The following answers to frequently asked adventure caving questions are provided with a little extra spice: use in moderation
Let’s put it this way: going deep-deep underground, clambering over boulders, squeezing through narrow gaps, skirting unprotected 20m drop-off’s, crawling cross slippery surfaces, avoiding loose rocks and relying on others for foot and hand-ups is not your everyday walk in the park. Caves are inherently dangerous places and also why this is called “Adventure” Caving, proper Adventure with a capital A!
However, the way that we run trips helps to mitigate against the risks and “thunk” (we just touched wood) we haven’t had any major
(or even minor) injuries in the cave since we launched this activity in 1999 (Editor: one dislocated patella/kneecap in 2013). We had a German who fell head first down a 10m “worm-hole” once, but he luckily emerged in the 4th dimension with nothing less than a bruised ego, and a portly doctor once broke his ankle just before he entered the cave. The German is now immortalised forever in the naming of the feature “The German Hole” and we won’t forget the portly doctor either, because carrying him down the mountain on a stretcher was probably the most physically taxing thing we’ve ever had to do! So the long and short of it is… we’re going to try and avoid damaging you as best possible, please work with us. (Editor: ok – seems that demand to be immortalised in the cave is contagious: in 2015 someone tried very hard to hurt himself by bailing down “The Mine Shaft”. He is an actor by profession – so we now have a feature called The Generations Gap (South Africans will understand) in the cave. But this is where it stops: we hereby categorically state that we are not going to name anything else in this cave after people that do crazy acrobatic stunts!)
No special skills are required, you need to be well-balanced on your feet, but that is about all. The walk to the cave is 2km and then 2km back, including a few steep sections. This tends to sort the smokers out from the non-smokers.
In the cave itself there is lots of unusual body movement and contortion, so most participants emerge feeling like they’ve had a solid gym work-out – but that’s about it.
You may be stiff the next day, but its that kinda nice stiff feeling… the kind that says you really achieved something.
We normally have enough lights for 30 persons at any one time, which is effectively 3 groups of 10 persons each with guides. However, systems have been successfully used in the past to accommodate larger groups. (Update 2021: our capacity has reduced to one group with 15 persons at a time during the Covid-19 pandemic)
For some team-building and school groups we have adopted a “buddy system” whereby two individuals share one light and look after each other. On other occasions when time has allowed we have run split departures with 20 persons every 2 hours, handing over lights at the entrance to the cave.
On some days we get caught in light rain during the walk, on a few days we may get a thunderstorm soaking. This is an outdoor activity. When the weather looks threatening we’ll provide you with a poncho to make the walk a little more pleasant. No – its doesn’t rain underground, it does drip a bit during summer months and is moist. We do end up a little soggy sometimes, but this is not cave diving and “no” we do not swim in the cave. Get with the plot: its an adventure, an outdoor adventure – so put on your Tuff Mudder face and do it?
If I am claustrophobic should I participate?
Nope, no, negative not advisable! Can we book a canopy tour for you? Scared of height too… bummer! How about you skip the caving and head straight to the hot spring with a crate of beers. Good? SOLD!
However, as a rider to that: our guides, whilst not being psychologists, have discovered that there are some distinctly varying levels of this “claustrophobia” thingy. We have regularly had persons who have burst into tears during the pre-departure briefing, who have pushed on and had “the most awesome experience of my life!” Our conclusion is that there is a certain amount of self-doubt lurking out there that gets cloaked in the mantle of ” I have a fear of small spaces”. So before you toss the idea of caving out the window, give it some deep thought… real claustrophobia is an uncontrollable thing that those of us without it can’t comprehend. But confronting a little self-doubt, something our guides are quite adept at handing, creates the opportunity for you to feel REALLY good. Hey, we also feel REALLY good when we help someone to go from tears and wide eyes before, to wide smiles and high 5’s afterwards. Give it some thought…
Yes – a little bit overweight is fine, obese is out. Yes, sorry its not fair we know! Half of all Americans and most well-heeled Africans are ruled out here, but the architect who designed these caves was a bit restrictive on passage space between caverns.
Obesity is useful if you fall overboard in the Antarctic ocean, or if you are morooned on a desert island for 3 weeks, but we haven’t found any use for it yet when caving. More seriously, we do have some alternative routes we can take for the slightly more well-padded of you, so we won’t abandon you like Pooh Bear in Rabbit’ s burrow window. But you get the hint?
