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Off the radar


Words and pictures by Stephen Cunliffe.

Exploring south east Namibia. Namibia is known for attractions like Sossusvlei, Etosha and the Fish River Canyon, but none of these iconic draw cards are located in the south-east of the country.

In fact, this region’s greatest claim to fame was the geological masterpiece known as God’s Finger, which collapsed way back in ’88. Intrigued to find out what gems might lie hidden amongst the dolerite boulders and red Kalahari sands of the south east, Stephen Cunliffe set off on a 10-day reconnaissance of the area.

You’re wasting your time; there’s nothing but sheep farms out there,” announced Hettie Steenkamp with a dismissive wave of her arm. This wasn’t the reassuring news I had been hoping for after the ten-hour drive from Cape Town. I grabbed my map and switched tack. “What do you think about my VW California and these D-roads heading into the Groot Karasberge… will the vehicle manage?”

“This car… on those roads…? You’ve gotta be kidding; you’ve got no chance!” Then, seeing my crestfallen look, she added, “But you can ask my husband for a second opinion this evening, if you like.” And with that vague glimmer of hope, she left. I felt more than a little despondent. The first day of my Namibian adventure was – to say the very least – off to a rocky start. I sat down and cracked a beer. The Windhoek Draught was icy cold and tasted delicious under the relentless African sun. At least that was something to smile about.

Like almost everyone I came across in the Grünau area, Hettie and Rean Steenkamp were sheep farmers with land in the foothills of the Groot Karasberge. When we gathered at the Vastrap bar that evening, they seemed more relaxed. “Those roads might be pretty bumpy – I’m not too sure when the grader last went through – but that fancy VW of yours should be fine,” Rean reassured me. I celebrated this good news with another cold Windhoek while we feasted on tasty lamb chops. With the Steenkamps mellowing, I decided to try and probe for any local intel on potential tourist attractions in the area.

“Nou ja, if you look hard enough there are some real hidden gems out there; it’s only that some of the people around here prefer not to speak about them or share them with outsiders.” When I asked Hettie if she was, by any chance, talking about the Lost City of the Namas, she appeared genuinely surprised that I had even heard of it. Built in the late 1700s, the old settlement of the Oorlam tribe of the Namas is located on private farmland overlooking the Bak River. I had heard that the Lost City was located on Alwyn Smit’s Gugunas Farm, but, despite umpteen phone calls and a couple of emails, I had failed to make contact with him.

“A little while back, a couple of guests staying here also tried to phone and ask him if they could visit the site, but he wasn’t interested,” elaborated Hettie. I tried to put myself in Alwyn’s shoes; I guess for a busy farmer, taking tourists to view the stone remains of the fabled city on his private farm was neither lucrative nor a productive use of his precious time. “But, don’t worry; most people are very friendly around here; if you drive slowly and take the time to chat with them you’ll uncover other riches in this area,” she concluded cryptically…