Legend has it that the Cango Caves were first discovered by a herder in search of lost cattle, and subsequently explored by local farmer Jacobus van Zylin 1780, after whom the first hall is named. Although there are various and unconfirmed versions of these reports, this remains the most accurate in research.
It has been acknowledged that the caves have been known to man since the Early Stone Age, with each year bringing further investigation and exploration. In those early days the caves were explored by man using self-made candles, often burning the roof of the caves. The Cango Caves bears evidence of early San inhabitation with the entrance to the caves originally rich in ancient bushman art. The San left the area roughly 500 years ago, unfortunately the paintings have been damaged through the ages.
The Cango Caves became a popular tourist attraction in the 1800’s already, however many visitors broke off and damaged the dripstone columns. The Governor of the Cape at the time, Lord Charles Somerset, published the first Caves Regulation in 1820 which was designed to protect the environmental resource of the caves and ban the collection of souvenirs.
The Cango Caves is located on a limestone belt which is 1,5km wide and almost 16km long. The limestones were formed by chemical processes approximately 750 million years ago. The caves were moulded after being filled with water for a very long period of time and then with the draining rivers carving into the rock. When the caves fell dry it became a fossil cave which is when the speleothems begun forming, which are mineral deposits formed from groundwater. Stalactites (hanging columns), stalagmites (columns growing upwards) and helictites (columns which grow in all directions) glimmer from every corner of the caves and form magnificent features to the already incredible Cango Caves.
The caves are divided into Cango One, Cango Two and Cango Three, with many deeper parts still being explored. Most of the significant discoveries in the caves were made by the first full-time guide, Johnnie van Wassenaar, who worked here for 43 years from 1891. He was a key component in introducing thousands of visitors to Cango One, which to this day is the most visited part of the caves.
Some featured dates :
1888 – The Swartberg Pass opened enabling visitors to reach the Cango Caves quicker
1890 – The gate at the entrance was mounted
1902 – Railway line at Oudtshoorn began functioning allowing more people the opportunity to visit
1921 – The Oudtshoorn Municipality became the administrator of the Cango Caves
1938 – The Cango Caves was proclaimed a Historical Monument
1964 – Artificial entrance created
1997 – The new Cango Caves complex built and completed in 1998
1999 – The Interpretive Centre opened
Between 1964 and 1994 concerts were held in the van Zyl’s hall but were stopped for conservation reasons.