Kaaimans Grotto is a mysterious, one-of-a-kind landmark just outside the sleepy coastal town of Wilderness, South Africa that is worth a visit.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure in your life, you’ll find it, along a set of disused train tracks on the other side of an abandoned tunnel.
So what exactly lies on the other side? Read on to find out, including how to discover Kaaimans Grotto for yourself!
Arriving in Wilderness
After a long and beautiful drive through the Little Klein Karoo, we passed through the busy city of George and descended down a dual carriageway at the mindnumbing speed of 60 kph (about 35 mph, the posted speed limit).
A short while later, we arrived in Wilderness, a village about 400 km east of Cape Town that is so-called because at one time it actually was true wilderness.
These days, it’s a quaint seaside village very much connected with the rest of the world and a popular stop along South Africa’s famed Garden Route.
We stayed at Wilderness Beach House Backpackers Lodge, a tidy and well-put-together guesthouse wedged between the spectacular elevated causeway above and the beautiful Wilderness Beach and Indian Ocean splayed out below.
It ended up being one of the nicer places we’ve stayed along the coast in South Africa and a lovely place to spend a few days.
Upon check-in, Hippie-Surfer Dude told us, among other things, that there was a good hike to a nearby cave and that we should check it out.
He then proceeded to give us directions, pointing towards the train tracks wrapping around the Headlands to the west.
We didn’t see a trail so were a bit confused. Hippie-Surfer Guy laughed and said, “No brah, you walk along the tracks.
Don’t worry, brah, they’re totally cool.” Then he pointed towards the landslide covering a significant portion of the tracks. We got the drift.
Hiking to Kaaimans Grotto
Later that day, as the sun was going down (best time to start a hike, right?) we started out along the tracks out of town.
About five minutes along, Lori asked if I brought a headlamp. No (I thought Lori had).
Lori: “Did you bring your phone?” Me: “No…”
We’re off to explore a cave at sunset with no flashlight. Great. We kept on going.
It was a foggy evening and the sea was angry-looking, foaming like a madman, which only added to the drama of the hike. After a while, we arrived at the landslide.
Recent landslides which have taken out highways or train tracks always have a creepy air to them. The story behind this particular land slide is a bit sad as it is indicative of the hard economic situation of the area.
A popular, but seasonal steam locomotive plied these tracks for years and the ride was a favorite among holidaymakers. The Choo-Choo, as it was affectionately known, apparently ran from Mossel Bay along the Garden Route to another seaside town farther past Wilderness.
In 2006, major flooding caused landslides in many parts of the area, including this section of the Choo-Choo railway. Though the Choo-Choo was regularly booked up during high season, stakeholders couldn’t justify the enormous repair costs which would take years to recoup.
And so it remains untouched for the past eight years, but for a handful of intrepid hikers (and other folks, which we’ll get to in a moment).
The rock flow from the landslide leads all the way down into the rocky sea below. Fortunately for hikers like us, there is a well-worn path up and over the worst of the landslide.
We clamored up and over the landslide and continued along the tracks until we came to a dark and creepy train tunnel. This must be the cave Hippie-Surfer Dude was talking about, we thought. Hardly a cave, but still cool.
Yet, we weren’t sure how deep we wanted to venture without a light. How far did it go? Maybe someone was lurking in there. Animals too. Maybe we should turn back. Maybe not.
Hippie-Surfer Dude would have warned us if something wasn’t cool, right? Maybe not.
After some consideration, we decided to venture forward a bit farther…
As the tunnel made it’s way around the bend, we spotted light and our eyes began to adjust.
We could see the sides of the tunnel very clearly now and could tell that nothing was lurking inside. So we continued towards the light wondering what we’d find on the other side.
As we neared the other end, we could make out a bay, then what appeared to be the ruins of something…a train station perhaps? No, not quite.
We were met by a dog. Then a man. Then, holy…!??
Welcome to Kaaimans Grotto
Ok, this is creepy. It’s now getting very late and dark and there’s a large cave with stuff hanging all over, and…a man.
But the man was well-dressed, well-spoken, and friendly. And very excited to see us.
In the waning light of the day he said, “Come. Don’t be frightened. My name is Samuel. Let me give you a tour of Kaaimans Grotto, known here as Clifford’s Cave.”
I’m not sure what compelled us in near-darkness to follow this guy deeper into a cave that was by all accounts creepy and a bit terrifying in the darkness.
But we did.
He lit a candle and we followed him through room after room of neat and tidy beds and seashells and other things collected.
Samuel kept talking about ‘him’ (presumably Clifford, the guy who apparently put together most that we were looking at here in Kaaimans Grotto). But where exactly was he?
I asked if people stay here. Samuel said yes. I asked if it was a guesthouse of sorts. Samuel said no.
Over a dozen rooms, a small kitchen and then, Samuel’s office, full of books and quotes from Scripture.
