It is said that the word “Kango” is derived from the San or Khoi language, and means “Water between the Hills”. In Oudtshoorn, a town in the Klein Karoo of South Africa, the word Cango opens a world of adventure and excitement and discovery.
The world famous attraction the Cango Caves spring to mind first. Undoubtedly one of Oudtshoorn’s biggest tourist attractions, these caves are simply spectacular to behold, and well worth the slight hint of claustrophobia. The finest dripstone caverns with vast halls and towering formations are found in a limestone ridge parallel to the Swartberg Mountains.
Legend has it that the caves were first explored by a local farmer, Jacobus van Zyl, after whom the first chamber, Van Zyl’s Hall, was named, but it has never fully been corroborated by historical data collected.
A visit to the caves can take you on one of two tours. The first, the Historical Tour, taking you to three of the big caverns, and the second, the Adventure Tour, taking you through the nooks and crannies not everyone has the heart for.
Van Zyl’s Hall, the first big attraction, is a spacious cavern stretching over 90 meters long, 50 meters wide at its widest point, and between 14 and 18 meters high. Almost 100 meters of solid limestone roof separates this spacious hall from the ridge crest above. Ancient stalactites (better known as the dried tobacco leaves of Oudtshoorn) decorate the grey-blue limestone ceiling, but the centrepiece of the hall is undoubtedly the giant Organ Pipes, a breathtaking dripstone/flowstone combination. Other interesting formations are Cleopatra’s Needle, a tall, slender stalagmite rising nearly 10 meters to the ceiling thought to be 150000 years old (and still growing), and The Pulpit near the base of the staircase, complete with angel wings.
Some of the most significant discoveries in the caves were made by its first guide, Johnnie van Wassenaar who retired in 1934 after 43 years of service. He opened many side chambers and introduced the public to Cango 1, which remains the only public area of the caves.
As many South Africans know, Oudtshoorn is the Ostrich breeding capital of the country, and it is quite a treat to see these long-legged feathered friends in action up close and personal. Cango Ostrich show farm, 14 km outside of Oudtshoorn, is the perfect place to do exactly that. Stand on an Ostrich egg to test its incredible strength, ride an Ostrich or simply feed one – the choice is yours.
The last Cango that is not to be missed in the Klein Karoo is the Cango Wildlife Ranch, a wildlife conservancy over 30 years old offering guests guided tours to view their more than 90 different species. They view their tours as a fundamental part of the education programs, schooling the public on animal and environmental issues.
Visitors can enjoy a guided tour by expert guides or go on a Natural Encounter, a program encouraging interaction between visitors and some of the select ambassador animals at the ranch, or even take a walk on the wildest side of all and go for a Croc Cage Dive – a world first. Here visitors are lowered into a crystal clear heated pool occupied by 4-meter crocodiles, in a specially designed cage. Surely, the longest and most adrenaline-filled 10 minutes of a person’s life. Environmentalists and animal activists can rest assured that the impact on the crocodiles are minimal since the crocodiles are all bred in captivity and used to human activity. There is no chumming – the cage with the diver is simply manoeuvred as close as possible to the crocodiles to ensure a close encounter with a super predator.
So whether you prefer on the ground, underground or under water, Cango is your best fit for every option. Best of all is that with Cango, you even have a Cango Mountain Resort where you can take a load off by camping, caravanning, log cabining or lounging in a chalet. Time for a few new bucket list entries, I think…