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IIf you’re visiting South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, don’t miss the opportunity to go caving at the Sudwala Caves, the oldest known caves in the world.
No special skills are needed for the hour-long guided tour on foot into its biggest cavern to marvel at the amazing rock formations. Fitter, more adventurous visitors will want to venture on the 6-hour Crystal Tour, with narrow squeezes, wet stretches and occasional low ceilings that require you to take to your hands and knees.
Although the caves were formed over a period of some 3 000-million years, they’ve only been accessible to the public since the 1960s. Early human ancestor Homo habilis, however, lived and worked in part of the caves some 1.8-million years ago. See the display of their tools at the caves’ entrance.
You don’t need to be an expert caver or an athlete to go caving at Sudwala – all you need are your legs and a sense of wonder. As you begin the one-hour Cave Tour, your guide will tell you that one of the finds in these caverns are fossils of collenia, the first oxygen-producing plants on Earth.
You’ll venture 600m into the caves and travel 150m underground. You won’t feel claustrophobic, because the central chamber of the cavern complex – 70m in diameter and 37m high – is as big as a 500-seater concert hall. To this day, no-one has discovered the source of the steady stream of fresh air that keeps the chamber’s temperature at a constant 17⁰C.
Your guide will point out the fantastic natural sculptures and rock formations that adorn the grand cavern. Look out for the 150-million-year-old stalactite/stalagmite column the Lowveld Rocket and the 160-million-year-old Screaming Monster – mere youngsters compared to the venerable 200-million-year-old Samson’s Pillar.
Adventurous and don’t mind getting wet? Then opt for the 6-hour Crystal Cave Tour. You must be over 16, have average agility and not suffer from claustrophobia or any serious health problems. Then walk, scramble, wriggle and climb around the oldest caves in the world – now that’s something to write home about.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)83 446 0228
Pierre’s Mountain Inn
Tel: +27 (0)72 437 1067
How to get here
From Johannesburg take the N4 to Mbombela (formerly called Nelspruit). About 35km before Mbombela, take the R539 turn-off to Sabie. The Sudwala Caves are 8km along this road.
Best time to visit
The caves are open daily from 8.30am to 4pm.
Around the area
Mpumalanga’s scenic attractions include the Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, a cluster of gorgeous waterfalls, the Kruger National Park and much more.
Tours to do
The Cave Tour or the Crystal Tour
On foot. On the Cave Tour the going is easy, but it can get slippery in places, so take care. On the Crystal Tour you’ll crawl, wriggle, scramble and climb.
What will it cost?
The Cave Tour: adults (over 16) R100; pensioners (over 60) R80; children (5 to 15) R55; children 4 and under free. The Crystal Tour: R450 per person.
Length of stay
The Cave Tour takes an hour. The Crystal Tour lasts 6 hours.
What to pack
For the Crystal Tour, pack old clothes and comfortable boots or shoes with a strong grip. Avoid jeans, as they are cumbersome when wet. Bring your own torch, a towel and change of clothes.
Where to stay
Pierre’s Mountain Inn is right next door to the caves.
The Race of the Screaming Monster in May is an annual 21km half-marathon – the only marathon in the world run through a cave.