A Weekend #Shortleft To The Sudwala Caves

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The Sudwala Caves in Mpumalanga are set in Precambrian dolomite rock, which was first laid down about 3800 million years ago when Africa was still part of Gondwana (an ancient supercontinent that broke up about 180 million years ago. The continent eventually split into landmasses we recognize today: Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula). The caves formed about 240 million years ago, making them the oldest known caves in the world, but the other fascinating fact is that they also rest on Precambrian dolomite rocks that are also amongst the second oldest known sedimentary rocks on Earth.

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We took an hour-long tour that took us about 600 metres and 150 metres underground on a return route. 

Our tour guide told us that the caves were used for shelter in the prehistoric times, probably due in part to a constant supply of fresh air from an unknown source in the caves. But in more modern times, the caves were discovered by Somquba, one of the sons of the Swazi king Sobhuza I, who was fleeing from his brother Mswati II. Somquba and his followers used the caves as a refuge until he was killed in an unexpected attack by his brother. Survivors stayed on under the leadership of an inDuna (headman or leader) named Sudwala, thus the name of the caves.

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Also during the Second Boer War in the early 1900′s, the Boers used the caves to store ammunition and some people believe that President Paul Kruger stored the Kruger Millions in the caves. The Kruger Millions were Paul Kruger’s gold bullion which disappeared somewhere between Waterval Onder and Nelspruit while Kruger was travelling.

The Caves were also used to excavate huge amounts of bat guano that was sold as fertilizer to farmers back in 1914. Today the Sudwalaskraal farm that is home to the caves is the property of Philippus Rudolf Owen, and it was he who opened the caves as a tourist attraction.

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This series of caves are dominated by a roughly circular chamber, 70 metres in diameter with a height of 37 metres - the PR Owen hall - known also as the amphitheatre because of its natural acoustics and ‘air conditioning’ provided with a constant source of air from outside.

The rest of the cave is filled with a number of calcium structures which are individually named. Some of the names I thought were a bit funny such as the Lowveld Rocket, Samson’s Pillar and the Screaming Monster which apparently dates back 200 million years. 

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The caves are open daily for tours so that all can enjoy the caving experience. Visitors of all ages can venture on a cave-dwelling tour. For those who are a bit claustrophobic, the caves are well-illuminated with fresh air flowing throughout. A tour through the Sudwala Caves is a great way to experience something unique and learn about amazing rock formations such as stalactites, stalagmites and flow-stones.

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If you are the adventurous type and feel like a challenge, why not get a group of friends together and do the crystal tour. This tour takes you into a separate excursion that leads 2000 meters into the caves to a layer of crystals. It is advisable to dress in old clothes, as you will be crawling through mud, water, tunnels and even moderately difficult obstacles. The 5 hour long Crystal Tour takes place once a month and bookings are required.

I guarantee you will have so much more fun in a cave!