CANGO CAVES & SWARTBERG PASS
April & May 2021
We woke up to quite a cloudy day … it seems there might be a few showers around in the morning. I’m not so sure whether this is a good idea to drive the famous Swartberg Pass in wet conditions … I hope it’s going to dry out before we get there.
Today, we are driving to ‘The Hell’ for a three-day laidback weekend … I’m not sure whether this destination is Berto’s idea of how he experienced our marriage of the past 25 years 😁.
But before we get to ‘The Hell’, we have an appointment for a guided tour at the famous Cango Caves just outside Oudtshoorn.
Both me and Berto visited the Cango Caves in the early 1990’s and we were looking forward to experience this beautiful underground wonder again after so many years.
The 20 million-year old Cango Caves is one of the worlds’ greatest natural wonders, sculptured by nature through the ages – fascinating limestone formations in a wide variety of colours.
We’ve booked a one hour guided tour inside the caves. There are 2 routes, namely the Heritage- and Adventure Tour. Unfortunately, the Adventure Tour is currently close due to Covid-19 and therefor we’ve only done the Heritage Tour.
Side Note: While we both have done the Adventure Tour on our first visit in the late 1990’s, I’m not so sure whether we will now fit through all the narrow passages again … our bodies changed quite a lot in the past 25 years 😉.
We had a very knowledgeable cave guide and she had our attention for the entire hour while explaining everything to us.
Our first stop on this tour was at the main chamber, which has countless dripstone formations. It’s called Van Zyl’s Hall – named after its discoverer – and is really HUGE.
Although the extensive system of tunnels and chambers go on for over 4km (2.5 miles), only a quarter of this is open to visitors. The Cango Caves were rediscovered in modern times in 1780 by a local farmer named Jacobus van Zyl (the first chamber, as mentioned earlier, was named after him).
According to geologists, the caves were formed after being filled with water for a very long time and then with the draining rivers carving into the rock. It is believed that the cave is about 275m (902 ft) underground.
As our tour came to an end, we had one last opportunity to have a final look at the biggest chamber in the Cango Caves, the Van Zyl Hall. The sheer size of this underground cave is just breathtaking.
It was really great to be inside the Cango Caves again after more than 25 years since our last visit.
It was however sad to see how neglected the actual building at the caves were … while the caves inside is as beautiful as I remembered it. Just after our visit, we’ve read in the media that there are plans from the local municipality at Oudtshoorn to upgrade the building and facilities at the Cango Caves – I hope it realise soon.
There was still a light drizzle when we’ve exited the caves. We now have to drive over the famous Swartberg Pass as this is the only road access to Gamkaskloof … ‘The Hell’ where we will be spending the rest of our trip.
I’ve once read that the Swartberg Pass is for many South Africans the rubicon of gravel road passes. The pass is very long at 23,8km (14.7 miles) and it takes about an hour to drive … today, we will only drive half of this pass before we turn off at the plateau to drive into ‘The Hell’.
And as expected, the pass was as slippery as soap because of the soft rain that fell during the night and this morning … we did read that the pass can be a little treacherous after rain … ok, I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive …
The Swartberg Pass was built between 1881 and 1888 by Thomas Bain. This mountain range are amongst the best exposed fold mountain chains in the world and the pass slices through magnificently scenic geological formations.
And then, after what felt like an eternity, we’ve reached the summit! There was a small lookout point and we’ve taken the opportunity to take some photo’s (and to catch our breath 😉).
The mist just lifted for a couple of minutes and as we’ve had stunning views over the Little Karoo to the south and the Great Karoo to the north, I had to admit it was absolute worth driving this amazing pass.
After we’ve taken photo’s and enjoyed the views, we’ve got back in the car to drive the last part of the Swartberg Pass. I thought we were at the top … but we’ve still continued for a couple of minutes driving further up the pass …
And then … a sigh of relief! We’ve reached the (real) top of the pass and suddenly the clouds lifted and the sun was shining – I was amazed at how the weather conditions improved in seconds!
We’ve driven for a while on the plateau of the Swartberg Pass and it was really beautiful. I’ve wanted to kiss the sun for showing these views to us!
It was now only a few kilometers to the turn-off of Gamkaskloof … the road that will take us into ‘The Hell’. After a hectic drive on the Swartberg Pass, it should be all smooth riding to the end … right? No, wrong!!
We’ve stopped at a sign as we’ve entered the Gamkaskloof … “Dangerous Road for 48km. Use at own risk”.
We will show and tell you more about the road to ‘The Hell’ in our next post … buckle up and click here to read about our epic journey!