Caving on a wire in KZN

Posted on 20 May 2020

By Catherine Hofmeyr

Perched precariously on the side of a deep gorge, the caves at KwaXolo have been around for 100 000 years. But because of their inaccessibility, only the San, and more recently, hardy goat herders and intrepid explorers from the KwaNzimakwe community ever knew about them.

Recently the caves, inland of Margate on the KZN South Coast, have been opened to visitors who can now access them safely by way of an ingenious system of harnesses and cables. KwaXolo Cave Adventures combines historical, cultural and community tourism with a bit of adrenalin, and was all set to open to the public in April. Just before lockdown, I joined other journalists and tour guides on a guided ‘guinea pig’ expedition.

Operator Shaun Makhanya and administrator Khosi Mashala met us at the start station where we were all buckled into harnesses and fitted with helmets. Views of a waterfall and deep gorge unfolded as we set off down the path. Then lithe guides Nomvula Mabandi and  Musa Ntaka showed us how to attach our two safety lines onto a fixed cable. ‘One line must always be clipped in as you move from section to section,’ Musa instructed.

Used extensively in the European Alps, it’s called the via ferrata system (‘iron way’ in Italian) and is basically a climbing route that uses steel cables and rungs fixed to the rock to keep hikers safe on precarious mountain paths. The engineers that designed the Wild Swing at Oribi Gorge assisted with all the technical aspects of laying out the 300-metre ‘cableway’ here.

Feeling quite safe, there was much banter as we descended into the gorge, even when we had to negotiate round a rocky outcrop. Then it was down a rock wall, assisted by rungs, into the deep overhang itself. What a view those San must have enjoyed – of the gorge, and these days, of surrounding dwellings and farmlands.

Sculptured San figures, depict the life of centuries ago and we could clearly see the faded dabbling’s of ancient Shamans. Khosi pointed out an eland clearly visible in ochre paint.

After resting and exploring the large cave fully, we clipped on again up to where drinks and fruit were waiting for us as we stepped out of our harnesses and compared impressions of this new tourist activity. Well, I certainly raised a sweat and had a lot of fun.

For regular mountaineers and hikers this will be tame – think of it as a mountain scramble for non-mountaineers. The safety system makes it accessible to most people. It’s great fun, and kids will love the gadgetry.

KwaXolo Cave Adventures was set to open on 1 April, but will be ready for action as soon as possible due to COVID-19.

Fitness factor: 6/10

It’s a short trail, but there is a bit of rock scrambling that needs some arm work and a head for heights..

Cost R80 pp for the roughly two-hour expedition

Contact Khosi at 072-208-7855 or Shaun at 074-887-3742 or find them on Facebook.

Images: Catherine Hofmeyr

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