I love stories. Caves and old towns are made of interesting stories. A trip to Mpumalanga is not quite complete without visiting historical Pilgrim’s Rest and a couple of caves.
The entire town of Pilgrim’s Rest, where not much has changed, is considered a National Monument. Yes, the whole thing! A 20-minute drive from Graskop takes one years and years back, to the bygone era, when there was no internet, wi-fi, mobile phones and at the time people didn’t blog. I’d guess that the word blog was non-existent then, too.
I love Pilgrim’s Rest. I think it still looks now as when it did during the early gold rush days in South Africa. When I am there, I would have the obligatory pancake (crepe, not hot cake) although I don’t know why I think I must have pancakes in Mpumalanga. I would also imagine living there in those days, or at least having passed the town. Of course, in reality, I would probably never survive those primitive times.
One can stay overnight in this living museum. I have not tried it yet. I will have to so I can see if the plumbing is still up to scratch.
The caves are very old, dating back to pre-historic times. I suppose all caves are stone-age ancient. During the tour, stories of who took shelter in the caves and what possible treasures have been hidden are told. One story is that a Swazi prince, Somquba, used the cave as a refuge for him and his followers. He fled from his brother, Mswati, the rightful heir to the throne when their father, King Sobhuza I f Swaziland, died. The two brothers, with their followers, continued to fight. Somquba got some help from the Boers who recently settled in Lydenburg until he was killed during a surprise attack.
Sudwala is the name given to the caves after Somquba’s chief captain who stood guard at the entrance of the cave.
During the Second Boer War in the early 1900′s, The Boers also used the caves to store ammunition during the 2nd Boer War (early 1900s). Although never found, it was also believed that President Paul Kruger stored the Kruger Millions (gold bullion that disappeared between Waterval Onder and Nelspruit) in the caves. Just after the war, Sudwala Caves were acquired by a Philippus Rudolf Owen, who first opened the caves as a tourist attraction.
Echo Caves, with lots of stalagmites and stalactites, are actually in Limpopo but I include them in my Mpumalanga travels as the caves are only about 30 minutes’ drive from to “The Three Rondavels”. These least well-known limestone caves extend to a great distance, about 40km. In fact, the end of the caves has not been found yet. There is a tour that is good for all. It can get quite claustrophobic inside the caves, especially in some parts, so it is not for the fainthearted.