows, built literally into the rocky outcrops of the park, with huge granite boulders protruding into every room. A beautifully restored 1908 farmhouse is now the lodge’s restaurant, providing 5-star dining, with cinema scope views of the canyon landscape. Cañon Roadhouse features tranquil, cosy accommodations, or camping facilities under the stars, with swimming pool and sundeck tucked between indigenous succulents, plus the convivial charms of a famous bar and historically decorated a-la carte restaurant. Cañon Mountain Camp is set among the park’s beautiful dolerite hills and ideal for larger self catering parties, with 8 double rooms, fully equipped kitchen and dining room and outside lapa and braai area.
This internationally acclaimed, award-winning enterprise also boasts a unique self-sustaining agricultural project that produces products such as cheese, meat and other fresh produce for the park.
Activities in this region are many and varied, for all levels of interest, budget and age group, with easy access from resorts in the immediate area, or from towns in the interior.
Almost all sought-after tourism experiences here relate to absorbing the wonders of this rare landscape: from panoramic photo opportunities at one of the Canyon’s viewpoint promontories, to taking on the river gorge in a guided overnight hike from Ai Ais, or viewing the spectacle via 4×4, or even from the air. Horse riding, fishing, sundowner game drives, high-adventure experiences or simple relaxation are just a few of the delights of this, the region’s premier tourism hotspot.