Andrew & Angelica - South Africa 2016 travel blog

Cango Caves

Inside Van Zyl's Hall

At the top of the Swartberg Pass

Watsonia Tabula, common on some parts of the Swartberg Pass

If you look at a map of this part of the Western Cape around Oudsthoorn you will see that we were going to take the long way round via Cango Caves and the Swartberg Pass via Klaarstroom to get to Knysna, a distance of some 283 kilometres.

We arrived at the Cango Caves to be shown a parking spot by 'an attendant' which we could have easily directed ourselves to. This is the pattern in South Africa. In return for a few rand, unofficial parking attendants wearing high-viz jackets sprout up everywhere to 'help' you into and out of a spot and supposedly guard your car against being broken into while you are gone. When you come back to your car you think they are nowhere to be seen but suddenly they appear as if by magic and smile at you appealingly. I am sure in most cases they are not needed and they are merely playing on the fear of crime. But it provides a source of income for many and they work their patch assiduously.

The Cango Caves were a surprise. You think when you have visited caves in various locations throughout the world as we have, there is nothing more to see. But there is and Cango should be on your list if you ever find yourself in Oudsthoorn. At the beginning you enter a huge chamber, Van Zyl's Hall, named after the person that discovered it in 1780. You enter the chamber as long as a football field and are amazed but then when the lights are turned on the effects are stunning. This treatment is repeated throughout further chambers of lesser size. There is a longer adventure tour that can be done where you have to climb through small tunnels and go further, some 4kms into the limestone rocks. Some of the holes were tiny so we passed on that one.

Next we drove up and over the Swartberg Pass. This is supposedly one of the most spectacular passes on an unpaved road in South Africa. Shortly after leaving Cango Caves we arrived at the dusty stony section that lasts for 25kms. The head of the pass is at 1,583m and affords excellent views of the valley below. It is not as scary as I had been led to believe and really is quite easy to drive even in our little front wheel drive Ford Figo. Being a petrol engine it really is quite underpowered in comparison with small Diesel engines and runs out of puff quite quickly up hills with three people and all our luggage, so first gear was required for quite a lot of the uphill sections. At best where it was flat and with only small stones we could get up to 40kph but the whole section of unpaved road probably took us about an hour with stops. We only saw a handful of other cars on the route with one other going in our direction and about 7 or so going in the opposite direction. Guidebooks and reviews would have you believe that it is single track with sharp switchbacks making it difficult to pass cars coming in the opposite direction but that really is not the case and in most places cars can pass quite comfortably. If coming to this area, don't be scared, give it a go and enjoy the scenery. It is particularly spectacular on the Prince Albert side.

After that we had to make it to Knysna where we arrived at about 6pm. There is a pass after George which we had to cross and this was in thick cloud with extremely poor visibility. SA drivers seem to think that is what hazard lights are for. Another habit that is quite unusual for us Europeans is that on single stretch roads such as the N2 which is what the garden route is largely comprised of, slower vehicles pull on to the hard shoulder and use it as a lane to let faster vehicles pass.

Our accommodation tonight is not up to the previous standard, which is perhaps not surprising as it is only R600 which at current exchange rates is about £10 each including breakfast. In fact the Rand has weakened yet again and I see that today it is now over 24 rands to the £! There is a stale mouldy type of aroma in our adjoined rooms and the noise of the traffic on the N2 nearby rather detracts from the place. Apart from that it overlooks the Knysna Lagoon.

We went into Knysna for the evening and had a meal at the Waterfront. Not a patch on Cape Town, but never the less this area is very different from the parts of Western Cape that we have seen. It is greener and forested with pine trees that are not indigenous to the country. It makes it pleasant and in some respects not unlike Scotland with inland stretches of water only warmer!

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