That said: we did successfully guide a 180kg Sumo wrestler through once, who had a good power to weight ratio, but… Ok you’ve got the picture, good… next question.
These trips depart from the Swazi Trails main office in Eswatini’s Ezulwini Valley. This is situated halfway between the Mbabane and Manzini cities. Ezulwini is the main tourism area in Eswatini, so its right close to where its all happening. There are plenty of hotels, lodges, backpackers and other accommodation facilities nearby.
More specifically we can be found opposite Mantenga Craft & Lifestyle Centre at Legends Shared – just off Mantenga Drive, which branches off the MR103 road. The exact location of the Swazi Trails office can be read off this Ezulwini map. Printable directions can be downloaded from here: Directions to Swazi Trails.
The cave trail head is 15-20min from here and we provide transport. Parking at Legends is at own risk, but this is a safe and quiet area with no history of car break-in’s or theft. Parked cars are generally visible from our office windows and during evening there is a security guard present.
The evening caving trip is the ideal activity to do if you a pressed for time, largely because it makes use of otherwise wasted time in the evening. Wasted that is, unless you are a punter who couldn’t afford to miss valuable casino time.
Lets be honest, Eswatini is not a place you generally choose for nightlife, especially midweek – so Adventure Caving is where it happens!
So use daylight for checking out the usual attractions: game parks, craft markets, historical sites and cultural villages, then hit the “unusual” in the evening!
Pick-up’s from hotels or lodge are generally not inclusive in the caving price, however we do accommodate this when and where possible. Certainly if you get a taxi to drop you off, we can then normally arrange to drop you back at your place of accommodation again afterwards, especially if its late at night.
If you have your own transport, please make your way to our departure point. If not, let us know in advance and we’ll advise what the options are and what costs are applicable.
Our guideline is 8 to 65yrs, but we’ve had a few 6yr olds before and a 70yr old, so age is but a number.
This is physically demanding for older people, so be aware of that.
For kids the walk is big one, whilst the cave itself is like a giant jungle gym and not so much of an obstacle. Please note that our overall sizes go down to about 13-14yr size only, so younger kids should come with their own old clothes.
Sense of humour is a good start. Correct shoes are essential. You need a decent hiking boot or sports shoe with nice tread underneath. Shoes with a smooth sole are suicidal and flip-flops or slops are a bad joke.
We provide a full-piece overall as an outer layer to protect body and clothes. It is still a good idea to wear old clothes underneath. Shorts, gym tights and t-shirts are ideal. Lihheya, dresses, sari’s, burqahs, or kilts for that matter, are all not appropriate.
For those doing the evening trip: a swimming costume, towel and a warm top for afterwards will best for enjoying the hot spring. Going naked in the pool, however nice your body might be, is not allowed. If you’re staying in fancy hotels and not travelling with your own towel, remember to nick one from the hotel pool deck when they’re not watching.
Other valuables should be left in your car or hotel room. You do not need your passport, flight tickets, credit cards, travellers cheques or wads of cash with you… eerh, Ok, wads of cash for a guide tip is acceptable. You laugh… but people keep arriving with this stuff. Picture Indiana Jones – bullwhip, fedora hat, buggered leather jacket, sweaty, badly in need of a bath… he never needed any of that day-to-day travel clutter… and nor do you when you go Adventure Caving.
We get the occasional whinge and whine along the lines of: “You never said that long manicured nails weren’t appropriate”… well here it is: Long manicured nails are not appropriate.
Yes – but entirely at your own risk. No, sorry we meant ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK. The cave trip is quite abrasive, often soggy, muddy and gritty too. Then again, there are plenty of camera manufacturers these days that claim their cameras are up for this type of abuse… so your decision.
What is advisable is a padded pouch to protect it… and if not small enough for a pocket, that there is a belt or strap to carry it It is essential that your hands are free, because you’ll need all three of them.
You may want to use a GoPro video, we do have a helmet or two with mounts on them, but they take a beating, especially on top of your head. We even have a particularly deep hole in the cave called GonePro… named after an unfortunate loss of equipment. At the risk of prolixity: “bring cameras at your own risk!”
Trips are available to run twice daily, BUT if there aren’t pre-booked trips we often give our guides off-days and/or other trips to run, so if you pitch up at 16h25 and want to go caving at 16h30 you may be out of luck.
The best is to book at least the day before… and ideally as early as you can.
We also have an after hours mobile number +268 76020261 which is held by one of our Reservations staff. This can be used to maker bookings after hours.
