Sudwala Caves

The Sudwala Caves are the oldest known cave system in the world. Situated in the scenic Mpumalanga province on the eaves of the Drakensberg escarpment, the Sudwala caves offer some of the most amazing underground sights in South Africa. The history of caves is almost as interesting as the caves themselves that have been around since before man even wandered the earth.

The Sudwala Caves are formed in preCambian dolomitic rock that was laid down when the African continent was still part of the massive Gondwanaland continent. The evidence suggests that the caves formed about 240 million years ago before man even wandered the earth. For millennia the Sudwala Caves were used as shelter by animals and early hominids.

One of the fascinating chambers of the caves

In earlier history, the Sudwala Caves were the stronghold of the Somquba, a Swazi prince that was fleeing from his brother Mswati II. When Somquba eventually fell, the next leader of the survivors was a man named Sudwala. Early settlers who came to the area named the cave for him. In the Second Boer War, the cave was used to store the Boer Forces' ammunition and it is rumoured that the caves were also used as a hiding place for some of the Kruger Rands. In 1965 the farm on which the Sudwala Caves are located, Sudwalaskraal, was purchased PR Owen who opened the caves to the public.

The Sudwala Caves are home to some of the most impressive calcium deposits and the second oldest sedimentary rocks in the world. By far the most famous chamber of the Sudwala Caves is the PR Owen Hall. This chamber is 70 metres in diameter and 37 metres high. It also manages to stay at a constant temperature of about 17 degrees Celsius via outside air that enters the chamber from some other source that is as yet unknown. This chamber, named for the man who opened the Sudwala Caves to the world, has often been used as a concert hall thanks to its strangely effective acoustics and constant temperature.

Daily tours take visitors to other chambers in the caves like the Devil's Smithy and along routes to see some of the more amazing calcium structures. For the adventurous there is a monthly tour that takes visitors deep into the caves. This tour is not for the claustrophobic as visitors need to crawl through thin passages filled with water in the dark with only their flashlight to guide their steps. The end result is incredible, however. At the end of the long trek is the crystal chamber that is filled with natural aragonite crystal growths unlike any in the world.

The Sudwala Caves are also situated next to the PR Owen Dinosaur Park where fossils from the local area are on display. There are also hiking trails through the area and a curio shop with interesting pieces from the caves and surrounding area.

The Sudwala Caves should be on any person's itinerary when they head for Mpumalanga. The oldest caves in the world are sure to leave an impression on visitors when they enter its cool interior where the air has been stirred by breath older than any human civilisation.

 

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