01 April 2014 by Melanie-Ann Feris

Discovering the Sudwala Caves

The Sudwala Caves in Mpumalanga are some of the oldest in Africa. The caves are home to some amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations, but it is the history of the caves that makes them such a fascinating place to visit.

At the entrance to the caves

Caves are not my thing – let me say that right up front. I'm terrified of what might be lurking in their depths (bats and creepy-crawlies ... shudder!) and of all those tons of rock overhead ...

But I need not have worried at the Sudwala Caves.

What put me at ease immediately was our great guide, Edwin Seganye. From the moment we entered the caves he had us caught up in the history of the caves and laughing at his wit.

'The bats in this cave fly all the way to Namibia in winter, without passports,' Seganye said as he pointed out a huge colony of bats hanging from the ceiling.

Formations inside the cave Formations inside the cave

He told the story of the fight between two Mswati brothers, which resulted in a large group of Mswatis fleeing to the caves in the 1800s. The group lived there for many months and the story of how they survived in the dark depths of the caves makes for interesting listening.

There are still artefacts of their time in the caves – like a large, black mark on the cave walls, evidence of how the warring brother tried to smoke the group out of its hiding place inside the caves.

There's also a grinding stone that the Mswati women used to grind meal. Seganye told of how the women would sing while grinding: 'They believed that singing made the food taste better; they didn't have Robertsons spices in those days.'

We also learned about Mswati's version of BBM (but I'm not telling you what this is – you'll have to come see for yourself).

The devil in the Devil's Workshop – a giant calcium formation in the caves The devil in the Devil's Workshop – a giant calcium formation in the caves

The caves are also home to the largest dolomite hall in the southern hemisphere, which can accommodate about 350 people. The well-known Drakensberg Boys Choir School and a group of San people from Botswana have performed in the hall.

There's lots to discover in the caves, like the map of Africa and the pregnant lady, who can later be seen with her baby (formations in the cave that cast different shadows when a torch light is shown on them). There's also the amazing stromatolites – ancient oxygen-producing organisms and interesting formations, like the devil in the Devil's Workshop. 

We also met nuns who have been praying for 14-million years, as well as the biblical Lot and his wife.

Crystals from the cave Crystals from the cave

And although we didn't have time for it, there's also a crystal tour of the caves (a three- to five-hour tour of chambers with crystals, which is quite strenuous).

Art in the gardens Art in the gardens

Outside the caves you can go for a stroll around the lush gardens and discover some amazing artworks.

The Sudwala Fish Spa The Sudwala Fish Spa

We left the caves to the sound of giggling ringing throughout the gardens – a couple, treated to a day out by their kids, were giggling as fish nibbled at their toes at the fish spa on the premises.

The fish spa The fish spa
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