Only about 100km from Wilderness on Sea are the historic and legendary Cango Caves. At the head of the Cango Valley whose beauty is unparalleled, the underground natural wonder of the Klein Karoo – the Cango Caves lie in wait to be explored. Within a limestone ridge parallel to the Swartberg Mountins, the finest and most pristine example of dripstone caverns is on display with vast halls and monolithic towers and formations. The caves are open every day year round with the exception of Christmas Day. The temperature inside the caves is a nice 18 degrees Celsius/67 degrees Farenheit. Be sure to use the facilities before making your way to the Caves because there is no ATM, nor a petrol station available here, and the nearest town, Oudtshoorn is 29km away. (video)
The history of the Caves goes back a very long way. Though they weren’t re-discovered until 1780, there were stone artifacts and other cultural material suggesting that people had been living in the entrances to the Caves during the Middle and Late Stone Ages. Only a quarter of the Caves is available to visitors, though it has been mapped out by many over the years ending in 1978. When they were re-discovered, legend says a farmer named Jacobus Van Zyl was lowered into what is now called Van Zyl Hall; named in his honor. That hall is as long as a football field and stunning to behold. Later, in 1898, Johnny van Wassenaar, long held as the Cave’s first official guide is reported to have walked 29 hours to find the end of the caves in 1898. He claims he was 25km from the entrance and 275m underground. His route also followed an underground river. He served as the Caves guide for 43 years.
In 1956 the South African Speleological Association was asked to draw up an accurate map of the Cango Caves and to look for alternate entrances. Cango I is 775m long in a single line, and never rises or falls more than 16m. The nearest surface point is at the top of the shaft named Devil’s Kitchen, 52.6m from the floor. 1972 saw 3 men enter the Caves with intent to widen an obstructed passage, where Cango II was discovered. 270m further, beyond the end of Devil’s Kitchen which ended in a shaft that descends 20m to a water filled chamber which flowed in the direction of Cango I. An exploration team in August of 1975 drained the chamber of most of its water and crawled through what was once an underwater passage. This led to discovery of more caves called Cango III which all together are 1000m long, and the biggest chamber stretches to 300m. The latest and last discoveries were crawl-ways, one found in 1977 that is 290m long, and one in June 1978 that is 90m long and the last extension to date.
These caves were the first to be protected by legislation, and the first to gain a full time guide. In the 19th century they began charging visitors 5 rix dollars, which is equivalent to R500.00 to attempt to deter them from stealing delicate parts of the caves like stalactites, or engraving their names into the walls. The first Caves Regulation was published in 1820, and was the first law designed to protect an environmental resource in South Africa. This law banned the collection of souvenirs, and posed fines to anyone who damaged the Caves formations. It also came with an entrance fee that must be paid to the District Officer, who was also tasked with rule enforcement. As with many naturally historic sites, the Caves comes with some mysteries. Skeletons of 3 genets (small cats) were found in Cango II which raises the question of another entrance unknown to any, or were they brought in by a flood? There are questions about the bats found encased in calcite as they hung sleeping, and then there’s the only piece of cave art in the entire place… without any ability to make light that long ago, the engraving shows an elephant superimposed on an eland; the kind of drawing where when you view it from one side, all you see is the elephant, and from the other, only the eland. How could that have been possible? There’s plenty of other mysteries to unravel when you come see the Caves, and people in the area are happy to tell you that coming so far and not seeing the Caves would be a huge mistake.
While enjoying your time at Wilderness on Sea, and tantalizing your eyes at the amazing beauty of the Cango Caves, you might try one more thing you’ll never find anywhere else. It may not seem to pair with cave crawling, but being so close to an Ostrich farm, there’s no more fun to be had than in attempting to ride them! They even have ostrich racing events, which we’re told are not for the faint hearted. The area surrounding the Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn is famous for its massive ostrich population. Ostriches are the largest living bird on the planet, and flightless. Fully grown they weigh over 120kg and can run at 70km per hour. Naturally inquisitive, they’ll peck nearly anything and while the peck doesn’t hurt, a kick from those powerful claws certainly will. Be aware that they kick forward and not backward, and watch for any aggression from males.
The Ostrich Show Farms also offer petting areas for the kids, where you can snuggle up with a chick or feed them by hand, and see how feather dusters and boas get made. Multilingual guides take you on a guided tour where you can learn about the birds as you’re immersed among them. The restaurant there offers Ostrich steak or an Ostrich egg which can feed 20 people, along with Ostrich Pate and Biltong. The shop also has exclusive leather handbags, feather boas, and decorated Ostrich eggshells. The meat of an Ostrich is much like Bison surprisingly, it is very lean and tastes only slightly gamey.
While your trip to Wilderness South Africa will nestle you among the Garden Route and some of the best seen wonders this world has to offer, augmenting it with trips to spectacular caves and attempting an ostrich ride will surely enhance what will forever be a memorable experience.