By Norma Tsopo
Chinhoyi Caves are a unique geological wonderment – one of the country’s top five best tourist magnets.
But the gothic limestone caves may as well be dying.
The very factors and forces that created them dooms their existence to a finite lifespan – which naturally is a fact of life everywhere.
Change is life’s only constant.
There are concerns that the system of caves and caverns may be collapsing on themselves.
This landscape’s most exciting spectacle, the sleeping pool’s open roof is actually a sinkhole. It used to be a huge cave whose roof collapsed into the pool 46 metres below the ground level.
In their publication, Zimbabwe National Parks and National Monuments says there are noticeable collapses all around the caves.
“These collapses can be noticed by the sink holes and depression within the surrounding areas,” the publication notes.
Petros Mwera, an Extension and Interpretation Officer told MaDzimbahwe Explorer crew that they had to fill up a swallow hole not far from the caves.
Even the features inside them – the roofs and floors, are in constant change.
They are however here for now and waiting to be explored. The caves have been known to be generally in the state they are in their entire recorded history.
There is no sign that they would drastically change in an instant.
But this lack of permanence in their structure takes away nothing from their splendour.
The caves are composed of the naturally lit Sleeping Pool and the Dark Caves which have artificial lighting.
The Sleeping Pool or Chirorodziva’s blue and crystal clear waters have earned it comparisons with the famous Blue Grotto Capri.
Maintaining a constant temperature of 22 degrees Celsius, which is a quality of big water bodies like seas and oceans, there are strong research suggestions that this water is connected to a bigger water body elsewhere.
This belief was recently further strengthened by the appearance of Tilapia breams which we didn’t place there as Zimparks,” Mwera said. There is no record of anyone being authorised to introduce fish in the pool.
The fish have however been a welcome solution of a problem weed that was choking the pool. “We used to have a challenge of weed and since we started seeing the fish the problem weeds disappeared,” the Zimparks official said.
.The depth of the water in the pool is estimated by Zimbabwe Sub-Aqua Speleological Research Group at between 80 and 91 metres.
The pool has a passageway that goes deeper though. A diver who came in 2004 managed to go as far deep as 160 metres but did not manage to return alive. His body was found four days later at 75 metres.
Mwera said this challenged a more experienced diver to come in 2011 with a diving-bike.
“He said he began to experience a huge force that was pulling him back up at between 170 and 180 metres deep. He could not bear the pressure at 191 metres and decided to test the force by releasing the bike but that is where they were separated with the bike being sucked in a flush and him being pushed back up.
“It was as if there is a force that didn’t want him to go beyond that point,” Mwera said.
Some of the water passages from the pool lead back into it – one connects from the Blind Cave which is near the end of the Dark Cave, another is 58 metres below the surface with the third being the one that is being explored by the divers.
The water level in the pool is not determined by the amount of rainfall in the area either having increased by more than five metres in 2004 a level it maintained for seven years before going down by the same height in 2011. This was not consistent with any rainfall patterns.
Historically the caves have been known to have been used as shelter by local Chiefs with the last ones having been the brutal Chief Nyamakwere who would use the Sleeping Pool to execute any dissenting voices in the 19th century.
He was later dethroned by Headman Chinhoyi who then assumed chieftainship and took over control of the caves which were then named after him.
Excavations in and around the caves revealed that people have stayed in and near the cave from early times as some of the discovered pottery and human remains radio-carbon dated around AD 650.
Chinhoyi caves are easy to access as they lie along the Harare – Chirundu highway, about 120 km from the capital.