From deep caverns to mysterious hollows, these secret adventures are worth the trek.
Caves represent a journey into the unknown, a descent into a world of darkness where treasures and discoveries await. In bygone eras, they’ve served as smuggler’s dens, sheltered rest spots, or places of contemplation and solitude; and in stories, they’ve been the dens of terrifying beasts, and pathways to lost civilisations.
That’s probably why caves have always fascinated us… The Cape has no shortage of hideaway hollows, many of which provide a glimpse into the depths of our nation’s history. Adventure, inspiration and even the perfect Instagram pic; all can be found within these secret caves of the Cape.
1. Boomslang Cave, Kalk Bay
Found above Kalk Bay, Boomslang Cave is particularly good for less-experienced cave explorers and hikers. This easy-to-moderate two-hour hike offers the chance to test yourself with some novice caving, as it leads through the belly of the mountain for about a 100 metres, or so.
Why we love it For the amazing views – including of the colourful Kalk Bay harbour below – and the wonderful scenery and vegetation, such as the beautiful Echo Valley.
What lies within Many bats call this cave home – so please help protect these little guys by keeping the sound and disturbance level to a minimum. Near its entrance, you’ll find another smaller cave, White Dome Grotto; while inside, you will discover a labyrinth of tunnels.
Good to know Pack a flashlight or headlamp (and long pants too, if you don’t want to get wet or dirty) – or you won’t be able to venture beyond the cave mouth safely. If you’re claustrophobic, maybe give this a miss, as leopard crawling is necessary to reach the other side. It can get rather wet during the rainy months, so it’s a good one to save for spring or summer.
Getting there Climb up Boyes Drive until you reach a sign indicating Echo Valley and follow the trail until you reach the vast crack and Boomslang Cave entrance. Alternatively, you can hike up through Silvermine Nature Reserve, from Ou Kaapse Weg side.
2. Watchman’s Cave, Lion’s Head
This quaint little cave, above Lion’s Head’s busy main path, makes for the perfect picnic spot where you can watch the setting sun and the rising moon. It’s an easy cave to get to, and makes for stunning pictures of the path winding up Signal Hill towards Lion’s Head. So bring your friends, pack some snacks and trek away.
Why we love it The spectacular views of Signal Hill and the harbour are simply breathtaking from the cave. Take a moment to absorb the natural beauty and the summer sun.
What lies within Although the cave is small, it offers plenty of protection from the rain and wind, and there’s enough floor space for a small picnic.
Good to know Although Lion’s Head is renowned for being a full-moon viewing spot, it is still dangerous to climb the mountain in the dark. So bring flashlights and very sturdy shoes if you plan on staying late.
Getting there From Cape Town’s city centre, drive up Kloof Nek Road and at the intersection with the turnoff up Table Mountain’s Tafelberg Road, take a right turn onto the Signal Hill Road. Park anywhere along the road. Your path starts at the steep dirt track with a boom in front of it. Watchman’s cave is just above the main path going up Lion’s Head at the part that looks directly onto Signal Hill.
3. Klipgat Cave, Gansbaai
A mere three kilometres from the idyllic De Kelders fishing village is the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, home to Klipgat Cave and its limestone windows looking out onto stunning ocean views. The cave has reached cultural, historical and world heritage significance due to the 1992 excavation, which revealed stone tools and human bones dating back some 70 000 years.
Why we love it it is one of the best whale-watching spots in the Cape. What lies within Klipgat Cave has two chambers: the first has a rugged rocky surface and leads to the sea; the second is a small entry way that leads to the main cave excavation site and has a circular boardwalk going around the historical site. Good to know Bring good hiking shoes, as the cave can be slippery, and a warm jacket as it can get windy.
Getting there Head along the N2 towards Gansbaai. The 7km long trail towards Klipgat Cave starts at Gansbaai Harbour and boasts lovely views of the ocean and the occasional fynbos. But if you don’t feel like the walk, simply drive to Walker Bay Nature Reserve via Hermanus and take the boardwalk down to the cave. There will still be a bit of climbing as you get to the cave.
4. Waenhuiskrans Cave, Arniston
If you have pirate tendencies (and are seeking a place to bury treasure), this is the cave you’ve been looking for. It lies just off the sandy shoreline of Arniston, but explorers will need to wait for lowtide before making their way through the shallow water to the cave entrance (be careful as you navigate the slippery, seaweed-strewn rocks that lie beneath the water’s surface).
Why we love it The peaceful fishing village of Arniston has many attractions; turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, and a shipwreck-strewn coastline rich in history and heritage. But this hidden gem is its pride and joy. Light pours in through the entrance, making for a striking contrast between the dark interior and the vibrant ocean beyond. After you’ve taken a moment to marvel at nature’s craftsmanship (the cave was fashioned over the course of centuries by the movement of the tides), you can explore the many rockpools that lie scattered throughout.
