Finding Africa at the Rosh HaNikra Caves in Israel

I never thought I’d discover as much beauty as I did at the Rosh HaNikra Caves in the very north of Israel bordering Lebanon. These are caves once only accessible to skilled divers. But today, thanks to modern technology and a cable car, we are easily able to visit this incredible natural wonder.

It is said that a young woman on her way to her arranged marriage, jumped out of a carriage and rolled down into the sea at Rosh HaNikra, never to be seen again. Some say her echoes still haunt this beautiful place.

But this is not the only intriguing story of Rosh HaNikra. The site is also important since it was here that an armistice agreement was negotiated and concluded by Israeli and Lebanese officials in 1949. The agreement ended the Lebanese-Israeli component of the 1948 War of Israeli Independence.

Rosh HaNikra was also an important point for trade caravans and armies between countries in the region. And during the second world war, the British Commonwealth saw an opportunity to create a railway passage linking to Cairo and Istanbul.

So before the cable car ride taking one down into caves that almost kiss the Mediterranean waters, it is important to view the border to Lebanon first and understand the history thereof.

Next, I descended to caves and the white chalky rock against the blue ocean came clearly into view.

In fact the landscape reminded me a little of my recent trip to the Scala dei Turchi in Agrigento, Sicily.

Once inside the Rosh HaNikra caves you quickly realise that this is indeed a fascinating place. Here, water crashes onto the chalky rocks, smoothing them in the process. Rays of light enter and the water is highlighted beautifully in clear blue – the rest in darkness.

I tried to capture the magic of it all but was unsuccessful – you just have to see it for yourself to understand.

And the further into the caves you go, the more it feels as though you’re swimming. Echoes of the crashing waves resound. And small rocky spaces make for a kind of fishtank feel.

And another special attribute is that sign boards tell the story of the caves in English and Hebrew – so you can’t miss out on the history at all.

Next, after viewing the caves we watched a short film about the history of the area which was pretty interesting indeed. I learnt that the South African army (as part of the British Commonwealth) were once involved in the building of the train depot at the caves; here trains would depart from the area carrying goods that came by ship during world war two.

The film is viewed inside one of the caves as well and this makes for a unique experience especially since water is dripping a little bit down the walls and there’s that musty smell of deep earth in the air.

But the link to home didn’t stop there! As we exited the film, we discovered two South Africans, husband and wife, who had immigrated to Israel years ago. The husband, Unwa Jacobs, has a particularly moving story. He was inprisoned on Robben Island together with Nelson Mandela during the days of Apartheid in South Africa. He later left the country and followed his wife to Israel. Unfortunately, in 2014 he had a stroke and begun a creative practise of painting African designs on a local stone found in the Rosh Hanikra area.

His work originally started as therapy but has now turned into a business (Cape Colours Art – sanwa@014.net.il) and indeed something very original for tourists visiting the area. I was utterly impressed to find this touch of Africa in Israel and purchased one of the stone designs bearing figures of three African ladies.

The Rosh HaNikra caves were for me, a really valuable and worthwhile experience. Not only is the history of the area interesting, but so too are the ties to my homeland of South Africa. This is a day-trip I’ll never, ever forget.