Spend a night in a Drakensberg Cave

Overnight in a Drakensberg Cave
Ifidi cave, one of the more elusive and special in the Drakensberg
Ifidi cave, one of the more elusive and special in the Drakensberg
The rolling sandstone cliffs of the Drakensberg mountains are eternally appealing to hikers and avid nature lovers, where Mother Earth can be embraced in all her fresh and dewy glory. And what better way to shake off the shackles of urbanity than by spending a night in a natural cave, just as our ancestors did hundreds of years ago?

What makes the Drakensberg so special?

The Drakensberg mountain range falls within the greater Maloti-Drakensberg World Heritage Site, one of the largest and most commercially inaccessible conservation areas in South Africa, filled with gorges, cliffs that rise towards the heavens, beautiful valleys, and, of course, numerous sandstone caves. Wildlife in the area includes rhino, wildebeest, and various grazers, while the impressive list of plant species features many rare and endemic species.

Hlalanathi, Northern Drakensberg
Hlalanathi, Northern Drakensberg

Prep properly for a night in a cave

There are literally scores of overnight caves to choose from in the Drakensberg, and they vary in size and views. While many must be booked in advance, some operate on a first come, first served basis, but these are generally smaller and further off the beaten track. To reach any of the caves requires a hike, and don’t expect any housekeeping services. Do, however, be equipped with all the necessary camping gear you will need for your stay, as well as enough food and water.

Hiker preparing to camp
Hiker preparing to camp

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with cave camping etiquette. Luckily, this list is not too complicated, with the bottom line being to leave nothing but your footprints behind. Campers are expected to remove all their litter, except that which is biodegradable and can be buried. Human waste should also be left well under the ground (note to pack a small shovel!) and the lighting of fires is prohibited. Besides the obvious danger of starting a bush blaze, fires smoke out caves and coat their walls with soot, making them uninhabitable for the many little creatures that live in their crevices.

San rock art in the Drakensberg
San rock art in the Drakensberg

There are also many caves within the Drakensberg area that house ancient San rock art. Camping is forbidden in these.

You’ve got options

One of the most popular and easiest to reach overnight caves in the Drakensberg is Sherman’s Cave. The path begins just below the Cathedral Peak Hotel leading across the river and up the steep slopes towards a peak of the same name. Pass a lovely wooded gorge with a natural pool. Within about two hours you will have reached your overnight accommodation, where you can sleep like a baby, wrapped in the arms of the Earth. The deep cave has a low overhang that easily sleeps 10 hikers, as most of the floor is level. The roof is low, so be prepared to stoop, but the views of the surrounding mountain scenery are spectacular.

Sunset in the Drakensberg

Further hiking and accommodation information is available from Drakensberg Hikes, a comprehensive resource guide to all the caves in the Drakensberg.

Unexpected luxury under a rock

If you’re not the kind that can get comfy on a camping mattress, but still want to experience sleeping in a cave in luxury, then do consider Antbear Lodge, with a gorgeous accommodation unit built under a rock. Glass doors open onto a wooden deck with hammock chairs and a spectacular view of the Drakensberg mountains, while inside the cave is cozy and decadent, with a spa bath, a fireplace, and even rock art painted on its walls.

Antbear Lodge cave deck

The lodge supports sustainable and responsible tourism, with meals being made from organic ingredients and cooked from scratch. The artistic and inspiring furnishings were all handmade at the lodge itself. This is the ultimate in luxury caveman living, where you can spoil yourself with a private candle-lit dining experience, on the deck of your cave under the stars.

Antbear Lodge cave interior © Antbear Lodge

Antbear Lodge cave interior

 

 

Game Pass Shelter – Spectacular bushman rock art

Drakensberg Rock Art

Most of the paintings in Game Pass Shelter are complex polychrome images and the first rock art paintings you’ll see as you enter are imposing therianthropic figures (mythological creatures that are part human, part animal) clad in long black karosses. The most frequently depicted animal at Game Pass Shelter is the eland, the largest antelope in the Drakensberg. Apart from providing meat, fat and skins, eland had symbolic importance to the Bushman, who believed they had supernatural powers.

Archaeologists studying these paintings uncovered a vital key to understanding the symbolism of Bushman rock art (how hunters gained power from the animals they killed) so, in a sense, they “cracked the code” – hence, Game Pass Shelter is commonly referred to as the “Rosetta Stone of rock art”.

The trail to Game Pass Shelter is a two-and-a-half, to three hour guided walk, via the spiritually moving Waterfall Shelter. It is nothing short of a world-class experience in Khoisan rock art and living Zulu and San culture. You need to arrive at Kamberg Nature Reserve before 11:30 to be able to do this otherwise the guide will have gone home.

Our top top tip is to preceded by a spectacular DVD presentation at the state-of-the-art Interpretive Centre that caters for a maximum of ten people at a time. But you need to request the video presentation.

Contact: Hospitality Manager Mrs. Khanyi Zuma 082 765 3025, Mr. Rowan Mweli 073 641 2371, reception at Kamberg (Nellie) 033 267 7251, Raymond Mweli 071 451 9557

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