Wildlife, caves, waterfalls … day four of the road trip

Rising early we joined the morning game drive, with daybreak still fresh in the air we headed out into the bush armed with cameras and bed-hair. The first large game greeting us were some hippo, racing back towards the water as soon as they knew we had spotted them, for such large animals they sure can pick up a decent pace.

A bit further down the trail we stopped to watch a family of meerkats warming up in the first sunray’s that slipped over the horizon, watching us watching them, a bit further on a white rhino grazed, ignoring us watching her.

After a self help buffet breakfast we hit the road for the 10-minute drive to the Cango Wildlife Ranch 3 kilometers north of Oudtshoorn. Since the establishment in 1988 of the Cheetah Conservation Foundation the Cango Wildlife Ranch has become the number one cheetah breeding facility not just in South Africa but also throughout the world. Although the breeding centre is not open to the public, some of the Ranch’s hand reared cheetahs can be viewed and interacted with at the Ranch. Since December 2005 the Cango Wildlife Ranch has also started to offer visitors the only Croc Cage Diving Experience in the world with the opening of the Valley of Ancients which forms part of the 60 minute guided tour, visitors are guided through a tropical house and past various animal environments where some of the world’s most elusive and secretive animals can be viewed such as the Pygmy Hippo, Ring-tailed Lemur, Blue Duiker, etc. During the summer months visitors can also see the Ranch’s guides hand feeding 3 meter Nile Crocodiles on tour at the Jumping Jaws pool. Elevated walkways in the ever-popular Cheetahland allow visitors a birds eye view of powerful predators such as the Lion, the Tiger and the Cheetah. The Ranch also has two restaurants; a kids play and water park, lorikeet aviary, wallaby walkabout and snake-park. The Natural Encounters program allows visitors to interact with a variety of ambassador species such as tiger cubs, cheetah and reptiles, affording the visitor a unique experience and great photo opportunities.

From here it was only another 25-minutes on the road and we soon arrived at the Cango Caves, one of the worlds great natural wonders, sculptured by nature through the ages – fascinating limestone formations in a wide variety of colors, an underground wonder-world. Trained guides are at hand to conduct visitors along the magic paths of the world’s finest stalactite cave. According to legend the caves were discovered during 1780. Early visitors had to brave the pitch darkness of the vast caverns from the poor light of self-made candles. Over the years improvements took place and today modern technology makes it possible that all the wonders of the cave are skillfully illuminated for the benefit of visitors.

The limestone beds of the Cango Group are, through movement in the Earth’s crust, no longer in a horizontal plane. The layers of strata are also displaced laterally, forming dykes. Rainwater combined with acidic carbon dioxide from decomposing plant material on the surface, flows through a fracture zone. Limestone, i.e., calcium carbonate plus water and carbon dioxide = Calcium Bicarbonate – which dissolves in water, flows out. This process of `cave making’ takes millions of years. Calcium bicarbonate gives off carbon dioxide and reverts back to Calcium Carbonate, and the solution crystallizes and evolves into the various formations that can be seen in the Caves (Stalactites, etc.). The time in making the many formations, depends on the supply of water and carbon dioxide, and in the case of the Cango Caves, started several millions of years ago, whilst many are still in the making.

After the caving expedition we made our way back towards Oudtshoorn, following the road signage we gave in to temptation and took the turnoff towards the Rust & Vrede (Rest & Peace) waterfall, a scenic detour branching off the R328, 18km from Oudtshoorn on the way back from the Cango Caves. No title could be more apt, for this is definitely a must see for anyone traveling to Oudtshoorn. The waterfall is hidden among the bracken-clad heights and reached via a scenic walk over little bridges and along an easy mountain trail. Beautiful wild flowers bloomed in great profusion alongside the path while far below amidst ferns and undergrowth, a powerful river rippled over rocky edges. The incredibly scenic and peaceful trail ended in great reward, collected at our feet was the sparkling pool that originated from a spring high up in the mountains. Rust-en-Vrede is a safe sanctuary for indigenous plant and animal life and definitely a precious asset of the Klein Karoo and Cango Valley. Picnic and braai facilities are available under the enormous trees at the entrance. A really small entrance fee was charged at the gate. After this truly breathtaking surprise we jumped into the car and headed back towards the game lodge.

Again temptation struck and before we knew it we had pulled over for some quad biking.  Surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Swartberg, Outeniqua, Kammannassie and Gamkaberg ranges, each with their own fascinations, visitors to Oudtshoorn are spoilt for choice when it comes to getting a bit of excitement in nature.

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