One recurring story, is that of a Mermaid? who has been seen at waterfalls and rivers all over the Karoo. With children warned not to go near deep pools, in case the Water-meid or Water-auntie drags them in, talk of the Karoo Mermaid is still very much alive today.
Intrigued to find out more, a filmmaker colleague and I packed our binoculars, cameras and zoom lenses? and set off on a two-week road-trip from Cape Town, along the R62, and through the Karoo ? hot on the heels of the legendary Karoo Mermaid.
Our first stop was Ronnie?s Sex Shop, in Barrydale, famous watering-hole of long distance bikers, and with hindsight... not the best place to start conducting interviews about naked women with fish tails!
"Mermaids!" said a bearded Ronnie from behind his bar, "never heard of such a thing. But if I ever saw one, I know what I'd do ? shoot it and have a lekker fish-braai!"
As his hairy clientele rolled around chuckling in their squeaky leather suits, we hastily packed up our film-gear. We didn?t yet know it, but that? was the last cynicism we would encounter for two weeks!
Further along the R62, at Warmwaterberg Spa, a dip in the steaming open-air mineral springs was just what we needed. Floating on our backs, city scepticism oozed from our pores as we gazed up at the star-spangled sky, happy in the knowledge that our Karoo Odyssey had truly begun.
"Sea shells in the desert? why not mermaids!"
Next day we walked to a dusty piece of land nearby, where one of the Warmwaterberg staff showed us rocks with clear ochre-coloured imprints of fossilised sea-shells, proving that millions of years ago this whole Karoo area had been under the sea.
"Ja, if there are sea shells in the desert? why not mermaids! It's highly possible," he offered kindly.
Our next stop wasn?t even on the map. Turning off the R62 down a rickety lane lined with pastoral scenes, we meandered our way slowly into Amalienstein.
Here we found elderly farmer, Hermanus Fourie, who told us the most incredible story ? how, as a child, he?d been sent to collect wood for his parents in the nearby kloof and had caught sight of a woman sitting on a rock at the foot of a waterfall.
He greeted her, but when she didn?t reply, he suddenly realised that she wasn?t an ordinary woman, and that instead of legs? had a fish tail! She waved at him, and then slipped into the water and disappeared.
"No, no? there are no such things as ghosts!"
When the young Hermanus returned home and breathlessly told his parents what he?d seen they explained to him that it must have been a mermaid. They said that their parents had also spoken about mermaids in this area, from long ago.
And so it seems that the story has been passed down from generation to generation ? of a woman, with blue eyes, pink cheeks and a fish tail ? seen at deep mountain pools all over the Karoo.
I asked Hermanus if what he?d seen had perhaps been a ghost? And he laughed kindly at me: "No, no? there are no such things as ghosts!"
We heard many other curious stories as we journeyed through this incredibly beautiful part of the country. In Prince Albert we heard that people who go swimming in the pool at Meiringspoort sometimes return to find their clothes have disappeared? mischievously removed by the Mermaid.
In Oudtshoorn we saw the fish-tailed shop-mannequin hanging in the C.P Nel Museum tower since the 1996 floods ? when a mermaid was rumoured to have been rescued and taken to the Museum to be preserved in a tank of spirits.
At the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda we counted at least 14 cement statues of mermaids ? was it just co-incidence that Helen Martins included mermaids amongst the other sculptures in her remote desert oasis?
But perhaps the most intriguing discovery was San rock paintings of mermaid-like creatures, situated in caves high up in the Little Karoo mountains. Because of the risks of vandalism, a policy of guided viewing for research only is in place. In Prince Albert, however, local experts Judy Maguire and John Begg are willing to show visitors the "mermaid" rock art they found on their farm. Judy is a palaeontologist and John a geologist, so they are the perfect guides.
The paintings we filmed all show creatures with a round head, arms and a fish tail, and have caused much speculation in archaeological circles. Could these figures really be mermaids? And does that mean that the San people saw such creatures? And why do they occur only in the Little Karoo?
'Searching for Mermaids in the Karoo' was screened on the SABC in 2007. A DVD of the documentary, with an accompanying Guide-book & Map ? enabling viewers to do this fascinating road-trip for themselves ? is available at selected bookshops, or can be ordered directly by emailing email@example.com.