Congo Caves in South Africa-. Spectacular underground ancient wonder.
Stalactites and Stalagmites !
This piece I dedicate to my Teachers Mrs.Sahani and Ms Ranjana.
Offbeat travels by Elsie Gabriel
Time stands still. I catch my breath as the first view of the gigantic ancient stalactites and stalagmites open up before me. Immensely massive grey-blue limestone ceilings and caverns engulf me.
They bring back a thousand geographic lessons learned in standard six way back in school! It is no harm to fall in love in know? Just a little bit of South Africa has me smitten for sure! Nothing beats a good geography lesson while traveling, specially for your kids. Pass down all your beloved travel memories to your next generation and believe you will have nature live in their hearts forever!
Speechless, I awaken my senses as the guide speaks on. I am really standing in the middle of the Congo Caves which is one of the worlds greatest natural wonders, sculptured by nature through the ages – fascinating limestone formations in a wide variety of colours. An underground wonder world, majestic formation and a natural historic site in South Africa! The finest dripstone caverns, with their vast halls and towering formations, is simply over whelming.
These sparkling ancient African cave tunnel systems in the Karoo, situated in the Swartberg Mountains, 30km north of Oudtshoorn, South Africa are the 20 million year-old Precambrian caves. Africa’s largest show cave system is definitely worth a visit just to see the beautiful crystal and flow structures alone.
Although the massive system of tunnels and chambers stretch for over four kilometres, only a quarter of this is open to visitors. You can do a guided standard one hour tour or tackle the more adventurous one and a half hour tour, which include some tight squeezes through very narrow passages.
I did the standard one hour tour which took me down nine chambers. I felt like Alice in wonderland slowly treading through secret looming white translucent chambers. Bewildered and semi lost but loving every moment of it.Listen to your guide.Choose an English speaking one and do not land up with the wrong guide.Be quiet and listen carefully.Absorb the wonder and simply praise God!
Some parts of the caves are lost in absolute darkness, a deep stillness, a constant temperature and high humidity; it is a world with its own unique scenery of calcite masterpieces formed by gently dripping water. Each chamber displays a limestone masterpiece; created by the forces of nature. There are five basic limestone deposits found along this route namely Dripstone, Flowstone, Rimstone, Roof Crystals, and Shelfstone.
Rainwater, seeping through the upper-surface of the cave absorbed carbon dioxide, producing a mild carbonic acid, which is able to dissolve small quantities of the calcium carbonate in limestone, changing it into soluble calcium bicarbonate.
Copyright all pictures@elsiegabriel.
In the cave it encounters air with a lower carbon dioxide partial pressure. To restore its balance, a water droplet discharges carbon dioxide. As the calcium bicarbonate can no longer be retained in the solution, it is deposited in the form of tiny limestone crystals known as calcite. This ongoing process builds up calcite deposits, which in turn produce the cave formations.Some parts of the caves are just a little moist so look out for wet walls and floors.
With slow droplet formation calcite is deposited against the ceiling, resulting in the growth of stalactites hanging downwards. With more rapid droplet formation, water containing calcite in solution falls to the floor, resulting in the building up of a stalagmite from below.
Stalactites and stalagmites that form vertically opposite each other, may eventually unite to form beautiful‘Completed Columns’.
In all, there are almost nine caves with nine landings to which standard visitors are allowed. Each spacious hall vary in size but are approximately over 90 metres long, 50 metres wide at its widest point, and between 14 and 18 metres high.
On one particular landing my eyes were drawn to a tall, slender stalagmite which rises nearly 10 metres towards the ceilings. One such formation was the Cleopatra’s Needle. Still active and growing, the Needle is estimated to be in excess of 150 000 years old am told.
Stay away from noisy tourists and after hearing what the guide has to inform you,explore and take in the sights.
Further down, again near the base of another staircase stands an impressive formation known as The Pulpit of a Great Cathedral, replete with angel’s wings, sculptured by nature’s own .The largest, an ancient formation some 500 000 years old, is known as The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Beyond it stands a soaring column some 13 metres high and approximately 250 000 years old,they say.
Fairyland, the next chamber, provides fantasy for the younger generation. Coloured lights illumine the Fairy Queen’s Palace . The roof of the Crystal Palace on another chamber is decorated with “Hanging crystal gardens”, adorned with ice-like crystals and weirdly contorted helictites. A light to the left reveals a translucent crystal wall. There are several other huge formations like the Madonna and child, The Heavy Stage Curtains, and The Petrified Weeping Willow Tree among many many more. The Cango Caves are an absolute must for all tourists visiting South Africa, if you miss the Caves, you might as well have stayed home.
Few guidelines for the Cango Caves
- Wear comfortable footwear and light clothing – it’s a warm cave at around 18 degrees Celsius and humid too.
- Arrive early to study the literature and see the display boards.
- Use other personal facilities before you start the cave tour.
- It’s a one kilometer walk, with 416 stairs on a full tour, and lasts about one and a half hours.
- The tunnel section at the back called the devil’s chimney borders an extreme narrow adventure, only try it if you are extremely slim and fit.
- Take the family only through the first nine chambers, rest is not advisable for small children.
- Take plenty of photos.
- Do not chip or break off any pieces of the stalactites and stalagmite formations.
- Listen carefully to the guide providing useful information.
How to get here –
The caves are approximately 28 km north of Oudtshoorn on the R328. The nearest airport is George Airport in South Africa, approximately 50 km away. Entry to South Africa is of course through Johannesburg international airport which has direct flights from Mumbai and Delhi, here in India.
Best time to visit
The Cango Caves are open throughout the year, except on Christmas Day.
If you are planning for a trip then do think about South Africa where you will meet the deep, gigantic, pre-historic, amazing caves. Those who are willing to open up the geography books and live the pages within, this spectacular historical wonder is a must visit to South Africa at least once in your lifetime!