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Congo Caves

Words & Photos: Lauren & Dale Barrow. Article from the DO IT NOW Online Magazine.

Travel

If someone had told me that two action-packed days would not be time enough to see and do everything in a small Klein Karoo town, I don’t think I would have believed them. However, after clambering through caves, riding ostriches and meeting meerkats, we weren’t even halfway through our list of things to do. Two days is simply not enough time to appreciate all that Oudtshoorn has to offer.

  The Cango Caves are not only South Africa’s oldest tourist attraction, but also one of the most magnificent.

De Denne Guest Farm

Our home for the two night stay in Oudtshoorn was De Denne Guest Farm, a working ostrich farm owned by Johan and Louise Keller. Not knowing what to expect before we arrived, we were completely blown away by the hospitality and charm of the place. Following a welcome drink in the beautifully restored farm house, we were taken to our own private chalet. Along with the tasteful décor and beautiful view, the rooms are equipped with all you need for your stay.

However, that is not all this four-star guest farm has to offer. After arriving, we wished we had more time to relax and enjoy all the facilities and activities on offer. You can tour the working ostrich farm around you and, if you are lucky, also experience the ostrich chicks hatching. Hikes, bird watching, star gazing and mountain biking are just a few of the other activities on offer. The guest farm manager, Rudi, is also a wealth of information when it comes to the less-touristy attractions of Oudtshoorn, such as mountain climbing and exploring the lesser-known caves in the area. If only we had more time … .

Cango Caves

The Cango Caves are the oldest tourist attraction in South Africa, and our childhood memories of Oudtshoorn were of the wonder and excitement of these caves. As an adult, we were eager to return and find out if they really were as big and amazing as remembered. We were not disappointed. Just one of the great chambers inside the cave is the size of a football field, and that’s not even the biggest one! The amazing limestone stalactites and stalagmites are also incredible and it is hard to imagine the amount of time it’s taken for them to form.

The nice thing about the tours of the Cango Caves is that they are suited for young and old, the adventurous and cautious. There is an hour Heritage tour where you hardly need to duck your head and it is lit all the way. A knowledgeable guide will tell you all about the caves and its history, and you will be able to see many of the great formations. However, if you are eager for a bit more of a challenge and cave-crawling experience, then I recommend the Adventure tour. Be sure to be ready to slip through small crevices and climb slim columns, with names such as ‘The Postbox’ and ‘The Devil’s Chimney’.

Cango Ostrich Farm

One of the most famous attributes of Oudtshoorn is that it is the ostrich capital of the world! Ostriches are very funny looking birds and to see and experience them up close is really entertaining. The Cango Ostrich Farm offers 45-minute tours where you can touch, feed and even ride these odd birds. I have never had the desire to ride an ostrich, ‘but when in Rome …’ It really is a peculiar feeling loping along on the backs of these prehistoric-looking birds, but I left Oudtshoorn able to say that I had done it!

Buffelsdrift Game Lodge

Another ‘must see’ in Oudtshoorn is Buffelsdrift Game Lodge. Even if you just pop in for a meal, it is well worth it. From the reception and restaurant, set overlooking a 5-hectare dam with fish, hippos and lots of birds, you may even see the elephants heading off on the guided elephant safari.

Meeting the three resident elephants at Buffelsdrift was an amazing experience.

Being so close to these majestic creatures enables you to get an idea of just how powerful they are. Receiving a hug from an elephant is not for the faint of heart, but Jabari, Bulelo and Malaika are true gentle giants. If you come with some food for them, they will happily be your friend and even let you rub their soft, pink tongues as you feed them.

Meerkat safari

From the biggest in the park to one of the smallest, the meerkats. Don’t overlook them because what they lack in stature is more than made up in personality. Buffelsdrift Game Lodge offers a Meerkat safari, which was one of the highlights of our visit. The safari involves waking up before sunrise and setting up camping chairs in the bush to wait for the meerkats to pop up from their burrows. We all enjoyed watching these little social animals, as our Buffelsdrift guide told us about each member in this particular family. Be sure to look out for the ones who fall asleep during their lookout duty.

Buffelsdrift Bush safari

If you start your day off in the bush with the meerkats, then the only way to end it must be watching the sun go down with the rest of the animals in the park. And Buffelsdrift Bush safari is just the place to do this. See rhino, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, eland, zebra and many more animals, while an experienced guide teaches you about them, the birds and plants. Couple that with a cold sundowner overlooking the plains and you will have had a perfect day in the Karoo.

Cango Wildlife Ranch

When visiting Oudtshoorn, make sure you also leave at least half a day to spend at the Cango Wildlife Ranch, where you’ll see an array of animals up close and personal. Crocodile cage diving is just one of the activities on offer, and it is an amazing experience to see these great beasts slide passed you in the water. Cheetahs, tigers, lemurs, lions, foxes, kangaroos, birds; you name it and they have it. It is also a great way to contribute to the rehabilitation programmes run there.

Route 62

Route 62 is the longest wine route in the world and Oudtshoorn can be found at its centre. The route is dotted along the way with many farm stalls and quaint towns, but one of its great attractions is its unique landscape. Driving along the seemingly never-ending road and looking out over the vast and barren plains gives you an idea of how small we actually are. But the plains are not all that this unique landscape has to offer. If possible, try to take a drive through the Seweweekspoort and Swartberg Passes. The towering rock faces and classic features are not too be missed.

So the next time you are in the area or planning your vacation, don’t just pass through Oudtshoorn and do one or two things. Don’t think that because you have a couple of days you are not going to waste it on a small desert town. This place is definitely one that should be high up on your South African bucket list. Not only is it great for adults but kids will have an absolute ball there as well. It is truly a place where memories are made, so make sure you have set aside enough time to take in all the many wonders that Oudtshoorn has to offer.

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