If you’re driving to Kariba or Mana Pools then Chinhoyi Caves Park is an excellent place to stop and have a look around. From the main road, you’d never guess that this series of deep caves and blue pools of water exist in the hillside.
How to get to Chinhoyi Caves: The Caves are about 1.5 hours’ drive from Harare (115 km) on the Harare-Chirundu Road (see map on Google). If you’re travelling from Harare, the caves are about 9 km after Chinhoyi Town, on the left. It is well signposted. The park is very close to the main road so it a convenient place to stop, requiring hardly any deviation from the main route. It opens early in the morning, so you can have breakfast here after an early start from Harare.
Price: The Caves are in a Recreational Park run by the Zimbabwe National Parks & Wildlife Management Authority. As you drive in, there is a small office at the main gate where you pay the entry fee. Entry costs $3 for locals, $8 for SADC citizens and $10 for other visitors. There is no additional vehicle charge. The caves are never busy so you don’t need to book ahead. When we came, we had our pre-packed coffee and biscuits in the car park (rather than the picnic sites) and then walked around the caves. We were also charged $2 per camera, which I’ve never heard of since, so you may wish to query it if this isn’t displayed on official signage at the site.
If you wish to have a picnic at a designated picnic site, this costs $5 per site for locals and $10 for other visitors. There are also camp sites which are $5/$8 per person for locals/internationals, respectively.
Facilities: As well as the caves, there are shaded picnic sites, camping and caravan sites. There are 3 ablution blocks with toilets, hot & cold water, baths and showers. The car park is large, and shaded by trees.
Family-friendly: Chinhoyi Caves Park is suitable for all ages but bear in mind that there are lots of steps and rocks. There aren’t many barriers around the steps or pools so you would need to carry younger children. There are no large animals around but there are monkeys, baboons, bushpigs and rock hares.
Practical details: As there are steep steps and sandy paths, good walking shoes are advised. You can spend as long or short as you like at Chinhoyi Caves: We usually spend just 30 minutes here as a pleasant sightseeing/toilet stopover between Harare and Kariba/Mana Pools (other rest stops on this route are Lion’s Den Butchery/Takeaway and Twin Rivers Inn). You could explore Chinhoyi Caves for a few hours as a day trip from Harare, taking your own picnic lunch and enjoying the natural scenery in the area. As there are camping facilities, the Caves could be used as an affordable overnight stopover fro m further afield such as Bulawayo or Mutare.
History of Chinhoyi Caves
The caves have a mysterious, eerie atmosphere about them, perhaps because the water is so deep and still. You’ll feel a tingle down your spine when you hear about their history too: Legend says that an outlaw named Nyamakwere murdered many victims here by throwing them into the Silent Pool. A headman named Chinhoyi eventually defeated Nyamakwere and then became a chief. It is after him that the nearby town of Chinhoyi was named. Later, Chief Chinhoyi and his followers used the caves as a refuge from raiding tribes. The plan didn’t always work though: in the 1830s, another tribe found Chinhoyi’s people in the caves and threw them into the pool below. Until recently, the remains of Chief Chinhoyi’s grain bins could be seen in some of the underground passages. Pottery and human remains suggest that the caves have been inhabited from around 650 AD. (See the National Parks website for more.) Chinhoyi was where ZANLA and Rhodesian forces first clashed in 1966, which marked the beginning of the War of Independence.
On a more lighthearted note, Chinhoyi was where a local woman convinced government ministers that she could extract diesel from rock. Officials sent 50 vehicles and helicopters to the woman in the belief that she could magic fuel out of the earth, during a time of extreme fuel shortages. The hoax was eventually revealed: The woman had attached a long hose to a fuel tank hidden in the hills, thus fooling the ministers to believe that fuel was gushing from the rock.
Walking around Chinhoyi Caves
The main attraction of the area is Sleeping Pool, which is open to the sunlight and is 46 metres below ground level. Sleeping Pool is situated in The Wonder Hole, which was once a large cavern but is now in the open-air due to a collapsed ceiling. To reach Sleeping Pool from the main entrance, go down the paved steps which are steep but do-able for most fitness levels.
There are some “rest spots” along the descent to catch your breath and take in the view. Continue to descend the steps into this apparent hole in the ground, and you’ll be rewarded with the most fascinating shade of blue you’ve ever seen, and metres of unnervingly clear water. The pool is surrounded by the vertical rock walls of The Wonder Hole, which only adds to the atmosphere.
The water in the main section of Sleeping Pool is between 80 and 91 metres deep, fluctuating due to seasonal rainfall. The depth of the water system is unknown, but the estimated depth is around 172 metres. Sleeping Pool is also accessible from Dark Cave, but bear in mind that the exit from Dark Cave is extremely steep and therefore this route is not suitable for everyone.
After having a look at Sleeping Pool, climb back to the top and turn right, continuing along the path that goes around Sleeping Pool. You’ll see more paths and tunnels which are interesting to explore but are not necessary to look at if you don’t have much time. There are benches along the paths to sit and have a rest if needed.
Follow the signs to the imaginatively but justly named Dark Cave where you’ll see Sleeping Pool from above; another angle from which to marvel at the deep blue water. In this cave, you can see stalactites and stalagmites: an excellent opportunity for a geography lesson. Dark Cave leads to the underwater passageways of Bat Cave and Blind Cave. The water temperature remains constant at 22 degrees Celcius even at a depth of 110 metres, which indicates that the pool is part of an even bigger body of water.
Scuba diving in Chinhoyi Caves
Scuba diving: Chinhoyi Caves is regarded to be on a par with some of the best dive sites in the world and has fantastic visibility. There are tunnels leading off Sleeping Pool and Dark Cave. Divers of all qualifications have something to enjoy; though bouyancy control is a must. You will need to dive with a Zimbabwe registered dive club. US Navy Divers have reached 135 metres here, and the actual depth is unknown. Just looking at those unfathonable waters from the outside gives me the shivers – but I understand that some people may enjoy it!
- South African website Divestyle has a comprehensive overview here: Diving in Chinhoyi Caves
- Contact Dive Wild Zimbabwe for details.