By Pieter Smith
Photo's by Michael Meller
The hidden secrets OF WETSGATEast of Pretoria lies a dolomite cave which only a handful of technical divers have experienced.
Driving past the area on the R50 to Delmas, one cannot imagine that such a cave exists below the surface of these grasslands. Wetsgat is on 40 hectares undeveloped private property and is not open to the public. It is a technical diving venue with no access to daylight, and requires deep diving and advanced cave diving qualifications and experience if you want to dive it safely.
GETTING TO THE CAVEThere are no facilities nearby and all vehicles are parked close to the entrance of the cave.
Getting your equipment down is a mission– you need to walk (or rather slide) down a 15m-steep gravel slope to the small rocky entrance to the cave. It is dangerous to carry any heavy equipment down the slope and the best plan is to form a human chain and pass the kit down. Once the equipment is at the entrance of the cave, divers can enter through the small rock opening and go down some slippery boulders. Again, it is best to pass the equipment on to where it can be stacked inside the entrance of the cave. From here it can be carried further to where the water is.
INSIDE A NEW WORLDOnce you are in the cave, the contrast between the cool outside climate and typical cave humidity and high temperatures leaves everyone perspiring. The rocks are slippery and loose at places, with water dripping from the cave ceiling. Very limited daylight enters the cave, but there’s just enough light for your eyes to adjust from sunlight to the darkness inside. A headlamp is the way to go so that one can use both hands to carry equipment and stabilise yourself while moving between and over the rocks.
The chamber is quite large – 40m by40m – and the roof’s distance from the floor or water surface ranges between 1m and 15m. Water covers 80% of the chamber, leaving only 20% dry cave floor for you to kit up. You need good light to illuminate the chamber and while using a 50W/12 volt wide-angle globe will provide good awareness of the chamber’s size, it will not provide enough light to see clearly.
DIVING WETSGATA gentle slope leads to the opposite side of the chamber where a borehole pipe enters the cave roof and goes down into the water.
The water is like crystal, but walking from therocky cave floor on to a muddy bottom will cause silt to drift up. It’s best to enter as slow as possible and to start floating to deeper water as quick as you can, keeping your fins well away from the bottom.
The borehole pipe is the reference point from where the reel line is attached. From the main chamber the cave goes down in a southeastern direction. You swim past some big boulders at 12m, and about 30m from the borehole pipe you enter the next chamber and follow a steady decline. The bottom is very rocky with lots of silt and buoyancy is vital to keep your fins well off the bottom. The roof is not very stable and you can expect some falling rocks due to bubbles loosening it. The second chamber is about 40m by 20m wide and slopes down to about 38m. From this chamber you change direction, slightly moving into a more easterly direction. The cave floor now slopes down much steeper and it is best to do regular tie-offs. The third and last chamber is smaller with the roof coming down and meeting the floor at the end of the cave at a depth of 48m. At this point you are 150m from the borehole pipe.
In some places the cave roof has small domes that provide potential airspaces. It is possible to find them and they are big enough for two divers to get their faces cleared and have a quick chat with funny voices. Backup divers waiting on land in the main chamber are able to hear the bubbles hitting the cave roof and domes in the second chamber.
WHEN TO GOWetsgat is best dived by not more than four divers at a time, each doing two dives a day at most. During summer rains the cave can be quite unstable, so it’s best to dive during winter. Due to the dificulty in getting equipment in the cave, it is recommended that you use a maximum of two 10L cylinders and, if possible, one at a time. The water temperature is a cool 18°C.
As I have said, it is quite a mission to get in and out of Wetsgat, but experiencing such an awesome cave makes it all worthwhile.
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