Area 51 in New Mexico, the Bermuda triangle, the location of Osama Bin Laden – everybody likes a good mystery.
Take the Sudwala Caves for instance. Legend has it that the Sudwala Caves have no end and they may stretch for more than 40km under the mountains. There is also an unexplained constant flow of fresh air in the caves that no one can find the source of. Ok, so it’s not exactly a Sherlock Holmes type mystery, but it still is interesting. Towering above the valley of the lively mountain stream Houtbosloop, the vast Mankelexele (rock upon rock) mountain range holds one of South Africa’s most impressive wonders: the Sudwala caves …
Lying in the Drakensberg escarpment, about 35km west of Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, this immeasurable complex of channels and colossal chambers are the oldest known caves in the world. Situated in pre-cumbrian dolomite rocks of the Malmani Group, they were formed over a period of about 3000 million years.
If this isn’t impressive enough, the cave walls have captured fossils of Collenia, the first oxygen giving plants on earth and the stony walls offer tell tale signs that there was a time when the area was covered by warm shallow in-land seas.
The Sudwala Caves are dominated by an enormous chamber called The Amphitheatre which can seat over 500 people. This chamber rockets 37 meters to the tip of the dome-like feature in its roof and has hosted many operas and dramas. Ivan Rebroff, a famous Russian singer, tested its suitability for concert purposes in 1970 and found the acoustics to be just as good as any concert hall in Europe.
Of special interest are the astonishing rock formations. The Lowveld Rocket is a column roughly 150 million years old. If this doesn’t impress you the Screaming Monster is about 160 million years old and Samson’s Pillar is over 200 million years old.
Besides these amazing rock displays the caverns also brag an array of impressive stalactites. Anciently growing you will have to wait a hundred years for a 2.5cm growth increase.
Visitors can discover the many mysteries of the caves on two tours. The Cave Tour takes about one hour and is suitable for everyone. A tour guide will take you on a fun tour of large well lit chambers with good airflow revealing interesting facts and tidbits. This is ideal for those who are interested in the area, but who are not up for anything exerting and strenuous.
For the more adventurous there is the Crystal Tour. This is a five hour rendezvous that will take you 2000 meters into the heart of the dark cave to the outer edge of the crystal chamber. The crystal chamber has a beautiful array of dazzling aragonite crystals that will take your breath away.
The route is quite difficult and involves crawling through tunnels and possibly getting wet so it’s perfect for the adventure junkies. The crystal tour takes place on the first Saturday of every month and accommodates groups of thirty people at a time so be sure to book well in advance.
Need to know:
Address: Next to Dinosaur World. R532 towards Lydenburg, take R37 towards Nelspruit for 20 km, take R539 offramp at Rosehaugh, travel 16km and turn right at T-Junction. (50 km outside Sabie).
Telephone: +27 (0)13 733-4152
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday from 08h00 to 17h00. Guided tours every half hour for an hour – last 16h30.
Photographs / Sudwala Caves Slide Show from Flickr.com: