Caving in Cape Town
What you need to know

Emerging from a cave - Kalk Bay

Emerging from a cave - Kalk Bay Mountain © Peter Swart

Caving in Cape Town is fun - Why not try it?

A squeeze in The Narrows Kalk Bay

The Narrows © Peter Swart
Caving in Cape Town
Caving is often described as an adventure sport. Indeed many of the caves in the Western Cape provide the eager explorer with obstacles such as sheer drops requiring ladder or rope techniques, and/or awkward squeezes where a reasonable level of fitness, agility and determination would be to your advantage. On the other hand, you'll find that there are plenty of caves which are relatively easy to negotiate, at the worst requiring a hands and knees crawl on soft sand.

Of course once you've entered the cave, you're usually feeling your way along in absolute darkness, totally reliant on your helmet light or torch - and if necessary, your fellow cavers.

Caving is a team activity. You support and help each other through awkward sections of the cave, or assist with ropes and anchors when required, often in a light hearted manner, and this rapport with your fellow cavers makes your underground experience somewhat special.

Caving in Cape Town
The article below provides the background and introduction you need to begin your exploration of the sandstone cave systems on Kalk Bay and Table Mountain Cape Town.

Remember that many caves are dangerous to negotiate and your safety always comes first. This means that you never cave alone, or attempt to explore a cave system of which you have no prior knowledge, and/or for which you are inadequately equipped.

The Cape Peninsula Spelaeological Society CPSS is an enthusiastic Cape Town caving club whose members are actively involved in the exploration, conservation, recording and researching of the various sandstone and limestone cave systems, as well as their flora and fauna, in the Western Cape and beyond. The club holds regular monthly caving meets and socials and welcomes enquiries from interested persons who would like to enjoy safe, fun caving under experienced supervision.

View/Download a caving club introduction brochure: CPSS Information

Having fun and admiring formations - Efflux Oudtshoorn

Having fun and admiring formations - Efflux Oudtshoorn

Caving in the Cape
The following - written by Fiona McIntosh, is from her article on caves and caving in the Cape Peninsula South Africa.

"The caves of the Cape Peninsula have been explored for recreation since the late 1800s. JCW Moore, a prominent member of the MCSA, reports having been taken to Muizenberg Cave by his father around 1890.

From the 1920s to 1950s, Johan Meyer, a retired school teacher, explored and named most of the 80-odd caves above Kalk Bay and Muizenberg along with his group, affectionately known as the Moles. His classical training led to cave names such as Taphos, Tartarus, Avernus and Adullam, while his more descriptive side led to names like Crystal Water Cave, Drip Drop Cave and Musical Drops Cave. These caves range in length from no more than a few metres long, to almost 800m (2 625ft) of underground passage.

Caving in Cape Town
In the 1950s, a group of cavers got together to form the South African Spelaeological Association (SASA). Early members included the well-known local author Jose Burman. This group concentrated on exploring the deep, vertical caves on the back table of Table Mountain. (See The Table Mountain Book by Jose Burman, published by Human & Rousseau, now out of print), for an excellent description of these early explorations. The Cape Peninsula Spelaeological Society CPSS is a Cape Town affiliate of SASA.

Stephan emerging from The Narrows Kalk Bay

The Narrows © Peter Swart
Cave formation
There are over a hundred caves recorded on the Cape Peninsula. These range from small overhangs, like Peers Cave and Woodstock Cave, to deep cracks on Table Mountain, some of which have more than 1km (0.62 miles) of underground passage. Many of the caves occur at current and previous sea levels and were formed by wave action that widened weaknesses in the quartzitic sandstone and granite base rock of the Peninsula. Higher up in the mountains, all the caves occur in Table Mountain sandstone.

Most of the caves formed below the water table, where water chemically weakened the structure of the sandstone and streams bore the loosened grains of sand away. Many of the caves on Constantiaberg and in the Kalk Bay and Muizenberg mountains were formed in this way. The large caves found on Table Mountain developed through mechanical rather than chemical processes. Geological movements shifted parts of the back table of the mountain so that cracks eventually appeared.

Some of these cracks are open to the surface, whilst others are deeper down and therefore not visible. Wynberg Cave, Bat’s Cave, Smuggler’s Cave and the Giant’s Workshop are some of the caves formed by this geological process. Although water has enlarged many of them over time, they were primarily formed by movements of the rock near the surface of the mountain.

Safe caving
Before you go. Caves can be dangerous. It is essential that anyone wishing to explore them should accompany experienced cavers. Contact the CPSS, whose members are familiar with these caves and have appropriate clothing and equipment for exploring them.

Ladder descent in Oread Halls Kalk Bay

Ladder descent - Kalk Bay
Caving in Cape Town
Ensure that you tell someone responsible exactly where you are going, what you will be doing, and, most importantly, when you will be back.

What to take
Protective clothing, such as overalls. Jeans and a jersey will do for short caving trips but will be uncomfortable in narrow caves where crawling may be necessary. Light! Each person on the trip should carry at least two torches, so that if one breaks there will always be a spare. Carry spare batteries and have at least one headlamp-type torch to allow for the free use of your hands. Extra energy food. A small medical kit. Cellphone.

When you are caving always watch the time. Ensure that you do not exceed your capabilities.

If one of your torches breaks, leave the cave as soon as possible. Never leave used batteries in a cave. The chemicals that leak from the batteries could cause serious damage to the environment.

No commercial caving is allowed within the parameters of the Table Mountain National Park. Cavers should adhere to the general rules of access to, and use of, both private and public land. In particular, they should seek permission from private landowners. No littering, graffiti or other defacing of the caves is allowed.

There should be no disturbing of wildlife within the mountain’s caves. Importantly, if bats are disturbed while they are hibernating they may die due to the unexpected, excessive expenditure of energy that occurs as a result." © Fiona Mcintosh

Greg in Efflux Oudtshoorn

Greg negotiating Eternal Crawl - Efflux Oudtshoorn

Recommended reading:
'The Table Mountain Book' by Jose Burman.
'An Essential Guide to Caving' by Peter Swart. Darklife

Postal details: The Cape Peninsula Spelaeological Society (CPSS)
PO Box 4812 Cape Town 8000 South Africa

More about CPSS caving club here

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