Drakensberg Cave Etiquette

There are literally scores of overnight caves to choose from in the Drakensberg, and they vary in size and views. To reach any of the caves requires a hike, and don’t expect any housekeeping services. This is a wilderness experience that should be on your bucket list.

Ok, so just how do you handle the booking of Drakensberg caves?

  • Camping in some of these caves is prohibited because of environmental impact damage, the presence of Bushman paintings in or near the caves, or the proximity of the caves to other large public campsites. The general rule is that no overnight camping is permitted in caves containing Bushman paintings. In most other cases it is quite permissible to stay overnight in an unlisted cave, provided the maximum of 12 people is never exceeded.
  • The making of fires is prohibited, and this applies to campfires in caves as well.
  • In the lower berg you must book your cave/s in advance of your hike, and make every effort to stick to your planned route.
  • Under no circumstances except in dire emergencies should you ever stay overnight in a cave you have not booked when the cave has already been booked by another group.  In such an emergency (e.g. extremely bad weather, flooded rivers or illness), if the rightful occupants are already there when you arrive and assuming there is still sufficient space for your group, it is polite to ask their permission to share their cave and to accept “no” as an answer if they don’t want to.  If they say “yes”, you should observe their lights out time and show due consideration for them. If you arrive first knowing that the other group booked the cave and you did not, wait for them to arrive before settling in, but better still, move on to alternative accommodation.
  • It does happen occasionally that mistakes are made at the booking office and two groups are unintentionally forced to share a cave – if there is space. If both parties are adamant that they booked the cave, hopefully some amicable arrangement can be agreed to, otherwise the first to arrive and settle in should probably have the right to stay. You should report any double-booking incidents to the office where you booked the cave on your return. This will also allow you to establish for certain that it was a double booking and not that the other party was just trying their luck without having planned ahead properly. If the latter is the case then they need to be made aware of the procedure and etiquette involved in using caves, otherwise they should rather stay out of the mountains than put other groups at risk.
  • Although it is theoretically possible to book escarpment caves, in practice the more remote caves work on a first-come, first-served basis due to their low usage and the fact that the occupants may have started their hike in a different section of the berg. Basotho shepherds occasionally use escarpment caves as well; they have no notion of any “booking” system and would not have access to it anyway.
  • If you are trying to make for a cave you have never seen before, or if the weather report indicates that the weather may turn foul, it is always best to take sufficient tentage with you so that you can function independently of caves if necessary.
  • Few things are more disgusting than arriving at a cave to find it littered with rubbish and the area surrounding it littered with human waste and toilet paper.  People who do these things should not be hiking at all.  Bury all human waste and toilet paper properly, in the open where the rain can assist with decomposition, and put a rock on top of the place where you squatted to reduce erosion and prevent animals from digging up the spot.  All rubbish must be brought back down with you – do not bury anything except the most highly bio-degradable waste such as apple cores and left-over dinner scraps.
  • Avoid wetting areas of the cave which might be used by other hikers the night after your departure, and don’t spoil the cave for other hikers by leaving spilt food around in the hope that birds and other animals will clean it up for you.  Most animals avoid the cold winter weather by migrating or hibernating anyway.  Work on the assumption that the cave will be occupied by another group immediately after your departure and leave it how you would hope to find it yourself.

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