The deep south is a truly harsh environment, but offers rich rewards and shouldn't be missed on a holiday to Namibia: the splendour of the Fish River Canyon – only surpassed by the Grand Canyon – and the timeless isolation of the Lüderitz area, with its abandoned diamond mines and eerie ghost towns.
Fish River Canyon
This spectacular chasm is the result of geological processes that began hundreds of million years ago. Faults, glaciers and erosion combined to create canyon within canyon. The chasm is 161 km long, up to 127 km wide - and the dramatic inner canyon reaches a depth of almost 550m.
Despite its arid location, the Fish River rarely becomes completely dry and was settled throughout the Stone Age. Camel-thorn, ebony and tamarisk trees grow by the river. Hartman's mountain zebra, kudu, klipspringer and baboon inhabit the area.
Hiking the canyon
The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail is not for the unfit or faint-hearted. It is one of the toughest things you can do in Africa, but a truly memorable achievement.
A road runs along the eastern side of the canyon. You can drive from Main Viewpoint, with its view of Hell's Bend, to South Viewpoint in a car; but you will have to retrace your path and leave the conservation area to reach the road to Ai-Ais. Ai-Ais means 'fire water' and there you will find a small spa around the hot springs - and easy walks into the canyon.
This sleepy German seaside town feels lost in time. The town survives on fishing and diamond mining. A few tourists find their way down here, and there is a smart new Waterfront development of shops and restaurants.
However, most people are put off by the distance, and the harsh climate, which is affected by winds blowing in off the South Atlantic. Those who do make the trip, visit out of fascination with this rather odd German colonial town in the desert, and especially to see the former diamond boom town of Kolmanskop, abandoned in 1956 and now half-buried in desert sands.
Guided tours of Kolmanskop also include a visit to an abandoned diamond mine. Other activities include a boat trip to Halifax Island, which has a colony of 1200 jackass penguins, spotting Atlantic dolphins and seals on the way.
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