A sinkhole with a story: Lake Otjikoto - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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A sinkhole with a story: Lake Otjikoto

Avatar of inke inke - 01. December 2017 - Discover Namibia, Tourism

Twenty kilometres north-west of Tsumeb on the B1, a circular sinkhole bordered by dolomite walls has a long and fascinating history.

Like most bodies of water in a dry country, Lake Otjikoto, as it is now called, has been known to the indigenous people since time immemorial. It is said to have been the site of a trading post for the copper ore that was carried from Malachite Hill at Tsumeb to the lake. The Ondonga would arrive from the north to exchange their goods – axes, hammers, spears, knives, arrowheads, pots, tobacco, salt and glass beads – for the ore.

The name ‘Otjikoto’ stems from the Otjiherero word for ‘deep hole’, so named by the later Herero inhabitants. The San, however, called it ‘Gaisis’ meaning ‘very ugly’ because they were afraid of it. As the story goes, explorers Galton and Andersson unexpectedly arrived at the ‘lake’ three months after setting off on their journey in 1851 to search for Lake Ngami. They went into the water for a swim, surprising the Herero and Owambo members of their party, who didn’t expect to see them again, when they emerged. 

In 1915, during WWI, the German Schutztruppe threw their ammunition, machine-guns and field cannons into the water before surrendering, to prevent them falling into the hands of the Union soldiers. The weapons remained there until the early ‘80s when they were retrieved by divers and restored. They are now displayed in the Khorab Room at the Tsumeb Museum. 

But, the geological history of the sinkhole goes much further back in time. The 700-million-year-old dolomite rock walls were weathered over time in a process known as karstification, where water-soluble rock is slowly and naturally dissolved. Lake Otjikoto is an example of a typical karst feature, occurring when karst cavities develop near the Earth’s surface. As these cavities grow, their roofs can no longer support the rock above them and cave in, forming funnel-shaped craters called dolines. If the floor of the dolines are deeper than the level of the groundwater, they fill with water, becoming ‘karst lakes’.

Lake Otjikoto is approximately 100m in diameter, covers a surface area of 7 075m² and varies in depth from 62m at the sides to 71m at the centre (although in some places the depth exceeds 100m). It continues to weather at the slow pace of eternity.

Ron Swilling

Comments are disabled for this post.


Peet Roodt

03. December 2017


I have been in Walvisbay in 1970 for military service. A small group of servicemen were invited by divers for a weekend at the lake to assist them with the equipment. They brought up an old ammunition wagon in good condition. I took the opportunity to take a swim there as well.


02. December 2017



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