KAROO TRIP (3)


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.

Early morning view at our overnight cottage, Soetdoring

DAY 3:

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.

CANGO CAVES

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.

At the Cango Caves we had a look over the valley which lay at the foot of the Swartberg range

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 😉.

The entrance at the Cango Caves

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.

The Van Zyl Hall inside the Cango Caves
The formations are just breathtaking

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).

This is a fine example of a stalagnate: When a stalactite (hanging from the ceiling of the cave) and stalagmite (growing upward from the floor) meet each other
I had to look twice … I’m sure there was a guy on his stomach looking into the darkness of the cave … can you see him as well?

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.

The second chamber was discovered in 1792
Monumental stalactite formations
Walking up to the next chamber on well-lit steps
The ‘Bridal Room’ inside the Cango Caves

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.

Van Zyl Hall as seen from the top on our way out of the Cango Caves

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.

SWARTBERG PASS

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.

The Swartberg Range in front of us … we are now driving into the mist

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 …

A muddy Swartberg Pass

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.

Hoping there is not a car coming from the front …

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 😉).

At the summit of the Swartberg Pass
Our Suziki Jimny must be a ton heavier because of all the mud

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.

On a clear day, the view must be spectacular … but even now, in rainy and misty conditions, it’s beautiful
Another car going at a snail’s pace up the mountain

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 once again I’ve prayed … please, no cars from the front

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!

The sun is coming through … and no more muddy gravel road … yeah!

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”.

The dreaded sign …

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!

Categories: South African Break Aways

21 comments

  1. The interior of the caves looks spectacular and I’m sure you both look slim enough to pass through narrow openings! The road over the pass did look muddy so it’s just as well you have a suitable vehicle for this type of terrain. I doubt our VW Golf would have coped with it! It’s unbelievable how the clouds disappeared and you were rewarded with such splendid views at the top of the ridge, you couldn’t have timed it better. It’s a bank holiday here so we have both sons at home for the weekend which is so nice. The weather forecast is supposed to be good but it’s not happened yet! Marion

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ah thanks Marion for your vote of confidence in us passing through narrow openings 😁. You could probably drive over the Swartberg Pass with any vehicle, but I felt much safer in our little one (which is 4×4) … there were a few anxious moments (well, from my side any way … Berto had a ball of a time!)
      How wonderful to have your sons with you this weekend – hope you spoil them (or the other way around!) One can only hope for better/sunny weather … maybe tomorrow 😉.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, loving both the caves and the scary drive, I think we’d have to take both of them on if we visited. We’ve been in some awesome caves but those look as good as anywhere, that main “hall” is fabulous. Look forward to the next instalment.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, you will absolutely have to visit these … you two are way too adventurous and not experience these 😁. That main hall is really something spectacular – it’s difficult to even find suitable words to describe the beauty of these caves! We’ll see you in our next post … we did survive to tell the story!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the look of this Caven with the huge stalactites and columns. It looks massive. So lucky to end up with good weather and amazing views on the pass! Looks gorgeous.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, that first chamber and it’s formations are indeed massive … and beautiful! We could not believe our eyes when the clouds lifted a bit for us to enjoy such spectacular views and then, just around the highest peak, it was sunshine galore – those were definitely happy moments!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Those caves are amazing! You really captured their beauty in your photos. Thanks, Mel

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Oh WOW! That cave was so beautiful!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Sounds and looks like a fine adventure. I love these kinds of caves, they never fail to disappoint. And what a misty sky, looks like it may have enveloped you at any moment. The Dangerous Road sign is very cool too.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What gorgeous formations inside the cave, Corna! A great place to be on a cloudy, rainy day! But why would you want to go to Hell?! Looking forward to the pics! 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh my goodness, I remember going through the Cango caves when I was in my teens… I have forgotten how amazingly awesome they are. Thank you for sharing this. I just loved seeing the pictures of the formations. So special to be able to visit places like these and witness how they were formed. 😍😍

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Those roads!! yikes! But the caves absolutely beautiful… once can never stop being amazed at the wonders of nature. thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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