Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn, South Africa

Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn South Africa.

Introduction:

Guests on South African holidays should visit the Cango Caves, one of the great natural wonders of the world with interesting limestone formations in a wide variety of colours. It lies in the Swartberg Mountain Range in a limestone belt measuring 1,5km in width and almost 16km in length. The Cango Caves have some of the biggest stalagmite formations in the world.

According to legend, the Cango Caves were discovered during 1780. The explorers had to brave the darkness of the vast caves with the weak light of self made candles. However, over the years improvements took place and today modern technology makes it possible that all the wonders of the cave are skillfully illuminated.

For centuries, the caves were unknown, except to animals. However, about 10 000 years ago, bushmen known as the San used the entrance area of the cave as shelter. They slept, cooked and painted pictures of themselves on the walls of the caves. Some of these paintings are still preserved for people to see on South African holidays in Oudtshoorn.

They never wandered deeper into the cave though due to their superstitious nature. The entrance area to the Caves originally had bushman paintings, but with time these have been damaged. The San migrated to another area approximately 500 years ago.

It was not until 1780 that the Cango Caves were again discovered. A herder, Klaas Windvogel, came across the cave entrance while he was searching for lost cattle. Gradually, more and more chambers and tunnels were discovered and in 1891 the first tour was conducted through the Cango Caves. It was only between 1972 and 1975 that Cango 2, 3, 4 and 5 were discovered.

Forming of the Caves:

This part of the continent was once below the ocean. As the continent rose the Little Karoo finally rose above the water level. The caves only started to form about 20 million years ago when the water level dropped to such an extent that the ground water could actually start to seep into the limestone.

As the water seeped into the ground it absorbed carbon dioxide from the decaying plant and animal matter in the soil and this made it fairly acidic.

Consequently, cavities were created that filled with water. Rivers also formed on the surface and cut deeply enough into the limestone to allow them to reach the level of the water pockets. This caused the water to flow out about 4 million years ago. The cave was then, for the first time, exposed to air and the speleothems or cave formations could begin forming.

The structures growing down from the cave ceiling are called stalagtites, while those that grow from the ground to the top are called stalagmites. If both structures converge to build a column, this is called stalagnate.

Types of Tours:

The present tourist route extends for 1,2km into the cave, with a further 4,1km being kept closed to the public for conservation reasons.

There are 3 types of tours that guests on South African holidays can choose from:

Scenic Tour:
An easy walk with two stairways, which include the two biggest and most magnificent halls.
Standard Tour:
A moderate walk through the first two magnificent halls, continuing to the 'African Drum Chamber' Numerous stairways are included in the standard tour.
Adventure Tour:
This tour is quite a challenge, with exciting passages and narrow chimneys, requiring a good degree of fitness.

The temperatures in the caves are a warm and humid 18 degrees Celsius. Proper footwear and light clothing are recommended. Ample lighting makes uneven pathways and stairs easy to traverse, and afford visitors a chance to take memorable photographs.

Facilities:

  • Self-service restaurant

  • Curio shop

  • Creche

  • Shaded carpark

  • Kennels

Location:

30km north of Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo in the Swartberg Mountain Range, Western Cape, South Africa.

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