What lies within All manner of sea dwellers have been carried in on the tides, and many of them have taken up residence within the cave rather than return to the open ocean. There’s a variety of rock-dwelling marine life, and one explorer even found an octopus.
Fun fact Waenhuiskrans means wagon house cliff, and arises from an old legend that the cave is big enough for an ox wagon to do a full turn inside.
Good to know The cave can only be accessed during lowtide. Do not even attempt the hike at any other time. It’s best if you don’t carry much with you, and you should bring shoes that are appropriate for traversing a slippery rock bed.
Getting there As you enter Arniston, there’ll be a signpost pointing the way to the cave. Follow the road to a beach-side parking lot, where you can leave your car. Follow the CapeNature signposts to Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve, until you see a set of stone stairs leading down into the water. You can reach the smaller section of the cave from here, but once inside, you’ll need to crawl through a small opening at the back to access the larger cave.
5. Woodstock Cave
Easily discernible from De Waal Drive, this cave is impressive in its size, and forms a long horizontal crack in the Devil’s Peak mountainside. Access it via Tafelberg Road or Rhodes Memorial; both are moderate hikes and take roughly an hour (one-way).
Why we love it It is one of the largest caves in Table Mountain – 50 metres wide, and going 15 metres deep. It allows for some fun cave exploration and, indeed, startlingly beautiful scenery and lovely flower-spotting on the way up.
What lies within Woodstock Cave bears graffiti, and during winter, a waterfall cascades from its upper lip. Sometimes, apparently, it is used for religious gatherings…
Good to know For safety, it’s best to hike here in a group (and leave valuables at home). Also, as you tread through the Cape terrain, be wary of snakes during the hotter months, and lace up with good hiking shoes.
Getting there If you choose Tafelberg Road, head past Table Mountain’s lower cable station until you reach a dirt road and a metal, pillared gate. From here, the hike zigzags up the slope.
Otherwise, start at Rhodes Memorial parking lot and follow the path towards Kings Blockhouse. From there, continue along the path around the mountain towards Cape Town, until you pass a ravine and eventually reach the cave.
6. Peers Cave, Fish Hoek
Above the Fish Hoek dunes you’ll find a great overhang of incredible rock faces, which forms part of Peers Cave. The hike up is easy (and roughly 20 minutes), but as you reach the top it becomes more rocky and the path less defined. Once inside, hikers are protected from the northeasterly winds, so pack a picnic and enjoy the stunning view of Noordhoek and beyond, towards the dazzling sea.
Why we love it For its fascinating history: it was named after Victor Peers who, with his son, excavated the cave in 1927 and found a roughly 13 000-year-old human skull. What lies within You might be able to find remnants of sea shells, as during excavations, shells were found deep in the cave that are usually only found 5km into the ocean.
Good to know There have been reports of crimes and muggings at the marked parking spot. Rather park by the retirement home down the road, and pay the security guard to look after your car. Go in large groups to avoid being targeted.
Getting there Drive towards Noordhoek over Ou Kaapse Weg (M64) from Cape Town. At Silvermine Road take a left towards the retirement homes and park there. Head back along Silvermine Road towards the marked parking spot, where you will find the start of the trail.
7. Stadsaal Caves, Cederberg
The Cederberg Wilderness is like something out of a dream world; a vast and haunting landscape, dotted with ancient rock formations that have borne silent witness to the movement of time. Stadsaal Caves, a series of caverns carved into the rock by thousands of years worth of wind erosion, was once a sacred landmark for the Bushmen who wandered these lands. It is also rumoured to have been a meeting ground for the leaders of the National Party, just before they came to power in the 1948 election. The latter is an unfortunate association, but the cave was here thousands of years before DF Malan and his crew tainted it, and it will be here for thousands of years more…
Why we love it These caves, together with other nearby landmarks such as the Wolfberg Arch and the Maltese Cross, may seem like the ruins of an ancient city built by giants. But they were forged entirely by nature. Standing within the caverns, you feel part of something sacred, and it’s no wonder the San people saw fit to leave their own legacy here in the form of decorative rock art.
What lies within Rock paintings believed to date back 1 000 years, depicting the elephants that once roamed the Cederberg. The paintings are well-preserved, thanks to the longevity of materials made from ochre rock, which the Bushman used to paint.
Good to know The Cederberg Wilderness is a CapeNature reserve, so you’ll need a permit to enter. They can be purchased at Driehoek Farm, en route to the Cederberg, or from CapeNature (021 483 0190). Permits cost R60 (adults) and R35 (children).
Getting there Follow the N7 to Citrusdal. Continue following it north from Citrusdal, and take the Algeria turnoff to the right, onto a dirt road. Continue on to the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, where the caves are located around 5km from the Algeria camp site. There is a gate barring the entrance to the caves, which can be unlocked with the combination attached to your CapeNature permit.
