Fancy sleeping in a cave? We tend to make spontaneous decisions on a whim and usually land up doing the most epic things in places that some people have never even heard of and this was the case with our recent trip to Pillar Cave, in the Southern Drakensberg. A casual dinner with friends and the suggestion of sleeping in a cave overnight, caught our attention and we were eagerly the first with our hands up at this opportunity!
We love ‘roughing it’ and this seemed ideal as we were going to experience what life as a caveman must have been like, so we packed our hiking bags to the hilt with enough food for a single lunch, dinner, breakfast and one snack which was more than enough. We each had 3 liters of water with us and the absolutely necessary luxury items such as a bottle of Old Brown Sherry, coffee, gas and toothpaste among other things. We left Mtunzini in Northern KZN on Friday afternoon and stayed overnight at a friend of a friend’s home in Underberg before heading off the next morning to the start of the trail about 50km out of town at the Drakensberg Gardens Hotel.
Bookings are essential through the KZN Wildlife Office and on arrival at Garden Castle Nature Reserve you will have to fill out the mountain register before hiking. You leave your car at the hikers car park and start through a small section of bluegum forest and head off following the signs to Pillar Cave and Mashai Pass. It is a very picturesque and fairly easy walk with many icy cold mountain pools for drinking and swimming along the way and stretches over roughly 3km with a 200m elevation to get to the cave. We were 5 families in total of which 4 had kids ranging from 5 – 15 years old. The younger kids got tired at around the 2km mark and handed over their backpacks to their parents making the walk a little slower but worthwhile for taking photos along the way. There were sure signs of eland, owls and a few baboons but no sightings of them although we did spot two pairs of black eagles soaring way up high along the tops of the mountains which was really beautiful.
We were lucky enough to get all the seasons in one day whilst visiting the cave. Our hike in gave us the most beautiful summers day allowing us the pleasure of splashing about in the cold streams and showing the kids what it was like to drink real mountain water. As soon as we arrived at the cave, the heavens opened up and we experienced the splendor of watching a big highveld storm until late into the night, and afterwards when the wind picked up and blew the clouds away it revealed a sky of unimaginable stars for us. It did get quite chilly during the night and with the wind having picked up I was glad to have brought along my thermals and a beanie to wear. A word of advice is to also bring along a small ground sheet to protect against the damp floor as well as a lightweight roll up mattress to cushion your hips on the hard floor.
The smell of steaming coffee, bacon and eggs wafted through the cave as the early risers began the day and we woke to the sight of the sun soaking the mountain peaks in a golden, pink light as it poured into the valley in front of us.
All in all it was a magical experience and certainly one that makes kids have those childhood memories to last them a lifetime and one that I most definitely will never forget!
All about the cave:
The cave itself is big and spacious with a central pillar providing some protection from the elements and there is sufficient space to lay out your sleeping bag in a position to catch a glimpse of one of the best ‘hotel room’ views you will ever see as Rhino Peak and Mashai Pass completely surround you and tower high into the clouds as if you are sitting inside a painting.
On the downside, in summer, sections of the the floor get a little muddy and damp from the rain leaking through the rock crevices in certain places and you may get day-trippers who come to see the cave. It is a big open area so don’t expect much privacy if you are with a big group and you’ll need to learn to be okay with going to the loo behind a rock or bush. In the winter months you may have to take the short walk down to the river below to get water if you need but in summer there are sufficient drips along the edge of the cave’s roof where you can fill up your kettle for a nice hot cuppa coffee! Campers are asked to use small gas cookers as opposed to lighting fires as well as being conscientious about littering and where they use the loo as you may leave your footprints but nothing else, so that others can have a real wilderness experience too.