Caving in Arniston
The mist was thick - so thick that our family of four could only see the first line of the breakers as they broke on the shore. The air was heavy with the anticipation of adventure and the hairs on our children's arms prickled with excitement.
It was early in Spring in Arniston, South Africa and the weather was struggling to throw off the winter chills. Despite this, we knew that on a day like today, when the beach was off limits, the caves would not be.
The Arniston shore line has many small caves that the sea has carved out of the cliffs, but the Waenhuiskrans Cave is the mother of all caves. From the beach road we walked along a short sand road into the Cape Nature Reserve. Well placed signs marked the path that we should follow and when the path ended we picked our way carefully down the rocky path to the shore. We were not alone in thinking that this was the perfect day to go caving. Other families were already there eagerly trying to approach the cave.
The trick about the cave is that it is only accessible at low tide as during high tide the entrance to the mouth of the cave is blocked by the sea. We had arrived 20 mins before the lowest point of low tide in order to ensure that we would be in and out of the cave before the tide started to come in again.
However luck was not with us and on this particular day the low tide was the highest it would be all week. Knowing this the other families were already in the water, wading around the front of the cliff face to the mouth of the cave. Our nine-year-old daughter took one look at the cold sea and decided that she would rather try to approach the caves from above.
So in the spirit of adventure we clambered over the cliff tops, trying to find a spot closer to the mouth of the cave to descend from. Without too much effort we were able to find the perfect place – a short climb down to a rocky platform outside the cave mouth. However, the sea was still washing in below us and once again our nine-year-old wasn’t overly keen to get her feet wet.
We waited a few more minutes for the tide to go out further and then, fortified with sweets and a quick sip of water, we started to go down the cliff. It was a lot easier than it had looked from the top (well at least then it had looked to our children) and before long we had rounded the bend and were in the mouth of a small cave. But there was no one else in the cave! Where had the other families disappeared to?
It wasn’t long before we found a small entrance at the back of the cave. We clambered through the entrance (the adults nearly crawling much to our children’s amusement) into an enormous cave. Plenty of natural light filtered into the cave from its entrance - which was a good thing as we had not brought any torches with us. Despite being low tide the sea was still blocking the mouth of the cave and the noise that it made while the waves broke at the entrance of the cave was intimidating and thrilling all at the same time.
Picking our way over the wet stones inside the cave we spent a happy 15 minutes exploring the cave and taking the obligatory selfies. There are times in life when you know that what you are doing is very special and that you are making memories that will be treasured. The Waenhuiskrans Cave was definitely one of those moments.
Leaving the cave – with wet shoes but happy and excited hearts – we clambered back up the small cliff. My twelve-year-old son had clearly not had enough excitement and headed off to go find some more cliffs to climb and my daughter…the one who had been the most anxious…she had stories to tell her friends of how her courage had been tested and she had won.
From an adult perspective, the Waenhuiskrans Cave is a must see. It is an easy clamber around the cliffs to the front of the cave and in summer when the tide is lower your shoes wouldn’t even get wet.
Arniston is home to the Waenhuiskrans Cave (an Afrikaans term meaning wagon house cliff as the cave is large enough to accommodate a wagon and a team of oxen). Arniston is a historically rich area that lies about 25 km southeast of Bredasdorp near Cape Agulhas. The town is called Arniston after the East Indiaman, the Arniston, wrecked nearby in 1815 with the tragic loss of 372 lives (only 6 people survived the wreck).
Arniston is a dream destination for photographers as in addition to the caves, you can explore Kassiesbaai (a 200-year old restored fisherman’s village). The thatched roofs, white washed walls and quaint gardens are best photographed at sunrise.