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Cango Caves , Garden Route, South Africa

The Cango Caves lie in the Swartberg Mountain Range in a limestone belt measuring about 1,5km in width and almost 16km in length. The limestone layer was formed by the deposit of calcium carbonate crystals. This part of South Africa was once below the ocean. As the continent rose the Little Karoo finally found itself above the water level. The caves only started to form some 20 million years ago, when the water level dropped to such an extent that the ground water could start to seep into the limestone.

During this process cavities were formed and they filled with water. Rivers formed on the surface and cut down into the limestone allowing them to reach the level of the water. This caused the water to flow out about 4 million years ago. The cave was for the first time exposed to air and the formations stared to form. For thousands of years, humans did not know about the caves only animals were using them. However, about 10000 years ago, the Khoisan used the entrance area of the cave as shelter. They never explored into the depths of the caves - due to their superstitious nature. The entrance area to the Caves was originally rich in bushman paintings though through time these have been damaged. The San left this area and the caves some 500 years ago.

The caves lay undiscovered again until 1780. A herder, Klaas Windvogel, stumbled across the cave entrance in search of lost cattle. He left the cave to get help from a Mr. Barend Oppel who was a teacher to a Mr. Jacobus van Zyl's children. On the 11th July 1780, Mr. van Zyl, Mr. Oppel and Mr. Windvogel entered the cave and lowered Mr. van Zyl down a precipice into the cave. The first chamber, now appropriately named Van Zyl's Hall, was estimated by Mr. van Zyl to be 5 miles long, 3 miles wide and 1 mile high. He was, however, exploring the cave with a candle and his calculations were very inaccurate.

Slowly, more and more chambers and tunnels were discovered and in 1891 the first tour was taken through the Cango Caves . It was only between 1972 and 1975 that Cango 2, 3, 4 and 5 were discovered. The present tourist route extends for 1,2km into the cave, with a further 4,1km being kept closed to the public for conservation reasons. The Caves are open to the public every day of the year except on Christmas Day.

Tours are offered through the cave which are suitable for every one, also there is an adventure tour, although if you are claustrophobic atall it could be a bit much for you!

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