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Places to see in Mpumalanga

The Sudwala Caves

sudwalla 2

Sudwala Caves one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mpumalanga, are located in the Mankelekele hills in the valley of the Houtbosloop (wood bush creek) about 35km north-west of Nelspruit.

Over millions of years, water, percolating from above has eroded the dolomite of the hills, forming large caverns with strangely fashioned stalactites and stalagmites. The magnificent Sudwala Caves contain the largest dolomite chamber in the world. This chamber, the Owen Hall, is a natural amphitheatre of about 70m in diameter and 37m in height. Prehistoric people discovered the caves and used the entrance as a shelter.

The caves were re-discovered in the early 19th century during a Swazi succession melodrama. The find was made by Somquba, son of Swazi King Sobhuza I, who, together with his followers, fled there in fear of his brother Mswati. The dispute also involved substantial numbers of royal cattle. Somquba and his people built a village next to the entrance of the caves, where they hid every time Mswati and his punitive parties arrived on the scene.


On several occasions, Mswati and his men made huge fires in vain, in the entrance to smoke out his quarry. One day they struck unexpectedly and killed Somquba and many of his tribesmen. The survivors stayed on under a headsman or Induna by the name of Sudwala, hence the name of the caves. Interconnected chambers with a floor surface of 14,000 m square over a distance of some 600m are open to the public. The first chamber, the largest, is called the PR Owen Hall, named after the owner of the farm on which the caves are situated. Roughly circular, the cavern is 18m high with a diameter of 66m.

The tallest stalagmite in the caves is about 11m high. Legend has it that there is no end to these caves and that they may extend for more than 40km under the mountains, as far as Lydenburg! There is a constant flow of air, but the

source is unknown. Tours of the outer caves are run daily and monthly, with ‘crystal tours’ being conducted when visiting Mpumalanga. into deeper chambers. Guided tours are offered seven days a week from 08:30 to 16:30. The six hour Crystal Cave Tour takes place on the last Saturday of each month.

The Dinosaur Park, Swazi Tribal Village, curio shops and a restaurant are all located on the premises. The Sudwala Dinosaur Park is set in a lush, sub-tropical garden. Scientifically accurate, life sized models of prehistoric animals are on display. The park tells the story of the development of life on earth and exhibits animals as diverse as the ancient amphibious and mammal-like reptiles, dinosaurs, extinct mammals, pre-historic humans and more. On the cliffs above the park stands Austrolopithicus africanus (the southern ape from Africa), better known as Mr or Mrs Pless.

These peoples lived between 2 and 3 million years ago and share some "modern" human features. They serve as an introduction to the debated theories of human development. The Cape Quagga and Cape Lion, which became extinct 100 years ago, can be seen on display. Initiated by Theo Owen, who commissioned South African artist Jan van Zijl to construct the animals, the park was officially opened in 1977. Information was gathered from museums all over the world.

Fossils of Collenia, primitive plant colonies can be seen on the ceiling of one of the chambers of the Sudwala Caves. These fossils sparked the creation of the museum, as the park provides a natural link between these primitive first life forms, and the abundance of wild animals close at hand in the Kruger National Park. With its three-dimensional models, the park is a fun edu-tainment experience for the whole family, and should not be missed

Sudwala Caves

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© Aleo Group 2002 - all rights reserved - Published: 01 March 2002  Last Updated: 28 December 2011