By Hani Williams
Image by Hani Williams
I often get the question “Why cave diving?”. Cave diving is something that you cannot explain easily. My intense passion for scuba diving combined with the mysterious beauty of caves has now become an obsession and a new challenge in my diving career.
I have been diving for 18 years; 16 of these years were spent with one of my best friends and mentors, my dad, Johan Labuschagne. Unfortunately, my dad had a triple bypass heart operation in 2013 and is now limited to a depth of 20m. After this life-changing experience I decided that I wanted to take my diving career one step further. I completed my trimix and cave diving qualifications with one of the world’s most famous divers – Nuno Gomes.
WHAT IS A CAVE?
Cave [noun] /ke v/- a large hole in the side of a hill or under the ground. It is hollow and generally large enough to allow a human entry.
Caves are naturally formed in karst regions, which are comprised of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, gypsum or salt. Other types of natural caves are lava tubes, sea caves, coral caves, tectonic caves, ice caves and glacier caves. Overhead diving can include man-made environments such as mineshafts, parts of quarries and wreck penetration.
CAVE DIVING LOCATIONS IN SA
Wondergat is a collapsed sinkhole filled with fresh water located 30km south of Mafikeng. It consists of dolomite and dolomite interlayered with chert. Visibility is usually around 8-15m. The ambient temperature of the water is 21˚C with fluctuations due to seasonal variations. In the early 80s the Southern Cave used to be as deep as 70m with an entrance to a hidden cave known as The Dead Man’s Cave. Due to the lowering of the water table, the Southern Cave is now in the region of 52m deep. There are two other caves that radiate from the main hole: Leopard’s Cave which is 6m deep and the Northern Cave which is 38m deep. Wondergat’s last diving fatality was recorded in October 2008, although there have been at least 13 diving fatalities in this cave.
Wondergat has always been one of my favourite dive spots; this is where I met my husband Chris Williams. My first dive at Wondergat was on 15 November 1997, while I was busy with my rescue course. Wondergat is one of the most intimidating caves and can make or break you. Depth is the main risk factor and getting nitrogen narcosis in her darkness can become life threatening. Take your time with Wondergat – there is so much beauty hidden within her.
Komati Springs is surely one of the most beautiful places on planet earth! It lies three hours east of Johannesburg, just outside Badplaas. The mine closed in 1972 and subsequently flooded, which left a large hole (55m wide) with a joining cave system which has been explored to 186m. It is now surrounded by a game reserve. What more could one ask for? The visibility ranges between 10 and 15m. The ambient water temperature varies between 17˚C and 25˚C, depending on the season.
My first dive at Komati was on 29 January 2000. I was not caved trained at the time so we were diving the main hole. We did our cave qualifying dives at Komati from 21-23 March 2014, with instructor Nuno Gomes. My fellow cave diving students were Karen van den Oever and Francois Bain. At first I was hesitant and scared as this was only my second time at Komati and this would be my first time going into a cave other than Wondergat. After my cave qualifying dives I was hooked! My third time at Komati was on 21 March 2015. I was diving with Quintin de Boer, Karlien de Boer and Renier Earle. On our last dive on 22 March 2015, we went to Level 5 which was an awesome experience.
Wetsgat is a dolomite cave in Mpumalanga. It has a very tiny entrance which opens into a massive, beautiful cavern with a slope down to the water level (called the beach). Getting your equipment down to the beach can be quite a mission. Always take surface support to help with the equipment and to guard your gear, as the locals sometimes use the cave for their rituals. Once inside you are
surrounded by total darkness, so take some extra lights. The first descent (which is usually at the brehole pipe), takes you to a depth of 5m. There is a permanent line which will take you down the
correct cave passage. Depth is a risk factor as this cave bottoms at 38m. Visibility ranges between 6 and 15m. My first dive in Wetsgat was on 6 December 2014, with Renier Earle and Quintin de Boer. It was such a pleasant and interesting dive. Needless to say, it became one of my favourite dive spots and I returned very soon after that.
Bat’s Cave AKA Boomgat
It is not called Bat’s Cave for nothing! Bat’s Cave is another hidden beauty on a game farm in the North West. Unfortunately, this cave is very fragile in terms of visibility. You can stir up too much silt just by getting into the water. On our first visit on 3 January 2015, the dive team, consisting of Quintin de Boer, Karlien de Boer, Renier Earle, Chris Williams, Jannus van der Walt and myself counted three passages. We only dived two passages as the first passage was too narrow for our equipment. One passage has a bottom depth of 8m and the other passage has a bottom depth of 4m. This cave still needs some exploring, but it is quite difficult with the low visibility. Nonetheless, it was an experience of note. We were pleasantly surprised by the huge lake on the farm – so surprised that we decided to dive it. The visibility was more than 7m and it was only 2m deep. It was all good fun!
Bobbejaansgat is also situated in the North West on a game farm not far from Bat’s Cave, but only trained cave divers are allowed at Bobbejaansgat with permission from the farm owner. Bobbejaansgat is keeping some dark secrets, but it is a beautiful sinkhole filled with water. The depth at Bobbejaansgat is in the region of 40m.
I did my first dive there on 8 March 2015 with Quintin de Boer and Karlien de Boer. Our surface support was Chris Williams, Jannus van der Walt and Jacques Mulder. Later, cave diver Renier Earle also joined us. We were informed that this cave silts up quickly so we were extra careful with the entrance. The water was icy and I was quite nervous in the beginning. We kitted up in the water to avoid silting up the hole. I did three dives that day, where my last dive was 42m deep with no bottom in sight, going down one of the passages. After the dive, the guys were brave enough to do some cliff jumping (±10m drop). Bobbejaansgat definitely exceeded all my expectations and I cannot wait to visit again.
Wonderfontein Cave is situated just outside my hometown of
Carletonville. I was never aware of this beauty until I did my first trip there with a dry caving club on 11 January 2015. It was hard work and scary all at once. There are tiny spaces to push through; we were sliding, falling, climbing and swimming. It was all worth the effort when we finally found a spot that the dry cavers told me was for cave divers. Of course I could not wait to go back! It took me a couple of days to find that exact spot and to dive in it. Unfortunately, the visibility is really terrible; you have to feel your way around this dive spot and it is only about 2m deep. I am not sure how far the passage goes in and it is still on my “to do list”. It is a long way to the dive spot and it is not an easy journey with gear.
Cave diving is classified as one of the most dangerous sports in the world and should not be attempted without the proper training and experience. Proper planning and preparation are necessary – it is not kit up and go! Some caves require some form of abseiling or climbing. I would suggest joining a caving club to get yourself familiar with the basics of caving. Once you are comfortable with the basics this will make your cave diving much easier. Stay alert, stay current and make sure you know your equipment; these are some of the important fundamentals in cave diving.
Let your fears keep you focused and let your passion scare you!
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