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The secret south

A road trip to the hidden desert gems of the country’s remote southern region reveals some weird and wonderful cultural and natural oddities. Words and photographs by Ann and Steve Toon

Dust. Rust. Some bleaching bones. A Mad Max set studded with post-apocalyptic ghost towns. Bavarian-baroque buildings in bold colours appearing mirage-like in a remote coastal town. Shifiing sands and crescentshaped dunes borrowed from a surrealist’s dreamscape. The romance and tragedy that accompany a diamond rush. A sprinkling of oddball animal and plant species. And there you have it — Namibia in a palm-nutshell.

Except this isn’t the Namibia most people travel to. This is the country’s less-visited deep south. It has all the weird and wonderful things you expect from a self-drive trip to an African country so alien you could believe you’re on another planet. Apart from those aforementioned palm nuts — they’re found further north in the country. But not to worry, southern Namibia’s got singularities of its own, from forbidden mining areas to prancing desert horses; not forgetting southern Africa’s highest coastal rock arch and the world’s second largest canyon.

Roads around the region are good and emptier, if that’s possible, than the country’s conventional, central tourist routes, so you’ll have even fewer folk to share the vast open vistas with. Distances aren’t as great as on the more well-worn routes, and areas previously ruled ofi-limits by the government-backed diamond mining company are being opened up even more to tourists. Which all combines to make a southern Namibia sojourn an enticing option; particularly if you’re planning a repeat visit to the country and looking for an encore.

We begin our deep south discovery at the workaday town of Keetmanshoop (pronounced ‘Keetmans-who-op’, but if you just say Keetmans people will treat you like a local). There’s not much to stop for apart from fresh supplies, but it’s as near a gateway to the south as it gets. On this occasion we’re driving into Namibia from South Africa’s Northern Cape city of Upington. A stop for cofiee and game pies at the new Kitchen 51 farm stall, just 40km south of Keetmans, sets us up for the final push to a far-out forest, just beyond the town, that defines the mood for the rest of our trip and which is scheduled to be our first overnight stop.

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