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Explore the Cango Caves, South Africa

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The Cango Caves is situated about 300 km east of Cape Town and 29 km to Oudtshoorn in the Precambrian limestone at the foothills of the magnificent Swartberg mountain range. It is one of the world’s great natural wonders, fascinating land impressive limestone formations in a wide variety of colours, sculptured by nature through the ages.

Once thought to be about one kilometre in length, it is now known that they extend for well over five kilometers – and could be even bigger.

History

Recent finds prove that humans have lived and sheltered here for at least 80 000 years. The Khoisan used the entrance area of the cave as shelter about 10 000 years ago. They never wandered deeper into the cave because of their superstitious nature. Bushman paintings covered the entrance but over time have been damaged. The San people left this area and their cave approximately 500 years ago. There is also a common myth that a local farmer, Jacobus van Zyl, was the first European man to explore the caves in the 1770’s, but research has shown that no-one by that name lived in the area at that time.

  • It is South Africa’s oldest tourist attraction.
  • The first tour was conducted in 1891 and it has been a favourite ever since.
  • It was first to be protected by environmental legislation. In 1820 Lord Charles Somerset, published the first Caves Regulation. It was the first law designed to protect an environmental resource in South Africa and which banned the collection of souvenirs and provided for fines for anyone caught damaging Caves formations.
  • It is the first to employ a fulltime tourist guide Many of the most significant discoveries in the Caves were made by its first full-time guide, Johnnie van Wassenaar, who served for 43 years, from 1891 until his retirement in 1934. He opened many side chambers and introduced thousands of people to the Caves.

Mysteries, Legends, Ghosts

The Caves’ history and their size are two mysteries that have intrigued people and unravelled over many years. But there are many others, for example:

  • Skeletons of three genets (small cats) were found in Cango 2. Is there another secret entrance to the Caves? Or were they drowned and left behind by receding floodwaters?
  • And how did the skeletons of bats found in Cango 2 become enclosed in calcite many hundreds or even thousands of years ago?
  • There is an ancient engraving in the Caves – the only piece of cave art in South Africa in a completely dark place. How did the artist provide a light source to work? And amazingly the engraving shows an elephant when you view it from one side – and an eland when viewed from the other.
  • Why have so many Caves guides committed suicide?
  • Is there a ghost in the Sand bypass? One of the guides drank poison in the bypass. And nobody has ever been able to solve the puzzle of why the lights in the Sand Bypass fuse so often!
  • And then there’s the mystery of Johnnie van Wassenaar’s 16-mile tunnel. In 1898 this level-headed man spent 29 hours underground most of which time he claimed to have spent walking upright. When there he calculated that he was 25km from the entrance, and 275m under ground. His route apparently followed an underground river. So far, no caves have been found to support this story.