The countryside around Oudtshoorn is dotted with nature reserves, scenic passes and small towns.
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27km/17mi north of Oudtshoorn, at the foot of the Great Swartberg, are the impressive Cango caves, with magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors are taken on a conducted tour of the cave system for a distance of 2km/1.25mi, taking about an hour.In earlier centuries the caves, which have a constant temperature of 18°C/64°F, were occupied by Bushmen, who left rock drawings, little of which can now be distinguished, as evidence of their presence. At the entrance to the caves is a tableau depicting the life of the Bushmen. The conducted tour takes visitors into a series of huge chambers with impressive stalactites and stalagmites, the effect of which is enhanced by spectacular lighting effects. The Van Zyl Hall is named after the man who first ventured into the darkness of the caves in 1780. This enormous chamber (70m/230ft long, 35m/115ft wide and up to 17m/56ft high), brilliantly floodlit, has room for 1,000 people. It has excellent acoustics, and concerts are occasionally given here.Other caves, known as Cango II, III and IV, with a total length of over 2,200m/2,400yd, were discovered in 1972. To protect their delicate ecological system, they are not open to the public.
Beyond the Cango Caves the road climbs to the Swartberg Pass. The Swartberg range, which forms the boundary between the Little and the Great Karoo, extends for a length of 200km/125mi, with heights of up to 2,326m/7,628ft. Of the three passes through the range the Swartberg is the most spectacular. The road (not completely asphalted, but in dry weather negotiable by ordinary cars without difficulty) was built in 1881-88. After almost every bend there is a magnificent view, and the vegetation is equally fascinating, with a profusion of proteas. Beyond the pass (1,568m/5,145ft) the landscape changes, and the road eventually enters a narrow gorge with a lush growth of vegetation.
Gamka Mountain Nature Reserve
35km/22mi southwest of Oudtshoorn (R 62, signposted to Calitzdorp, and in 12km/7.5mi left into track to Warmbad) is the Gamka Mountain Nature Reserve (area 9,400ha23,200ac), in which the rare mountain zebra can be seen, as well as antelopes, gazelles, caracals and 80 species of birds, including Verreaux's eagle.There is a small visitor center which can supply information about walking in the reserve, from short walks to two-day hikes. Cars must be parked at the visitor center; no accommodation for visitors.
Prince Albert, South Africa
70km/43mi from Oudtshoorn the road comes to Prince Albert (pop. 4,500), named after Queen Victoria's consort. Mountain streams supply an abundance of water for the fruit plantations round the little town (peaches harvested in January, grapes in March).The Museum in Church Street, once the home of the Haak family, has a collection of Bibles, furniture, domestic equipment, weapons, old vehicles and tools.
Meiringspoort is the lowest (716m/2,349ft) and fastest of the three passes in the Swartberg range. N 12 (Oudtshoorn to Beaufort West) runs through a 20km/12.5mi long gorge with folded sandstone formations.