I tried my best to keep our bearings as we were led deeper and deeper into the cave, but it was difficult.
Then, finally, when we seemed to had ventured so far that I was completely disoriented, we emerged back out onto the train tracks.
Samuel told us we shouldn’t venture any further down the tracks because there isn’t enough light, but said we should return to Kaaimans Grotto in the morning to see the place and continue on down the tracks to a hidden beach.
We thanked him and hurried back to our guesthouse, processing what we had just seen along the way.
Full disclosure, these three photos of Kaaimans Grotto were taken the next day.
Lori brought her camera on our first venture to Kaaimans Grotto, but we didn’t take any pictures, as we were unsure how the situation would ultimately unfold.
It was much lighter when we emerged on the beach side of the tunnel and we decided to go for a walk along the back in town meandering back to our guesthouse.
The beach was littered with Portuguese Man-of-War carcuses, one of the most venomous jelly fish in the world.
I had a nasty run-in with a dead one in Mozambique some years back and that was enough for me.
Needless to say, we kept our shoes on.
The next morning we decided to return and head up farther along the tracks to the beach that Samuel had mentioned the night before.
It was a gorgeous day, bright blue sky and lots of sunshine, which made the trepidation we felt the night before almost laughable.
The tide was out and the sea seemed becalmed, a very different experience than the prior evening.
We traced the tracks past Kaaimans Grotto until they ran across a bridge high above where Kaaimans River spills into a bay.
The bridge looked small from the cave, but upon reaching it, we realized crossing it would not necessarily be a walk in the park.
The old rail bridge must have been about 50 feet above the sand. It was a bit rusty in places, but seemed solid enough with a railing.
Nevertheless, with the wind whipping up and a clear view of the ground below, it proved more nerve wracking than we originally thought.
Evident in the picture above, ruins of once beautiful vacations homes still cling to the cliffs above.
The elevated causeway meanders through the slide zone largely unaffected by the destruction and decay.
Lori takes her time walking across the creaky, rusty steel floorboards, trying not to fixate on the five-story drop on either side.
Safely on the other side, we continue along the tracks around the other side of the bay. Looking back, we can see the bridge, Kaaimans Grotto and Wilderness, beyond.
We continued on through two more tunnels until we finally reached the hidden beach — Victoria Bay, holidaymakers’ paradise and surfing mecca.
We took in the beauty of the small bay and watched the surfers for a while before turning around and heading back.
The walk from our guesthouse to Victoria Bay took about 30-45 minutes each way.
We ran into Samuel and his dog on the way back who told us a bit more about Kaaimans Grotto and the disused train tracks.
Apparently, Kaaimans Grotto was once a cafe and popular stop along the Choo-Choo train route.
Choo-Choo riders would disembark, grab a coffee and sandwich and take in the beauty of the bay.
After the landslide wiped out the train tracks, the business went belly-up.
Now cut off from the world, the Kaaimans Grotto cafe fell into disrepair and was abandoned until ‘he’ came along, took it over and made it a large home.
The guy that Samuel spoke of created several rooms and decorated it with things he found on the beach.
He then turned it into a rest home for homeless people and people struggling with addiction. There were four guests staying there when we visited.
The complex has modern toilet facilities left over from its days as a cafe, and by all accounts is clean and comfortable, though it likely gets very cold in the winter time.
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Wilderness Beach House Backpackers Lodge
It was clean, affordable, friendly and cozy. And the views were pretty incredible, certainly by ‘hostel’ standards.
Wilderness Beach Backpackers is also a short walk from Wilderness Village, which is quaint and worth a visit in its own right.
Hippie-Surfer Dude recommended Cocomos in the village, which had 2 for 1 ‘jars’ (mixed drinks in jars) with live music.
We opted for beers instead, and the live music was ok, but the pizza was pretty fantastic.
We enjoyed eating our lunch of bleu cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, and Ostrich biltong (jerky) out on their patio with a view.
The weather had been a bit nippy, but when the sun came out, it was just about perfect.
And you could even spot whales this time of year from the comfort of the guesthouse patio!
And of course, Wilderness Beach Backpackers was just a short walk from the beautiful strip of sand known as Wilderness Beach.
A Word About Health & Safety in South Africa
The majority of foreign visitors to South Africa don't encounter serious issues with health and security. But stuff does happen. Personally, we've had plenty of surprises affect our health and itinerary while traveling over the years — severe weather, road accidents, broken bones, and other nasties.
Each and every time, we've been very relieved to have a good travel insurance policy. We've personally used World Nomads for the past decade for all of our independent overseas travels and find them to be affordable and responsive. You can see a full list of what they cover here.
Be prepared, use common sense, and travel safe!
Have You Visited Kaaimans Cave in Wilderness, South Africa?
What was your experience like? Tell us about it in the comments below.