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LAKE OTJIKOTO NAMIBIA. A Window Into The Past. Collapsed roof section of a karst cave with underground lake where the Kaiser's Cannons lay...


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Lake Otjikoto A Window Into The Past

Collapsed roof section of an underground lake where the Kaiser's Cannons lay...



If you're travelling on the B1 road about 20km north of Tsumeb on the western side you will see Lake Otjikoto. Its only a few meters from the main road and it's a well worth while visit. The owners have geared-up for tourism, so additional to the attraction of Lake Otjikoto there is a menagerie, shop, restaurant, and a good selection of Stromatolites.


Lake Otjikoto arial view

Aerial view of Lake Otjikoto with B1 Road on right-hand side


Lake Otjikoto: How it was formed.

The deep turquoise waters of the lake add a bit of mystery. It's only when you realize that the whole surrounding area of ground is acting as a roof covering a massive underground Karst Lake, and that the area where the lake is, being about the size of a football field is just a small

section of the roof that collapsed in, that you begin to wonder when the next 'accident' will occur. The above right is an impression of the shape of the known area of the lake bed. It is over 50m from the lake surface to the peak of the debris cone that was formed by the collapse.


The triangular area of Grootfontein - Otavi - Tsumeb comprises of dolomite rock some 700 million years old. There are many occurrences where the ground water has percolated through fractures within the rock formations. The carbonic acid in the water over many years dissolves the rock and forms cavities. Gradually these form to become large underground caves filled with water, as 'Karsts'. The on-going dissolution of the rock eventually causes the roof of the Karst Cave to collapse. The conical debris mound that lays on the lake bed is referred to as a Dolinen. Both Otjikoto and Guinas have excellent examples of Dolinen.


Lake Otjikoto The Size: The visible part of the 'lake' is +-100m in diameter having a surface area of 7075 sq m. The depth varies from 62m at the side, 7m in the centre and in some places leading off from the side depths of 100m have been recorded. The dimensions and size of the underground cave is not known, but it is thought that the water storage area is 4,000,000 cubic meters of which the Government allow 1,3 million cubic meter to be extracted per year. Ancient Karst lakes, such as this, are often just part of a huge underground water system interconnecting with other 'cave' lakes, some of which may also have a section of the roof that has collapsed-in, such as Lake Guinas, which is about 20km distance from Otjikoto.

Oshikoto Region

1930"S - 1760"E

Lake Otjikoto diagram of karst cave


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The Discoverers: The first Europeans to 'discover' Lake Otjikoto (in 1851) were Sir Francis Galton - Fellow of the Royal Society and his English-Swedish companion Charles John Andersson - Galton wrote of their experiences at lake Otjikoto in his book, "The Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical Southern Africa" that was published in 1853.


"May 26th:  Without the least warning we came suddenly upon that remarkable tarn, Otchikoto. It is a deep bucket-shaped hole, exactly like Orujo, but far larger, for it is 400 feet across; deep down below us lay a placid sheet of water, which I plumbed leaning over from a cliff above, to the enormous depth of 180 feet, the same depth within five or six feet at four different points of its circumference. The water could be reached by a couple of broken foot-paths, to the top of one of which the oxen were driven to drink out of a trough, and a line of men handed up bambooses of water from one to another to fill it. There were small fish in the water; it is curious how they got there. I was told that fish were also to be found in the fountain head of Otjironjuba, but I did not see them. There were infinite superstitions about Ochjikoto, the chief of which was, that no living thing ever got into it and could come out again. However, John Allen, Andersson, and myself, dispelled that illusion from the savage mind, by stripping and swimming all about it, under the astonished gaze not only of the whole caravan, but also of quantities of Bushmen who lived about the place, and who came to greet the Ovampo, with whom they are the best of terms.


Although the Ovampo live on the borders of a great river, yet none of them had ever been seen swimming. It appeared that alligators were so numerous that the natives feared to venture in. Chik had been extremely friendly up to the present time, but now began to look with some suspicion upon us; the fact of our having swum about Otchikoto alarmed him - it looked like magic. Again my Damaras were always teasing the others by saying that we were cleverer than the Ovampo - a fact which these would not admit; but now it was proved beyond doubt, and the whole eighty-six females sang songs about us; one matron improvised, and all the others joined in a shrill chorus, like "tirri-tirri-tirri." The self esteem of the Ovampo had certainly been wounded. Chik at first ridiculed guns. He had seen guns in Benguela, but they must have been worthless affairs, and badly handled, for he laughed at any comparison between them and arrows; however, by degrees he became frightened at seeing what they could really do. There was a duck swimming about the water, not more than sixty yards off, but it looked very much further, as things below one always do, and I shot him very neatly with my little rifle: and again, the next day, Andersson, was shooting some birds on the wing for specimens, and Chik became so frightened that he would not pick them up. We had great fun at Otchikoto; there was a cave there full of bats and owls, which we swam to and explored. The place swarmed with doves, and every now and then a white hawk swooped in amongst them. The Bushmen captain fraternized with me, and we interchanged smiles and small presents."


Lake Otjikoto Fish Southern Mouthbreeder


Lake Otjikoto Fish Southern Mouthbreeder

The Fish Species:  A number of fish species can be found in the lake, among them a dwarf bream (max length 13cm) that is a Southern Mouthbreeder (the mother cares for her young in her mouth) named Pseudocrenilabrus philander philander. The species was first identified by DR. M. Weber during his 1897 expedition of Southern Africa. An alternative name was allocated for a period being Haplochromis philander dispersus following DR. Karl Jordan's expedition to South West Africa in 1936). These fish can be found in the northern river systems of Namibia and it is not unusual to find them in sink holes such as Lake Guinas and Lake Otjikoto.


The Kaiser's Cannons:

Just before the surrender of the Kaiser's Forces to the Union of South Africa troops on 9 July 1915, a group of Schutztruppe having been driven further and further north with no chance of being re-supplied with arms or ammunition arrived at Otjikoto. It was here that they decided to dump the heavier of their remaining equipment into the lake rather than allow it to fall into enemy hands. Legend has it that one of the German soldiers ankles became entangled in the rigging as the cannons were being pushed off the ledge and he was dragged down and drowned. His ghost is said to haunt the area around  the lake.


Lake Otjikoto recovering Kaiser's cannons from in 1984 Lake Otjikoto recovering Kaiser's cannons from in 1984 Refurbished Krupp 37mm machine gun Refurbished Krupp Field Gun Refurbished Krupp Field Gun


In 1984 the Tsumeb Corporation Mine (TCL) financed the recovery operation of several of the German field guns with the assistance of local sub-aqua clubs. After nearly 70 years underwater the condition of the items was reasonably good. The mine engineering staff refurbished the cannons, of which some excellent examples can be seen in the Tsumeb Museum. It's a must visit.


Lake Guinas - Getting There: After passing Lake Otjikoto on the B1 road drive north for approx 1km and you will see the road sign for Lake Guinas. The gravel road takes you 25km west, where you will see another sign for Lake Guinas pointing on a minor gravel road south. Travel this for 5km and you will arrive at the farm in which Lake Guinas is situated. Please note that this is private property. The area is not commercialized as that of Otjikoto. There is a walk down hill for some 100 meters or so before you arrive at the Lake.


The Lake is approx 140m x 70m and is known to be at least 120 meter in depth,  and is classified as being the 12th largest underwater cave in the world.


Acknowledgements and further reading: G1, G2, W14, P1, P4

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