The cavernous hideaway echoing the traditions of the past

 
 
 

Deep in the Molopong Valley, a resounding call ripples through the hills. The source originates from within the subterranean chambers of Echo Caves. These caverns were said to provide refuge for BaPedi locals over a century ago. In the event of approaching enemies, they’d retreat inside and bang on the massive stalactites. The resultant reverberation travelled above ground, warning the rest of their clan to hide. This account of history, regardless of how much is true, has made these caves in Limpopo legendary. 

The rediscovery of this site happened by accident. In 1923, the owner of Klipfonteinhoek farm noticed his cattle regularly disappearing and stumbled upon a cave they’d been entering. Venturing inside, he encountered a wonder of history. Traces of former inhabitants and Stone Age artefacts filled the rocky enclosure. These are now on display at the Museum of Man, an open-air exhibit five minutes away. 

Echo Caves opened to the public in 1959, yet to this day its full extent remains unknown. Of the estimated 40 kilometres of tunnels, only two kilometres are accessible. A series of walkways lead from one chamber to the next, while some parts require a bit of bending and crawling. To be submerged in this cold, quiet inner sanctum is an awe-inspiring experience. In the dim light, the surrounding limestone protrusions take on an illusory range of shapes, from ostriches and elephants to crocodiles. Over the years, an impressive collection of stalactites have crystallised, transforming the ceiling of the chambers. Below, stalagmites rise up in competition. 

Though it’s near Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route, the Echo Caves lie just past the Limpopo border. Getting there requires travelling along a four-kilometre dirt road that favours SUVs. But it’s worth taking a detour off the beaten track to explore this national monument. Crouched down in the dust of the chambers, surrounded by a spine-tingling sense of mystery, the cavernous phenomenon reveals its magic. Here, local history and myth embellish the music resonating from the stalactites. Yet whatever you hear about Echo Caves, it pales in comparison to the magnificence of the space.