Sudwala Caves


Useful Information

Location: 37km from Nelspruit, Mpumulanga, South Africa. From N4, the main road which leads from Johannesburg to Nelspruit, follow R539 Sabie Road 5min.
(-25.369751, 30.699471)
Open: All year daily 8:30-16:30.
Maximum waiting time 15min.
Crystal Tour: first Sat of month 9:30.
[2014]
Fee: Adults ZAR 100, Children (5-15) ZAR 60, Children (0-4) free, Seniors (60+) ZAR 80.
Fish Spa ZAR 65, Butterfly Park free.
Crystal Tour: Per Person ZAR 400, booking required.
[2020]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: electric.
Dimension: T=17°C. Biggest room: P.R. Owen Hall W=70m, H=37m.
Guided tours: Cave Tour: L=1,200m, D=60min.
The Crystal Tour: D=300min, L=2000m.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Sudwala Caves, PO Box 48, Schagen 1207, Tel: +27-83-446-0228, Tel: +27-72-497-8268. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

early 1800's the king of the Swazis, Sobhuza, found shelter in the caves while hiding from the militant Ndwandwe Zulu tribe.
late 1800's Rider Haggard visited Sudwala Caves.
1899-1902 during the Anglo-Boer War the Boers stored ammunition for the heavy 94-pounder Long Tom guns in Sudwala Caves.
1914 a company was formed to excavate huge amounts of bat guano as fertilizer.
1965 Philippus Rudolf Owen bought the farm, built a road to the cave and developed it.
1966 opened to the public.
1967 electric light installed.
1970 Ivan Rebroff tested the accoustics of P.R. Owen Hall being "...at least equal if not superior to those of any concert hall or opera house in Europe".
1999 cave is for sale.

Description

Sudwala Caves are not the most visited caves of South Africa, nevertheless they are the most extraordinary caves in the country. "They are located in extremely old Precambrian dolomite, are one of the oldest caves on Earth and have the biggest chamber known in dolomite rocks." And we would like to add, this is the cave with the biggest amount of nonsense is told about on the internet and elsewhere. Even the Wikipedia page repeats the nonsense in modified form. We will do our best to correct at least the sheer nonsense.

The area of Mpumalanga where the caves are located is covered by granites and gneisses, crystalline rock formed during the Archaean (4-2.5Ga). And then there are some patches of dolomite, which are still old, but not older than about 2.5Ga years, because this is the begin of the Proterozoic, where the first multi-celled organisms lived. Limestone and dolomite are biogene rocks, the components are eroded from crystalline rocks and recombined by marine life which uses the calcite for their skeletons. As a result there is no dolomite older than life on earth, and there are definitely no dolomites 3.8Ga old. Although there are very few rocks on earth which are that old, South Africa is famous for having the oldest rocks which are found in great amounts. The dolomites of the Transvaal Supergroup are in the Malmani Subgroup and are of Early Proterozoic age, which is between 2.5 and 2 Billion years old.

The limestone contains fossils called stromatolites, which are round and layered cylinders formed by limestone depostited layer by layer on the top. Responsible for the limestone are cyano bacteria, also called collenia or blue-green algae, some of the oldest life forms on earth. The stromatolitic limestones of the Schmidtsdrif Formation (Transvaal Dolomite) have been dated lately to be 2.5Ga old.

The caves are one of the oldest cave systems on earth, but definitely not the oldest. The caves were formed during the Permian, about 240 Ma ago, some formations in the cave have been dated to be 200 Ma old. At the moment the oldest valid date for a cave is from Jenolan Caves in Australia, where a cave sediment has been dated to be about twice as old.

But we believe Sudwala Cave contains the largest dolomite chamber in the world. Unfortunately there is no official list of cave chambers in dolomite. P.R. Owen Hall, named after Philippus Rudolf Owen, the former owner of the cave, is about 70m in diameter and 37m in height. The largest chamber in limestone, Sarawak Chamber in Borneo, is 641m long and 429m wide. But on the other hand dolomite is less soluble and dolomite caves are generally much smaller than limestone caves. We find it plausible that this superlative is true. However, the hall is definitely impressive independent of the statistic facts. Because of its extraordinary good accoustics it is used for occasional concerts. Ivan Rebroff, the German tenor, tested the acoustics being "...at least equal if not superior to those of any concert hall or opera house in Europe".

The tourist route through the cave is about 600m long, but as it is a dead end, the visitor has to walk back the same path. The cave entrance is located on the hillside, with a nice view, and the cave is going into the hill horizontally. So it is strange to speak of deepness, but the passages are covered by up to 120m of rocks.

There is also a monthly cave trekking tour which takes five hours and ends at the crystal chamber containing aragonite crystals. This tour is called Crystal Tour. Participants have to crawl and there are some wet passages, but the difficulty is called moderate as no vertical parts exist. Bring appropriate clothes, good shoes, towel and dry clothes to change afterwards.

There is a legend how the cave was discovered in the early 19th century.

The cave was discovered by Somquba, son of Swazi King Sobhuza I. The king had a dispute with his brother Mswati which involved substantial numbers of royal cattle. In fear they built a village next to the cave entrance hid in the cave every time Mswati and his punitive parties arrived. Mswati tried in vain to smoke them out by making huge fires in the entrance. But one day he struck unexpectedly and killed Sobhuza. The remains of Sobhuza's tribe had a new headman or Induna named Sudwala, hence the name of the cave.

During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) the Boers stored ammunition for the heavy 94-pounder Long Tom guns in Sudwala Caves. At the end of the war President Paul Kruger hid a gold treasure which consisted of thousands of gold coins and is now worth USD 500 million. Rumours said that he had hidden it in the Sudwala Caves, and since that time soldiers of fortune have been searching for the treasure. So far it has not been found.

The huge main chamber was used for concerts since the 1970s. It seated 500 people and has a great acoustics. Even the temperature is acceptable. But after a nasty case of vandalism during an event they were discontinued.