Joan got me up at a ridiculous early hour to hit the road to Sudwala Caves. Good thing she knows how to make a good cup of coffee.
The drive was gorgeous. The Sudwala Caves are in the heart of the Mankelekele Mountains in the Drakensberg escarpment which separates the Highveld from the lowlands of Mpumalanga.
We opted for a short 1 hour walking tour instead of the 5 hour Crystal Tour which involves crawling.
We arrived just after a tour started, and got a deal by getting the “guides” rate.
Our tour-guide, Musa, led us 1968 feet (600 m) in and 492 feet (150 m) underground and safely back along the same route.
Sudwala Caves are the oldest known caves in the world situated in Pre-cambrian dolomite rocks formed over a period of some 3000 million years when the area was covered by warm shallow in-land seas.
A stream of fresh cool air from an unknown opening permeates the spacious corridors maintaining an even temperature of 62.6°F (17°C) all year round.
The caverns boast an array of calcite formations like these stalagmites.
Horse head shaped flowstone
The caves were used by our ancestors in the form of “Homo-Habilis” / “Handyman” approximately 1.8 million years ago. They mainly used the cave entrance as shelter during bad weather.
In the nineteenth century these caverns were used by “Samcuba”, a relative of the Swazi King, as a fortress. Enemies tried to smoke him out yet were thwarted and withdrew. Afterwards a guard was posted called Sudwala which means “the grass skirt of a married woman.”
The caves also played a role in the South African War during 1900 when President Kruger moved and hid the gold bullion and State Treasury belonging to the Transvaal Republic (nowadays Mpumalanga). Because it was known that ammunition had been hidden in Sudwala Caves many people searched there unsuccessfully for the legendary fortune.
Yet the only thing of value found was bat guano which a company excavated in 1914 and sold as fertilizer to farmers in the nearby Crocodile River Valley.
P.R. Owen Hall
In 1965 Mr. Philippus Rudolf Owen purchased the Sudwalaskraal farm including the cave which he developed and made accessible to the public. Because of the size and natural air-conditioning, famous Russian singer Ivan Rebroff tested the hall for concert purposes in 1970. Afterwards he gave his considered opinion that “the acoustics were at least equal, if not positively superior to those of any concert hall or opera house in Europe.” For concert purposes more than 500 people could be seated in this dolomite chamber.
From here we visited the Dinosaur Park next door and did some bugging.
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