The rolling South African sandstone cliffs of the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho, where you can embrace Mother Earth in all of her fresh and dewy glory, are eternally appealing to hikers and avid nature lovers. 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 Park World Heritage site, one of the largest and most commercially inaccessible conservation areas in South Africa. It’s brimming with gorges, cliffs that rise towards the heavens, beautiful valleys and, of course, numerous sandstone caves. Wildlife in the area includes rhinos, wildebeests and various grazers, while the impressive list of plants features many rare and endemic species.
There are 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 farther off the beaten track. To reach any of the caves requires a hike, and don’t expect any housekeeping services. However, come with all the necessary camping gear you’ll need for your stay, as well as enough food and water.
It’s also a good idea to familiarise 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 must remove all of their litter, except that which is biodegradable and can be buried. You should also bury any human waste (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 tiny creatures living in their crevices.
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 and leads across the river and up the steep slopes towards a peak of the same name. You’ll pass a wooded gorge with a natural pool and it’ll take about two hours to reach 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. While the roof is low – be prepared to stoop – the views of the surrounding mountain scenery are spectacular.
The path at Cathedral Peak Hotel will lead you to Sherman’s Cave | Courtesy of Cathedral Peak Hotel / Expedia
Further hiking and accommodation information is available from Drakensberg Hikes, a comprehensive resource guide to all the caves in the Drakensberg.
If you can’t get comfy on a camping mattress but still want to experience sleeping in a cave, consider Antbear Lodge, with a gorgeous accommodation unit built under a rock. Glass doors open onto a wooden deck with hammock chairs, where you can take in a spectacular view of the Drakensberg mountains. Inside, the cave is cosy and decadent, with a spa bath, a fireplace and rock art painted on its walls.
The lodge supports sustainable and responsible tourism. Its made-from-scratch meals feature organic ingredients, and the artistic and inspiring furnishings were all handmade on-site. It’s the ultimate in luxury caveman living, where you can spoil yourself with a private candlelit dining experience on the deck of your cave under the stars.