Since I had a few days left before my flight back to Berlin, I decided to go on an overnight excursion to the North. First, I would visit the grottoes in Rosh Hanikra and then, after a night in Akko, I’d go to King Herod’s city by the sea Caesarea.
Part 1: A quick visit to the Rosh Hanikra grottoes
I catch one of the many trains North from downtown Tel-Aviv. After a little more than 1.5 hours along the coast, the train has reached its northernmost station: Nahariya. I cross the street outside the station and head over to the Nahariya bus terminal.
Bus 31 would take me all the way to the grotto visitor center. But bus 31 only departs every 90 minutes, and I’ve missed it by a few minutes. Since there are plenty of buses going North I jump on #22, get off at Betset Junction, and walk the remaining 2 km along Route 4.
There is no getting lost. At the end of the road, the Lebanese border awaits. The young IDF soldier smiles at me but lets me know that I have to turn back. The peace between Israel and Lebanon is a frail one and for years the border crossing has only been opened for the occasional UN soldier.
I turn back and find a deserted restaurant. Staff points me across the road to the ticket booth. The only way to the grottoes is a cable car. I fork over NIS45 and jump into the bright yellow capsule — the world’s steepest cable car, the pamphlet I received at the visitor center announces, taking me down the 70 meters to sea level at a 60-degree angle.
The laid-back staff at the bottom points me to the left: “The video in English starts now.”
I follow the train tracks into a tunnel. They are remains of a Herculean effort by the British, who in the 1930ies had the idea of connecting Istanbul and Cairo along the Mediterranean by train. Within a year, the line ran down to Tel-Aviv, complete with tunnels and bridges through the Rosh Hanikra grottoes. The last of those bridges was blown up in 1948 by the Israeli underground army for fear of Lebanon smuggling in soldiers and arms to prevent the creation of the new State of Israel.
The tunnel has a big screen installed at the end. I sit down on one of the benches and along with a handful of other visitors watch the 15-minute movie explaining the history of Rosh Hanikra.
When the doors open again, we are pointed back past the cable car to the circular route through the grottoes sculpted over millennia into the limestone by the sea the rain and the wind. The noise of the water rushing in is deafening. Where the sunlight hits the water it’s a warm turquoise inviting me for a swim. But shortly after, a crashing wave will come up higher than the last ones, pass the railing, and leave the path wet; just to remind me of the forces at work.
Within less than half an hour I am back on the terrasse with the cable car. To make my visit a little more worthwhile I follow the train tracks into another tunnel. Golf carts are parked in a neat line, hinting at larger visitor masses in the summer. But now, in February, the gate allowing access to a long beach is locked.
I turn back. The cable car taking me back up is red.
While I still debate whether to walk back to Betset Junction or whether to make us of the hour until bus 31 leaves by reading the book I have brought a young woman gestures from a car: “Come, come, he is taking us back to Nahariya. You shouldn’t wait!”
The driver of the car smiles at me. He doesn’t seem to mind that his guest just extended his invitation. So I jump in.
Practical info & links
- Trains from Tel-Aviv to Nahariya (sometimes spelled Nahariyya) leave roughly every half hour throughout the day. The ticket costs about NIS40 (€10). Check rail.co.il or Google Maps (GM allows you to schedule the full journey from Tel-Aviv to Rosh Hanikra) for exact times.
- For bus connections from Nahariya to the grotto visitor center or to Betset Junction, check either Google Maps or bus.co.il.
- The Rosh Hanikra website is currently only available in Hebrew.
- But Rosh Hanikra National Park is part of Akhziv National Park. For more info on Akhziv and Rosh Hanikra on the Israel Nature and Parks Authority website click here.
- Note, that in stormy weather the grottoes can be shut at short notice as they may be flooded. Have a Hebrew speaking person call the number indicated on the Rosh Hanikra website (see above) in case you are uncertain.