*Please note that our capacity to run trips at the drop of a hat has been severely reduced due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. We no longer have a large guide team on standby daily. Please book well in advance so we can ensure we have guides available.
Once upon a time – yes. Currently – no. We will reopen online bookings after the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us.
Please make a manual booking by phone, WhatsApp or email.
- Adventure Caving daytrip
- Adventure Caving evening trip (the one with the hot spring dip, pizza and beer!)
Payment is possibly via credit card (Mastercard and VISA), PayPal and by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) for South African and LiSwati account holders.
We do have the occasional non-caver who comes along for the walk, but who doesn’t enter the cave. This you can do, but in all honestly its not much fun. Its a REALLY remote place in the mountains, with thick bush and forests.
During the day its a pleasant enough place to hang-out and sun bathe, but at night it’s a long and lonely two hour wait – no benches, no chairs, no lights… you get the scenario. Ask us for alternative options.
We’ve ensured that the cave remains pristine inside, we’re careful not to disturb cave creatures, we’ve assisted academics with the study of bats, we’ve had experienced members of the South African Speleological Association assist us with policies and procedures, we provide job opportunities for local LiSwati guides, we use a bare minimum of fossil-fuel driven transport, the water in the hot spring is naturally heated… you tell us if we’re sustainable in our approach or not… and if you have some bright ideas how we can do it better, we’re keen to listen.
We use local LiSwati guides from nearby communities. Having first aid training is a prerequisite and our training involves on-the-job experience and mentoring. Our guides generally do at least 20 trips or more as an assistant guide before they are ready to lead groups themselves.
From time-to-time the company does informal “refresher courses” to talk through scenarios and ensure adherence to our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). There is no certification system available to us in Eswatini/Swaziland, but when it does come into effect – no doubt they will use our SOP’s as their template.
Participants should also be aware of the fact that caves are known to house a fever-causing fungus that infects the lungs and causes flu-type symptoms. The infection is called histoplasmosis. This is treatable and is similar to tick-bite fever. Persons with low resistance to infection, such as caused by HIV are specifically warned of this risk.
To date there have been no confirmed reports of infection from participants on these excursions, despite the visible presence of fungus at certain times of the year. Some expert opinion has indicated that only 1 in 100 000 people who are exposed to the fungus, actually become infected. We’re well short of having so many people grace us with their presence at the Gobholo Caves… so our opinion is… be aware, but relax!
MediSun Clinic and Mbabane Clinic are both 15-20min away by car from our base station. These are private hospitals with trauma staff on permanent call. Paramedic assistance can be called. That said, evacuation from the caves would be a time-consuming exercise and may require a significantly longer period of time.
Our first aid kit on site can be used for minor injuries. For injuries requiring evacuation our procedure would be to get a paramedic vehicle within 45min walk of the cave. Thereafter, paramedics would walk to the cave and stabilise the injured party. If deep within the cave a large rescue team would be assembled to assist with man-handling a rescue stretcher to the surface. This could take anything from 4 hours to a whole day or more depending on where the injury takes place and how severe it is. We kid you not, its not surprising that “cave rescues” make front page news – they tend to be dramatic exercises!
Moral of the story – listen to the guide, have respect for the remoteness of your environment, don’t be gung-ho and tread carefully.
Yes – on rare occasions when it really buckets down with rain in the catchment area of the Gobholo River, our Standard Operating Procedure is to cancel the trip. This is not necessary in light rain or drizzle, nor for short sharp thunder showers. We assess flooding risk on an ongoing basis and have built up a good understanding of what and when this is. Our guides don’t have death wishes and they have full authority to cancel trips if they deem it is necessary.
If we, Swazi Trails, cancel the trip, full refunds will be made.
If you cancel at the last moment due to rain, thunder or lightning, then our standard cancellation terms apply (which to cut to the chase means you loose your deposit or payment). Thunder doesn’t kill and if you keep your blasphemy to a minimum, lighting shouldn’t be a cause for concern either.
No – there never has been malaria recorded anywhere close to this area… and we don’t care if your doctor in Oak Hill Alabama says that his map shows the whole of Swaziland greyed out. We live here, take our word for it!
What does it look like in the cave?
The saying goes that: a picture says a 1000-words, and we have probably 20 000 caving pictures posted from our trips between our Swazi Trails Facebook albums and our Swazi Trails Flickr page – so for the 20-million word answer to the question please visit those two online sites and have a look for yourself.
Eish… after that long list of questions its now our chance to ask: