Weekend at Arnhem Cave

We’re always scouting for camping venues close to home, and have discovered a great farm about 140 km east of Windhoek.  Not only does it have campsites and chalets, but Namibia’s largest cave system is situated on the property as well.  As an added bonus, the farm is serviced by a quiet dirt road, which makes it ideal for Rob to cycle to without having to worry about traffic.  So we headed off to Arnhem Cave for an adventure weekend.

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We left early to ensure that Rob rode mostly in the cool of the day and by doing so we were assured of abundant wildlife on the lonely road.  I drove a short way ahead and waited for Rob at various points along the way.  We both saw loads of kudu, hartebeest, warthogs, black-backed jackals and shy little buck in the early morning light.  As the day warmed up the meerkats peeped curiously out of their burrows, keen to see what we were doing when we stopped to watch them.

Suricate (meerkat) checks us out

If we made the slightest movement, or grabbed a camera, they dashed back into their holes and popped up a few meters further along!  It was lovely traveling like that, as the journey itself became as pleasurable as the destination and Rob had a good workout on those hills!

Arnhem Cave campsite

Our campsite, under enormous acacia trees, was really nice and we had an ablution block to ourselves, complete with resident bat that eyed us every time we ventured in.

Bat in the bathroom

The birdlife around the camp was also good so we knew we’d be fully occupied the whole weekend with walking, caving and photographing the birds and animals.

Southern yellow-billed hornbill

We booked a tour to visit the caves and were soon being led deep into the bowels of the earth.  The caves stretch for 4,5 kms underground and are well worth a visit if you aren’t scared of bats, because they host the largest bat population in Africa with five different varieties being found there. It’s a bit disconcerting having bats flying past your face in their dozens, but their radar is excellent and they never actually touch you (don’t believe that myth about bats going for your hair – it isn’t true!)

The five varieties of bats found there are:
1.    Giant leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros commersoni)
2.    Long-fingered bat (Miniopterus schrelbersi)
3.    Leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros caffer)
4.    Egyptian slit-faced bat (Nycteris thebalca)
5.    Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus denti)

We learned that more than 100 000 tonnes of bat guano was mined there during the Second World War  Apparently bird guano is rich in mineral nitrates and was used for the manufacture of both explosives and fertilizer.  When, during the war, the use of bird guano collected at the coast was curtailed, the farmers turned to bat guano as an alternative organic fertilizer as it wasn’t subject to the same restrictions, and Arnhem Cave came into its own as a large scale guano producer.

The grotesque remains of a porcupine from the 1930’s is also on display in the cave.  It was very hot and dusty down there and I was relieved to leave at the end of an interesting tour.

The remains of a long-dead porcupine

There are pleasant walks on the farm and at the end of the day it was wonderful to sit under the stars with a crackling fire and a cold beer reliving the experiences that we felt so privileged to have had.

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