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Cango Caves Oudtshoorn, South Africa

 

Thousands of years ago, an intrepid tribe of Khoi San people which are divided into the hunter gatherer San commonly known as Bushmen and the farmer Khoi known as Hottentots (which today is considered offensive) wandered through the arid plains of the Little Karoo region, taking shelter in a large cave entrance which later became known as the "Cango Caves"

 

Many centuries later, in 1780, a colonial farmer named Van Zyl, dared to venture past the cave entrance, lowering himself into the unknown darkness.

 

From the muffled echo of his uneasy voice he sensed a cavern of breathtaking proportions, and by the dim light of a burning torch saw glistening shapes that hinted at the subterranean wonderland.

He was indeed lowering himself 10 m into the first great hall, which is about 98 m long, 49 m wide and 15 m high. So began the human history of one of the greatest treasure chests of nature.

 

Situated in a limestone ridge, some 20 miles outside of Oudtshoorn you will find The Cango Caves. This cave system contains some of the finest dripstone caverns and towering formations an adventurer is likely to see.

The caves consist of a number of large and smaller chambers each displays some or all of the five limestone deposits found in this area; namely Dripstone, Flowstone, Rimstone, Shelfstone and Roof Crystals.

Over some 20 million years, this limestone band formed in the Swartberg ridge, water seeped into the fissures and gradually dissolved the limestone forming the spectacular formations that we see today.

 

--- Van Zyl's Hall ---

As Van Zyl's Hall opens up you see the stalactites known as The Dried Tobacco leaves of Oudtshoorn, they decorate the grey-blue of the limestone ceiling. Van Zyl's Hall is over 295 feet long, 165 feet wide at its widest point, and is 60 feet high in places and over 300 feet of limestone separates the cavern from the ridgecrest above.

 

The hall is dominated by the giant Organ Pipes, a spectacular dripstone/flowstone combination. Your eyes are drawn to a tall, slender stalagmite named Cleopatra's Needle rises nearly 30 feet and is still active and growing. Cleopatra's Needle is estimated to be in excess of 150 000 years old.

Near the base of the staircase stands an impressive formation known as The Pulpit of a Great Cathedral, complete with angel's wings. At the base of this formation imaginative eyes may make out the shape of The Kneeling Camel, against the side of which nature's artist has left an unusual stain known as The Moses Figure. It represents the biblical Moses, dressed in a flowing, brown robe, his arms outstretched in blessing.

 

--- Botha's Hall ---

Leaving Van Zyl's Hall through a wide passageway, you enter the spectacular Botha's Hall, with its decorative side-chamber, The Throne Room. Glancing to the left as we enter Botha's Hall, we see a formation resembling the beak of a Giant Eagle, feeding its chick.

Botha's Hall is dominated by two completed columns soaring upwards to the ceiling. The largest formation some 500 000 years old, is known as The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Beyond it stands a column some 45 feet high and approximately 250 000 years old.

To your right you will see The Madonna and Child, and alongside her and to the right stand the Three Wise Men and two shepherds that are kneeling. Completing the scene, to the left of the main staircase is a trio of formations known as The Temple Presentation, depicting Joseph, Mary with head bowed, and the gaunt figure of the prophet Simeon. Further left, high in a dark alcove, you can see the figure of a crucified man.

Moving through the Botha Hall to the left, you climb an open platform flanked by two huge formations: The Heavy Stage Curtains, on the right, and The Petrified Weeping Willow Tree on the left.

Ahead of you is the majesty of The Throne Room, dominated by a huge, tapering stalagmite known as the Throne. The right hand side of the Throne Room is dominated by an exquisite white flowstone formation names the Frozen Victoria Waterfall.

 

Leaving the Throne Room and Botha Hall, you climb a staircase, pass a hollowed out stalagmite known as The Pulpit, then proceed through a narrow passageway into The Rainbow Chamber.

 

--- Rainbow Chamber ---

Against the back wall, in the eerie glow of lights, we make out the head of Old Nick, the tame Cave Devil, posed in profile. Immediately above the viewing platform, bathed in soft, blue light, is the cavern's Biblical Section. High against the wall we may see an open Family Bible. Beside it is the outstretched Lost Wing of an Angel. Below and in front of the viewing platform, is another hollowed-out stalagmite known as The Christening Font.