8. Tartarus Cave, Muizenberg
Feel like reliving your childhood, with a jump down the rabbit hole? That is what exploring Tartarus Cave feels like, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. Down a small hole in the ground lies roughly 50 metres of chambers, set into Silvermine mountain’s side. It’s an easy walk to the cave on a steep incline, so it is best enjoyed from September to December when it is mostly shaded and the flora and fauna are on full display to tantalise the eyes.
Why we love it The trail to the cave is surrounded by gorgeous vegetation, and in whale season, the gentle giants can be spotted frolicking in the bay below.
What lies within a narrow underground passage, which leads to a large slippery-edged pit. Be careful, this is where the cave becomes dangerous.
Good to know It is advised to go in groups and not to venture too deep into Tartarus Cave, unless you are with someone who knows the cave well. Bring a flashlight or dare to find your courage in this unlikely place.
Getting there From Muizenberg, drive towards 110 Boyes Drive and park your car at the Bailey’s Kloof sign (it’s opposite the shark watcher’s post). There you will find a footpath, follow the jeep track passed the “Amphitheatre” stone beacon for about 30 minutes until you see a 1.5-metre hole in the ground. That is the start of Tartarus Cave.
9. Elands Bay Cave, Elands Bay
Found in the surfer’s paradise, Elands Bay, Baboon Point (Bobbejaanberg) is a popular local attraction – and with it, Elands Bay Cave. Declared a provincial heritage site in 2009, it is the only area along the entire West Coast to offer such a significant concentration of heritage resources, while Elands Bay Cave offers amazing Bushman rock art and similarly stunning scenic views.
Why we love it For the magnificent views. The promontory is also the only place between the Cape Peninsula and Orange River where the mountain comes down to meet the sea in such an impactful way.
What lies within Beautiful rock paintings done by the Bushmen thousands of years ago. You will discover a multitude of tiny hand prints and a few human figures, too.
Good to know Keep an eye out for snakes during the warmer months.
Getting there Drive past the crayfish factory and head around the point until you pass three dilapidated former WWII buildings and a gravel road. Drive as far as you can and then walk the rest of the way to the cave.
10. The Look-out Cave, Chapman’s Peak Drive
You may have driven Chapman’s Peak Drive many times without ever knowing about this secret spot, though it lies just beneath one of the Cape’s major tourist attractions. The mountain pass is renowned for its coastal views, and a visit to the designated lookout point is a must on most visitors’ to-do lists, but only those willing to venture off the beaten track will find the best lookout point of all: an opening in the mountainside where you can enjoy the ocean views from a point of solitude.
Why we love it Gazing out over the vast expanse of ocean from the side of a road is all well and good, but doing so from the side of a cliff is even better. From this vantage point, it almost feels like you could climb down and go for a swim (though attempting to do so is obviously not recommended).
What lies within There’s enough space to enjoy a picnic with one hell of a view, especially if you’re lucky enough to be here at sunset.
Good to know From 1 February to 31 March 2017, Chapman’s Peak Drive is closed every Wednesday between 9.30am and 3.30pm for alien-vegetation clearing.
Chapmans Peak Drive is a toll road, with a R42 tariff for light motor vehicles (regular users and wild card holders will receive discounts). However, you can get a free day pass to visit the lookout point. Get more information on tariffs and potential road closures here.
Getting there Head for the Chapman’s Peak lookout point, where you’ll need to climb over the railing and make your way (carefully) down the mountainside in order to find the cave.
11. Wally’s Cave, Lion’s Head
You may think the name is derived from the Where’s Wally children’s books, but this popular Lion’s Head hideout is actually named for Wally Struthers, the master scout who lived to be 104 years old (he attributed his good health to regular exercise). He had a passion for the Cape mountains, and dedicated himself to building water pools and sheltered rest spots in caves such as this one.
Why we love it Lion’s Head is Cape Town’s go-to hiking trail, but this cave proves that even the most trafficked trails will reward those willing to venture off the beaten track. It helps that Wally’s Cave, which lies on the Camps Bay/Table Mountain side of the mountain, provides views that rival even those found on the summit.
What lies within A photo opportunity made for postcards. In fact, Wally’s Cave has been nicknamed the “InstaCave”, due to the amount of visitors who have snapped photos of themselves performing Karate Kid poses against the backdrop of Table Mountain.
Good to know Though the cave is not difficult to access in dry conditions, attempting to do so during misty or wet weather is not advised.
Getting there Follow the Lion’s Head hiking trail until you reach the first set of metal ladders. Instead of climbing them, cross the small wire fence, and follow the old hiking trail past a broken wooden bench and a few smaller caves. Keep as close to the rock face as possible (the terrain becomes a bit rougher here) until you reach a rocky ledge. Turn the corner and you should see Wally’s Cave above you (you’ll need to do a little bit of scrambling to reach it).