Xeni Cave over night hike
23-24 May 2015

Report and photos by Deon Small

Xeni Cave, “Is that the cave with the waterfall?” everyone always asks. Xeni has always been a very special place for me, maybe because it’s one of the first caves I slept in as a school boy and visited 5 or 6 times since. Xeni itself is big and can sleep more than 12 people and I remember as a school boy coming here as part of a group of 24 – those days I don’t think they worried to much about groups sizes.

As the week started I was worried that it would just be Jeannette and I, as I did not yet have any takers to join the two of us, but it soon changed and we were 5 then 7 then 9 then back to 5. Final arrangements was made and we were planning to meet Almut and her family, Bernd and Max, at the Didima camp for coffee before setting off.

I could see that the grass on the path all the way to Neptune’s pools was cut some time ago, because when I was here in December we had to fight our way through tall grass that made us feel like Livingstone in the Rolux magnum TV advert of years ago. The going was good and we walked in perfect weather, warm in the sun, cool in the shadows. The river crossings were easy this time round and we could bolder hop easily across, the rivers are really low this year and I was beginning to worry about water at the cave. In all the time I have come to Xeni I’ve never been here with the cave waterfall being dry, would this be the first time?

We were blessed and at the Xeni River crossing saw a herd of Eland of between 45 to 50 animals with two smaller groups on the Mlambonja River side as well. I cannot remember when last I’ve seen such a big herd of animals together, and was instantly transported back to what it must have been like for the first settlers seeing such large herds in every valley before they were just about hunted out. After a photo session and game count it was time to get going again.

As we turned into the Xeni valley, the bolder hopping started. Max by this time reminded me of when we use to travel to Durban on school holidays, “are we there yet?” and I would reply almost. Eventually the cave came into sight, yey there was some water coming over the lip of the cave. We decided to have lunch in the river bed just before the wooden ladder leading out of the river bed as by this time most of us were running low on fuel and the taxing boulder hopping took more out of us than we realised. This section seems to change every year when there is a heavy rain, and looking at the size of the boulders being moved, the Xeni River must have had large amount of water coming down in the rainy season. One thing we noticed was the amount of black-jacks around, we could not move a step without running into them, and they seemed to be everywhere this year, no matter where we went. Always a good idea to wear ankle-lets or garters, as they keep grass seeds and black-jacks out of your socks and boots.

We entered the final stretch, the final steep section always the hardest, and then the cave opened up before us as we came round the final corner. The bush in front of the cave seemed to be less dense, the waterfall just a thin ribbon of its former self, but enough water for a shower. The cave itself is a wide flat cave, with the two concrete tables and “straw” sleeping areas in the back, a bit dusty in places so don’t expect to keep you feet clean if you walk bare foot like Max.

After walking to the shoulder of the spur and waiting for the sunset, that was not as spectacular as I was hoping, we made our way back to the cave to start supper and get our sleeping areas sorted out. As we are not allowed to make any fires, we made good use of the small gas lamp I had as we sat around and sipped on some warm German spicy fruit wine, telling stories well into the evening.

The next morning I made sure everyone was awake with the roar of my liquid fuel stove, boiling water for coffee and breakfast, after which we quickly packed up as Bernd and Almut, still had a 4 hour drive back home as well. Our walk back took the same route we walked to the cave and unfortunately we did not get to see the Eland again, and had to make do with just the baboons and their antics. Once we reached the car park and the loads were put done one more final time we said our goodbyes, but knowing that we would see each other sometime soon for another trip into the mountains that seems to have a magical power that keeps bringing us back for more.