Sudwala Caves & Kaapschehoop
The Sudwala Caves, situated 35km outside Nelspruit/Mbombela, is a popular tourist attraction in the earth’s oldest known cave system. Dating back over 3000 million years, the Sudwala Caves was formed by natural acid in groundwater, seeping through faults in the dolomite rock and dissolving over time to create massive chambers and narrow passages.
While only opened to the public in the 1960s the caves offered shelter to Homo Habalis, an early ancestor of modern humans. In the mid-1800s the caves played a role in sheltering Somquba (brother to Swazi King Mswati II) and his followers during the struggle for power of the Swazi Kingdom. The caves were named after Sudwala, one of Somquba’s indunas and the appointed guardian of the caves.
More recently, during the second South African War (1899 – 1902), the Boer army stored ammunition, including shells for the “Long Tom Cannon”, in the caves. It has also long been believed that the mystical missing Kruger millions were hidden in the caves.
Exploring the caves on the one-hour cave tour is relatively easy, with no special skills or extreme fitness required. You will venture about 600m into the central chamber, 75m in diameter and 35m high, as large as a 500 seater concert hall, a purpose for which it is occasionally used. The chamber is naturally ventilated with its temperature a constant 17°C from an unknown source. The caves are open daily from 08h30 to 16h30.
For the more adventurous there is the four-hour Crystal Tour taking you 2000m into the cave system, to the crystal chamber with its amazing array of sparkling aragonite crystals. The tour is suitable for those of above average fitness who do not suffer from claustrophobia. Prepare to get wet and crawl through narrow spaces. The Crystal Tour usually only takes place on the first Saturday of each month. Children under 14 years are not permitted, neither are people weighing more than 115kg. Pre-booking is essential for the Crystal Tour.
Nearby, a Dinosaur Park displays life-size models of pre-historic animals, ranging from amphibious reptiles, dinosaurs, pre-historic mammals, pre-historic man and more, while a recently opened Butterfly Park includes an extensive butterfly collection, a butterfly dome as well as an attractive labyrinth.
A historical mining town with its history deeply rooted in the first discovery of gold in South Africa in the late 1800s, is well-known for its breath-taking beauty, free-roaming feral horses and rock fields. It is a charming village, situated a mere 30km from Nelspruit/Mbombela, and lies at an altitude of 1712 meters.
It is a popular tourist village and a haven of peace and tranquillity. With its often misty mountains and high rainfall, Kaapschehoop offers a cosy ambience and is a nature lover's dream destination.
Herds of feral horses graze peacefully amongst the spectacular rock fields around the town. Birding in the area is exceptional (sadly the endangered Blue Swallow was last recorded in the area in 2007). Wildlife such as baboon and small antelope may be seen in the grasslands.
The village is rich in history and local art and offers various leisure activities, such as horse riding, “Scootours”, hiking and browsing in the quirky shops. Numerous restaurants and quaint accommodation establishments make Kaapschehoop an ideal stop-over.
Nelspruit - Sudwala :
- Take N4 West towards Pretoria for 26km.
- Right onto R539 Sabie / Rosehaugh and continue for 6km to Sudwala Caves
Sudwala - Kaapschehoop
- Return to N4 via R539
- Right onto N4 West for 20km to Ngodwana Paper Mill (Do not turn onto N4 Schoemanskloof Route)
- Left onto Kaapschehoop Road via the spectacular Kaapschehoop Pass for 14km to Kaapschehoop Village
Kaapschehoop - Nelspruit
- On leaving village turn right onto Kaapschehoop Road, continue for 29km to Nelspruit
Parts of the Kaapschehoop Pass are frequently shrouded in cloud and mist, which can be dangerous for motorists. Drive slowly and be aware of horses on the road.