 

--- Bridal Chamber ---

A flight of steps leads into the Bridal Chamber with its fourteen-post bridal bed. The bride may be spotted in the kitchen to the rear, sitting on a low stool and weeping quietly to herself. A clue to her tears may be found in the bottle, prominently displayed on a rock mantle piece. Active stalactites drip constantly from the low roof above.

 

--- Fairyland ---

Fairyland is the next chamber, and it provides fantasy for the younger generation. Colored lights light up the Fairy Queen's Palace, The Fairy Castle, an inverted Sunflower. Here, the first helictites may be observed, twisting against the ceiling in frozen motion.

 

--- Drum Room ---

The Drum Room, 1650 feet from the entrance of the cave, provides the first major turn-back point on tour. Here you may be startled to hear the resonant beat of African Drums, created by your guide striking a curtain-like shield. In this chamber there is also a striking example of a opaque formation. Alongside it a stalagmite resembling a Bushman hut lends fantasy to the presentation of "Sunrise and Sunset over darkest Africa."

 

From this point the tour becomes quite difficult and is not recommended for the claustrophobic or acrophobic. Jacob's Ladder, with its over 200 steps, leads through The Grand Hall into The Avenue, and then the low confines of Lumbago Alley.

 

--- Grand Hall ---

Towards the end of the Grand Hall you will pass Lot's Chamber, where a group of stalagmite represent the biblical Lot, his two daughters, and his wife, who turned into a pillar of salt. Alongside the viewing platform is another hollowed-out stalagmite known as King Arthur's Throne.

 

--- Lumbago Alley ---

Beyond The Avenue you enter Lumbago Alley that is 300 feet long. For the most part the roof is low and for 75 feet of the Lumbago Walk the roof height seldom exceeds 4 feet.

Emerging from this tunnel you can see delicate roof crystals and get to view some of the smaller grottos.

 

--- Crystal Palace ---

The roof of the Crystal Palace is covered with ice-like crystals and weirdly contorted helictites. A light to the left reveals a semi-transparent crystal wall.

 

Moving on to the next chamber, you pass an active candle-wax column in delicate golden hues.

Steps lead downwards into the cellar-like chambers of King Solomon's Mines. The cavern gets its name from a formation high up near the roof, that resembles a king with a bearded face wearing a crystal crown. His throne is mounted on an inverted protea, South Africa's national flower.

Alongside the throne hangs a gigantic ice-cream cone. The roof of this chamber is decorated with more helictites.

 

--- Devil's Chimney Section ---

An iron ladder ascends from King Solomon's Mines into the unique caving adventure of The Devil's Chimney section. First you have to crawl through The Tunnel of Love, a low passageway some 29 inches high, narrowing at one point to about 12 inches, where larger cavers are likely to receive a loving squeeze!

 

--- Ice Chamber ---

The tunnel takes you to The Ice Chamber, which has a fascinating shelfstone ledge high around the outer wall. This ledge indicates the level of a cave pool from a bygone age. The pool's level ultimately subsided, leaving only a shallow pool in the cavern today.

 

--- The Coffin ---

Next is The Coffin, a hexagonally-shaped hole in the shelfstone, which is the beginning and end of the final circular route. The cave opens out again as we pass through the Ice-cream Parlor into the colorful beauty of the Devil's Workshop. The ceiling is decorated with many delicate helictites.

The way ahead leads over a steep hump, which leads you into the Devil's Kitchen, with it's notorious Devil's Chimney.

 

--- Devil's Chimney ---

The guide points to a narrow crack in the wall - surely someone's idea of a joke! But no; this is the Chimney. Peering in you see a steep shaft about 18 inches wide that goes up for some 15 feet. There is a light at the top and you squirm through the chimney into another larger chamber, only to be confronted by an even smaller opening.

 

--- Devilís Post Box ---

This is the Devilís Post Box. Using 'Leopard Crawl' you work your way forward and come to a low, wide slot which is the only exit route and is only 10 inches high. (No that is not a typo)

Some guides recommend going head-first, the alternative of feet-first results in an easy slide down the smooth, sloping wall and being dumped out on the flowstone floor below. You have now reached the furthest point of the tour.

 

From here you head back down Jacobs ladder, through the cave complex and back to the cave entrance.

 

Cango Two "The Wonder Cave"

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