54 AfricA trAvel
Tackle the Canyon
Said to have been created by the whip of a dragons tail, Africas largest canyon provides the stage for a legendary hike as well as an annual ultra trail run. Competing runners, like hikers, must be entirely self- sufficient there are no showers, no dirt bins and no campsites here. Unlike hikers, though, they must complete the 96 km Fish River Canyon Ultra within 24 hours. (South African trail-running prodigy Ryan Sandes has done it in under seven.)
The gentler hiking pace stretches roughly 86 km over five days, a rewarding walk characterised by the immense scale of the ravines rock faces. In places, the canyon is 27 km wide, stretching around 160 km from Seeheim to |Ai-|Ais in the arid Richtersveld (about half of this constitutes the official trail). Susceptible to flash floods in late summer, for much of the year the canyon floor dries up into a chain of long, narrow pools. Leopards and African fish eagles prey on sharptooth catfish, while Nama padlopers (thunderstorm tortoises) hide in rock crevices, emerging only after the rains. You emerge at the hot-springs resort of |Ai-|Ais, with hotel rooms, camping and a shuttle service back to the start at Hobas. Or, you can make like Ryan and hit the canyon running.
Due to flooding and extreme summer heat (up to 48C by day), permits to hike the canyon are only issued from May to mid-September. You need a group of at least three, plus certificates of fitness to apply. Bookings for 2015 open 1 May 2014. Windhoek Lager Fish River Canyon Ultra African Extreme Promotions www.africanextremepromotions.comFish River Canyon Hiking Trail Namibia Wildlife Resorts 021 422 3761, www.nwr.com.na
Paddle through a brittle land
A much gentler way to experience the brutal beauty of the Richtersveld is by floating and paddling down the Orange River. Following a path carved through arid mountains along the NamibiaSouth Africa border, youll spend the mornings drifting through a stark, rock-strewn land, surrounded by mounds of ancient volcanic debris. Beautifully desolate, the raw, rocky peaks are dotted with tall aloes, gnarled quiver trees and half-mens plants (revered by the Nama as embodiments of their ancestors, forever frozen as half-human, half-plant).
Mostly, youll be gliding peacefully over gently flowing water, the silence pierced only by the caress of paddles dipping into water, the plop of jumping fish, and the whoosh of goliath herons launching their bulky bodies into the air. When the water is high (March and April are prime), fast-water channels can get canoes airborne. When the water is low, however, exposed rocks make navigation tricky. You paddle between six and seven hours a day, stopping to rest in the afternoon. Youll camp on a deserted embankment, sleeping beneath an ebony sky laden with stars and exploring the hills for abandoned diamond mines and the remnants of forgotten settlements. A few days of this, and you will forget the world you left behind too.Felix Unite River Adventures 087 354 0578, www.felixunite.com
Catch and release leopards
If Discovery Channel has you craving a more hands-on wildlife experience, participating in a 12-night conservation project in the Khomas Hochland west of Windhoek, may be for you. Volunteers are afforded the rare opportunity to help track and capture leopards and fit them with GPS collars to record their movements. Honoured in a recently published National Geographic Traveler Tours of a Lifetime list, these expeditions gather valuable research data on leopards, as well as on cheetahs, caracals and elephants, through camera trapping, monitoring and game counting all useful for the protection of wildlife.
You dont need to be a scientist or have special qualifications to take part, other than being able to walk about 5 km a day in rough terrain. Starting out from Windhoek, expeditions (with a maximum of 12 participants) are conducted by an experienced leader and scientist. Theyre neither luxurious nor boot-camp primitive organisers ensure youre comfortable, safe and well fed. There are six scheduled expeditions this year, each costing 1 860; the first commences on 3 August.Biosphere Expeditions www.biosphere-expeditions.org
The life-giving waters of the Orange River flow through the arid |Ai-|Ais/
Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
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