by Rizel Delano

Superb Spelunking

Fun by candelight in SA's coolest caves

Superb Spelunking
Superb Spelunking

I snuggle into my sleeping back, tired of the hike up the mountains earlier in the day. I blow out the candle, the smell of burnt wax mingles with the rot and mildew stench of the cave. The cave whispers in the darkness, echoes of the past, reminiscing an era of the Khoi San people and wild animals roaming free over the peaks.

I recall the words of the Scottish novelist, essayist and poet, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move, to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly, to come down off the feather-bed of civilisation and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints."

In South Africa there are several caves in which one can spend the night. Sleeping amongst the ghosts of the past, transcends one back to the beginning of time, to millions of years ago when thunder struck, rocks split, and huge earthquakes cracked the bed of an island sea, tilting it skywards.
Over millions of years the toothed peaks of the tilted seabed were eroded by an ice sheet, buried in marsh, smothered under desert sands, and finally capped with volcanic lava. Molten magma pumped into cracks and burnt deep crevices into the rock. Sixty million years ago, the covering began to wear and mountains re-emerged to become cliffs, deep gorges, tumbling streams and mysterious caves.

Even today one can reach out and touch the souls still living inside the walls of the ancient overnight caves of South Africa:

Ontongskop, Voëlvlei Mountains
Once the lair of a notorious sheep stealer, after whom it was named, this comfortable cave is now a welcoming overnight spot for hikers. With views over the Tulbagh valley and the Witsenberge, it takes only a hiker’s candlelit dinner to transform it into a fairy castle.

Welbedacht, Cedarberg
This spacious cave is an ideal stopover before ascending Tafelberg. As long as it isn’t raining that is, because the cave faces north-west, which allows the rain to come straight in. In summer however, it’s a great place to sleep.

Twin’s Cave, Drakensberg
This cave in Cathedral Peak is the biggest and the most popular of the habitable caves in the Drakensberg. It’s a really large overhang, but a good place to sleep and an even better one to wake up in, when the sunrise paints the valley mists in shades of pink and gold.

Nkosazana Cave, Drakensberg
Relatively small and damp, this cave on Champagne Castle is not particularly comfortable. In summer it may have a stream running through it, and can often ice up in Winter. But if you’re caught in a storm on a long hike, it does offer some shelter!

Grindstone Caves, Drakensberg
This group is one of the few caves in the Injasuti area that are open to hikers. It consists of four shelters, two of which are suitable for sleeping, and two of which have water. The views of the Drakensberg’s ragged peaks are wonderful from here.

Overnight Cave, Kutusa Hiking Trail
A thousand people could sleep in this huge sandstone cave in the Eastern Free State (as long as they were very fond of each other), so for a small hiking group it is luxuriously spacious. Simple stonewalls built at the back of the overhang shield the occupants from wind and rain, and hay beds make the night more comfortable.

Salpeterkrans, Brandwater Hiking Trail
This Free State cave, in fact a large overhang, is reputed to be one of the largest caverns in the Southern Hemisphere. Don’t count on having it to yourself, however, because it is often visited by people who come to consult the spirits that live here.

Toks Cave, Woodciffe Hiking Trail
If a cave can in any way be civilised, this Eastern Cape cave is it. Its walls are painted with modern ethnic designs, partitions have been built to create a few small private rooms, and sheepskins have been provided for sleeping on. The fantastic views and the nearby rock paintings add to the enjoyment of staying in this cave.
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