Caving Inn

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ROXANNE REID succumbs to the life of a troglodyte with a little luxury thrown in

I’m lying in bed looking up at the same rock overhang that probably provided shelter from sun and rain for a wizened old hunter-gatherer some 20 000 years ago. Earlier I watched the same sunset that he must have seen, though admittedly I had the added comfort of an intimate little wooden deck perched on a rock. That’s the joy of being at the Makkedaat Caves in the Baviaanskloof, about 50km east of the Karoo town of Willowmore.

Entrance to one of the larger caves

The caves are the inspiration and handiwork of Boetie and Henriette Terblanche of Rietrivier. Their farm is littered with caves or rock overhangs of Table Mountain sandstone, which they decided to turn into accommodation for travellers to this ruggedly beautiful part of the country. Boetie got busy with some rocks and wooden planks, creating a façade to enclose one of them. Beds and kitchen equipment soon followed. With a few hiccups in between while Boetie learnt what would or wouldn’t work, the couple was soon in business. Before long, the cave proved so popular that Boetie went walkabout in search of inspiration for another. And then another…

The view from the deck of the ‘honeymoon’ cave

Today, there are five caves to choose from. From the outside, the eight-sleeper Makkedaat cave, squished in below a large rock eyebrow, looks as though it would have made a happy home for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Nearby is the fairly elegant two-tiered Van Terrebert cave that sleeps 10, testament to Boetie’s engineering skills and boer-maak-’n-plan ingenuity. Dawid se Bak sleeps six and even has its own splash pool, while Alwynbak, which you reach via a 4×4 trail, has been left open to the elements in the east to give an uninterrupted view of mountains, stars and sunrises.

But our home for the night is the tiny ‘honeymoon’ cave called Dassiebak. We arrive early afternoon in 36-degree heat and unpack to the accompaniment of cursing as we puff purple-faced up and down the 30 steps that lead to the cave. (Don’t they think honeymooners are likely to get enough exercise?) What we find there is completely different from anywhere we’ve ever stayed before.

The open-air bathroom at Dassiebak cave

The sun is beating relentlessly against the ‘wall’ of the sitting area, but we soon discover that this wall is actually a roll-up awning that can be raised to let the breeze in. I imagine how someone might have left rock art on the back wall of the cave, although now, all these years later, it’s stained black. A small sign tells us the black stuff is dassie urine, but of course it’s been there so long it no longer smells so I’m quite happy to share digs with it.

I feel like a child exploring an elves’ tiny lair. Out one door and down a short rock path to the open-air loo and solar-heated shower, where the stars will later watch me wash away the heat and dust of the day. Up a stone step, another door leads onto the little wooden deck just big enough for two chairs. It’s a superb spot for plonking down with a glass of wine to watch the sunset splash the surrounding koppies with shades of ochre and pink; for being at peace with the world in our own private patch of mountains, not another soul in sight.

Although the armchairs and duvet-covered beds, the gas hotplates and even the hot shower are mod cons that the old hunter-gatherers of yore wouldn’t have known what to do with, some stylish 21st century city folk might find all of this a little too rustic for their taste. But I love it for its very oddness, its unique sense of place that will be hard to forget.

I just want to plant myself and soak up the novelty of the cave, but if you’re feeling energetic, there’s plenty to do on the farm. Boetie or Henriette will fill you in on the hikes, fresh fountains, 4×4 route and mountain bike trails, the best places for bird watching, even where to see the kloof’s special little fishie, the redfin minnow. For hot days there’s a swimming hole too. And if that’s what revs your engine, they can also put you in touch with Hans Jumat, a man with a vast store of knowledge about the area’s plants and their medicinal uses.

To find out more, go to www.makkedaat.co.za/index.htm. Just remember that if you want to book accommodation, it’s best to pick up the phone; e-mail in the Baviaanskloof is so unreliable and slow you’d do better to send a pigeon or a runner with a forked stick.

  • This post was first published on Roxanne’s Africa Addict blog.