Adventure on the South Coast
Durban - As the temperature soared to more than 35ºC and a hot wind blew, we made our way along the rural road to KwaXolo Caves, the new adventure trail on the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) South Coast.
It’s one of many tourist ventures coming to life after lockdown.
With our trail set to start at 10am on Sunday, we left Durban early to travel about 180km to the site.
At the Southbroom traffic lights, we turned left and passed through a lush banana plantation, the odd goat that had wandered too far and a couple of partygoers making their way slowly home after a long Saturday night at the local tavern.
When we spotted the sign to the Khanyisizwe Clinic, we turned left on to a dirt road (as Google maps had long given up on the rural ramifications of unnamed roads) and about 5km later, we headed through the entrance to the caves.
Welcomed by tour operators Shaun Makhanya and Makhosi Mashala, our party of adventurers had to sanitise before being harnessed and clipped into safety gear.
We had another couple in our group and we all had our temperatures taken and were properly masked up. We did remove our masks when climbing, largely because it was so hot, and we were also nowhere near each other – you have to give space to the climber in front of you.
The other two groups on the trail were each made up of about six people.
Described as a new adventure trail, it is a guided hike down a steep cliff, which was previously only accessible to experienced climbers. It will appeal to those who have thought about extreme sports, but have never quite got there, beginner hikers and explorers and anyone else who feels like a fun day out.
The hike is about 350m, made up of a wire rope system, with rung ladder sections, so you have to be willing to do some climbing.
Before we swung off the top, Makhosi gave us some fascinating insight into local indigenous herbs and plants associated with the caves in the area.
These included umsenge, a herb used for cleansing; ilabatheka, an African potato used to cleanse away bad luck; izinjomi, a herb that can be eaten when one is hungry, and amafutha omhlaba, an oil used to prevent bad spirits.
At that point we were introduced to our guide for the day, Mthobisi Ntozakhe, whose cheerfulness washed away any thoughts of possible bad luck on the mountain.
As we made our way down the first section, Mthobisi pointed out the neighbouring rock face where a large resident python could sometimes be spotted sunning itself on the rocks.
Being a very hot day, it had clearly decided to stay in its cool cave. Fortunately the python’s favourite ledge was far enough away for our group of climbers to make jokes about it.
As we mastered the clips and ropes, we came to the first rung ladder and Mthobisi was all patience as we made our way down and on to the first shaded platform for a water break.
Far below, we could see glints of a river and he explained that by
December, the massive barren rock face next to us would be transformed into a rushing waterfall once the rains came.
We continued our climb down until we got to the main cave, which has a 60m-long overhang, also known as Estombeni cave.
Mthobisi explained that the area was steeped in history and folklore dating back to the early Zulu period. But the rock paintings on the walls of the cave indicate an earlier, prehistoric period when the San lived in the caves, which dates back over 1 000 years.
The KwaXolo Caves are the only open rock art site in the eastern seaboard coastal area and so have special status.
As we sat in the shade of the overhang, surrounded by the ancient paintings, the view was breathtaking.
The San clearly had the right idea. Ruffled only by the hot wind, the silence soothes any battered psyche, especially those who have just gone through long months of lockdown.
On the climb back up, we met two parties who were on their way down, so we took time out to sit in the shaded platforms to take in the view, sip water and chat hakuna matata style, as South Africans so love to do. There was plenty of space for social distancing.
Once back at the top, there are picnic sites, also well away from each other, and visitors are welcome to bring a basket, unpack loads of goodies and enjoy the surrounds.
We said our farewells and as we headed back on to the dusty road, my legs were weary but it felt good to have rested the soul.
The activity is open to hikers aged 8 years and older, and will take between one and one-and-a-half hours to complete. The cost is R150 a person.
For more information go to KwaXolo Caves Adventures on Facebook, or contact Shaun Makhanya 074 887 3742.
The Independent on Saturday