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Tartarus Cave

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Duration: EDIT 3.5 hrs
Distance: EDIT
Difficulty: EDIT  Tiring
Fear Factor: EDIT  No exposure to heights
Last updated: 10 September 2012
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Description EDIT
Even if you don’t like caves, this walk is a must between September and November. You don’t have to go into the 50 m long Tartarus Cave to be simply overwhelmed by the variety of things to see on this hike. It’s a walk with a bit of everything, even including whales and extremely rare and beautiful flowers.

Your route up Mimetes Valley during springtime is ablaze in a symphony of colour. The bright red of the Mimetes trees in full bloom is in perfect harmony with the yellow pincushions. From the top of KaIk Bay Mountain you can look down on whales frolicking in the bay. And the circular route back to your car takes you down Spes Born Valley and through a dense indigenous forest of milkwoods and yellowwoods. Oh, and there’s also a fascinating cave to explore!

The walk starts and ends at No. 110 Boyes Drive, almost above St. James railway station and tidal pool. With apologies to the occupants of No. 110, theirs is the nearest house to the kink in the mad, from which this walk begins. Park your car well away from the bend and walk back to the start on the corner under some trees. You will immediately cross over a stream (dry in summer) and a mere 30 m further on leave the main path (your return route) and climb up some steep stone steps to the right. It will take you about 35 minutes of upward climb to reach your first destination at the top of Bailey’s Kloof and beginning of Mimetes Valley.

A few metres up the stone steps however, you will be tempted by minor paths off to the right. They only lead back to the river and should be ignored. After about 8 minutes of climbing, the path, having swung over to the right, takes you below a rock overhang cave and cliff face. Look back at the Riviera-like coastline of St. James to Simon’s Town and notice the colourful bathing boxes below at the tidal pool.

The path levels out a couple of times before zig-zagging its way up again, eventually coming to an important fork. This is almost opposite the thatched roof of Rhodes Cottage on the main road below. At this point take the upward fork to the left. This will take you around the corner into Bailey’s Kloof. Ten minutes later will bring you to near the top and another fork.

This time keep right and aim for a fence pole at the top. The paths here are a mish-mash coming and going seemingly from all sides. Avoid confusion by sticking to the right hand-side of the valley ahead, just above and to the right of a stream (dry in summer).

The gently sloping valley which begins to open up ahead of you is Mimetes Valley, named after the bright red flowering trees which find themselves so at home here. They are a member of the Protea family, as is the equally showy and abundant yellow pincushion.

Half-an-hour’s walk up Mimetes Valley will lead you to a 3-way gravel road. Take the centre option and after about 5 minutes or 300 m you will come to a cut stone beacon built on the left side of the road. It marks the spot at which you turn left and follow the sandy path up a rocky valley to reach Kalk Bay Mountain and Tartarus Cave.

Fifteen minutes after leaving the gravel road you will reach a view site at a huge rock where the sandy path forks just before it. The left fork takes you to superb views just a few metres on, with shade and shelter under the rock. It’s a good spot for a break. The right fork will take you on and up 10 minutes later to the cave.

You can’t miss it. It is literally a black hole in the ground right next to the path. For those interested in exploring Tartarus Cave, make sure you have at least two torches in the party. Dropping and breaking the only torch in the group in a black abyss, is not funny. It would give new meaning to the name Tartarus — a place in Greek mythology close to Hades.

The horizontal entrance slopes down into a large chamber. The main passageway leads off the far left corner of it. Follow this passage for a couple of metres before it swings to the right. The passageway becomes narrower and continues for about 25 m before dropping 2 m. Ten metres after the drop a chasm is reached. It falls 5 m below the passage and rises 5 m above it, and is about 3 m in diameter. This is no doubt the awesome pit after which the cave was named.

Next to the path in the vicinity of the cave is a marvellous and rare example of floral mimicry, by which one flower mimics the appearance of another in order to ‘cash in’ on the other plant’s privilege —almost floral fraud, one might say. The victim of the ‘fraud’ in this saga is a butterfly, which is fooled into pollinating the wrong plant. In late summertime (end of February/early March) both Anapalina triticea and Disa ferruginea have bright red inflorescences, very similar in colour and general appearance to each other. The Disa (the smart guy) only occurs near populations of Anapalina (the fall guy). The Disa has no nectar, but is pollinated by a butterfly called Table Mountain Pride (Meneris tulbaghiae). This butterfly just loves red and is attracted to a wide range of red flowers for their nectar, which it pollinates in exchange for taking the nectar. But the Disa has no nectar. So, by imitating the Anapalina, it fools the butterfly into a food-gathering visit. The insect probes away, hunting for the non-existent nectar. The Disa’s pollen is neatly parcelled in tiny bags which quickly clip onto the butterfly’s tongue, so that, by the time it has flown off in disgust, it takes the pollen away with it. These pollen bags then stick to the stigma of the next Disa it is fooled into visiting.

Leave the cave and continue along the path which turns left just before the second trig beacon, five minutes later. It soon descends down the south slope of Kalk Bay Mountain to a four- path junction at the top of Spes Bona Valley. Take the left option down into Spes Bona Valley.

On a clear day Hangklip on the far side of False Bay is beautifully framed in the kloof. Very special at this point for most of the year —especially spring — is a vibrant community of yellow legumes (sweet-pea family) called Aspalathus carnosa.

The path now dives down into a superb indigenous forest, the main components of which are milkwoods and yellowwoods. Wind your way through it, noticing a great many interesting plants composed only of two large leaves lying flat on the ground. Called April Fool (Haemanthus coccineus), they, not surprisingly, flower in March, by which time they have shed their leaves and have only a single large red flower poking above the surface, on a long speckled stem.

The multiroute path through the forest eventually emerges from under the canopy and ten minutes later will deposit you onto a gravel road. Turn right here and follow the road down hill for about another ten minutes, before it runs out. At the point it ends, take a sharp turn left onto a clear path which some 25 minutes later will lead you back to your car.

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