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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Further hiking and accommodation information is available from Drakensberg Hikes, a comprehensive resource guide to all the caves in the Drakensberg.
If you’re not the kind that can get comfy on a camping mattress, but still want to experience sleeping in a cave, 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.
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.