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WWith a relatively young landscape marked by several substantial mountain ranges, the southern tip of the African continent presents a wealth of opportunity for caving and the keen caver.
Whether you're interested in venturing into the hidden depths of the Earth, or if the mystery of humankind's origins is more appealing, a wide variety of caves lie waiting to reveal their innermost secrets, from fossils to bats.
Caving for the beginner might entail a short stroll through a recognised and popular cave system such as the world-renowned Sterkfontein, Cango or Sudwala caves, or it might be a more intimate experience involving intricate climbing techniques and a distinct lack of claustrophobia.
You might prefer to abseil, then make the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site your destination. If you are a beginner then the Bat's Cave abseil is the perfect starter excursion with no experience needed. You'll abseil down 17m through the roof of the cave. There is no steep climbing and no traverses, but you will have to crawl on hands and knees for a bit. Everyone aged 8 to 70 is welcome.
If you prefer rockface abseiling then venture to Crystal Cave, also at the Cradle. Crystal Cave is a private cave which allows no other sightseeing tours so you will be pretty much alone during the 34m abseil.
In the Western Cape, the caves of the Peninsula have lured explorers since the 1800s. There are literally hundreds of caves throughout the Western Cape, with some featuring more than a kilometre of underground passages.
Prime caving sites to look out for include Peers Cave, just outside Cape Town, the Kalk Bay caves and Tartarus Cave.
The Elgin Valley in the Cape Overberg region is characterised by majestic scenery and offers wonderful caving opportunities, while KwaZulu-Natal's awesome Drakensberg mountains are riddled with caves, many boasting remarkably well-preserved rock art.
Follow 2 golden rules when setting out on a South African caving adventure; never go alone and always advise someone else of your intended route.
All caves have their own weather systems depending on wind, air temperature, barometric pressure and water. But mostly (unless you're attempting one of the difficult adventures) you'll stay dry and comfortable.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
South African Spelaeological Association (SASA)
Wild Cave Adventures
Tel: +27 (0)11 956 6197
Tel: +27 (0)83 264 3778
How to get here
Regional tourism offices can provide detailed information. Due to the often rugged environment in which caves are found, hiring a 4x4 vehicle would be advisable. It is preferable to only undertake this kind of activity with an experienced guide.
Best time to visit
Caving is an all-year round activity, but be aware of the rainy season, when sudden downpours can make caving dangerous.
Things to do
There are caves in every province across South Africa. Regional tourism offices can provide more detailed information.
The Cradle of Humankind's Maropeng Visitor Centre and the Rhino & Lion Park Nature Reserve are worth visiting if you are in Gauteng.
What to pack
Closed shoes with a good grip, jeans or comfortable old clothing. In winter a jacket will keep you warm while you wait to enter the caves. Safety helmets, rubber gloves and any abseiling equipment are provided by tour operators.
Where to stay
Regional tourism offices can provide detailed information.