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34 Travel Namibia Undiscovered Namibia to make the site accessible with stairs, a diving platform on the water's edge and a winch to get gear in – all of which was very welcome on what was turning out to be a very, very warm day under a bright Namibian sun. Sorting out dive gear in the dubious shade of a scrubby thorn tree, it was hard to believe that the fighting from World War One had extended this far south. I found myself imagining what it must have been like as a soldier of the South African Union … having to invade German South West Africa and liberate it. This innocuous lake had been the site of some of the most furious fighting and was now the final resting place of the German artillery ( and yes, I do mean heavy guns and ammunition wagons). Glancing over to the water I could understand the urge to thwart an enemy. If I were a German about to surrender I would also choose to dump everything into a nearby ' bottomless' lake. Lucky for us, the lake turned out to be far from bottomless, and that last defiant act of the Germans created a unique diving opportunity. Under the dark water lay huge cannons and ammo boxes … and, if the rumours were true, enough silt to still be hiding that safe full of gold! Diving was a welcome relief from the desert heat, and I started my descent in cool, if very murky water. The locals claim that the visibility can get up to fifteen metres, but I could barely see more than a metre. For my first dive I had chosen to explore the cannons rather than the general hole, as I figured I would leave the opportunity of experiencing the endemic fish life to my next dive at Lake Guinas. With the low visibility, each metre of the fifty- metre descent was an experience in itself and then, slowly, reluctantly almost, the cannons revealed themselves – majestic and impressive, surrounded by silt and silence, a far cry from their noisy and violent life on land. Because of the depth, I could not stay long and all too soon I was swimming away, past ammo boxes and silt that was sadly bereft of gold- bearing safes. Our next stop was Lake Guinas. Here we did not have the luxury of prepared access. Instead, part of the diving experience was working out how to navigate the towering thirty- metre cliffs that protected a vivid mass of crystal blue and very inviting water. Undaunted, our team of divers set up pulleys to get kit down and a rather mobile rope ladder that would provide individual access. Now all that was left was diving. Did I mention it was hot ( around forty degrees Celsius)? And that there was virtually no shade? And that it is hard work to move technical dive gear thirty vertical metres? But there Slowly, reluctantly almost, the cannons revealed themselves – majestic and impressive, surrounded by silt and silence, a far cry from their noisy and violent life on land Verna van Schaik holds the world record for the deepest dive by a woman LEFT: The fish Tilapia guinasana, found wild nowhere else in the world Johnny Jensen

Travel Namibia 35 is no holding passionate divers back from the lure of unexplored water and, before I knew it, I was on my way to the bottom, a mere one hundred and eight metres below me. For the record, my dives in Guinas were some of the most stunning I have ever done. The walls of the lake are covered in multi- coloured fish, creating a jewelled and entertaining landscape. In fact, the fish were literally everywhere: even at one hundred and ten metres shoals of silver still accompanied me as I swam ever deeper into a huge unexplored and seemingly endless cavern. I found out later that these fish had actually evolved in Guinas. Misnamed the Otjikoto tilapia ( Tilapia guinasana), they are specifically adapted to the sinkhole. Looking back on those dives I am not sure what I enjoyed most – the depth, the exploration or just sitting and watching the antics of those unique little fish. It was with regret that I finally had to say goodbye to the crystal blue skies of Namibia and its fascinating lakes. I was left with endearing images of brilliant red sunsets, dusty white roads and some of the best diving I have ever done. Even more intriguing is the fact that I only scraped the surface of Namibia's diving potential. ABOVE: Lake Guinas MIDDLE and BELOW: Cannons DIVING IN NAMIBIA Due to the conditions, diving is for advanced divers only and the ability to manage decompression is mandatory. All divers must be qualified to dive sub- 50 metres on air as no helium mixing facilities are available. Because of the depth, Divers Alert Network insurance is also a requirement. Kit can be hired in advance from the local operators. The best time to dive is from April to October, when the midday temperatures are not excessive. OTJIKOTO Located near the town of Tsumeb, Otjikoto is about 450km from Windhoek. Accommodation is available on site ( camping with electricity is provided), or in Tsumeb itself. The dive site ranges from 26 metres to 90 metres deep and it's a six- metre drop to the surface of the water, so divers need to be relatively fit. All diving must be done through an established operator, and divers need to give at least two weeks' notice. LAKE GUINAS Lake Guinas is next to Otjikoto, but there is no accommodation at the site. The lake is privately- owned and diving is undertaken only with permission, which can be organised by the local operators. Harasib and Dragon's Breath eath Special qualifications, experience and abseiling techniques are required ( including full cave diving qualifications). The caves need to be rigged for diving, which requires at least a week of work by a team of six people, so at least three months notice is required. DIVING OPERATORS Otjikoto Diving Enterprises, Windhoek Underwater Club or Skeleton Coast Divers. n Contact Stef at sviljoen@ mweb. com. na n tel + 264 811 29 5318 n Tinus at tinusvw@ iway. na n tel + 264 811 29 9389