Whether you take the easy way up and down on the revolving cableway or put in the leg work and climb, attaining the summit of Table Mountain is a Capetonian rite of passage. Weather permitting, your rewards are a panoramic view across the peninsula and a chance to experience something of the park's incredible biodiversity. Schedule time for a hike - the park;s 24,500 hectares include routes to suit all levels of fitness and ambition from gentle ambles to spot Fynbos (literally, "fine bush") to the five-day, four-night Hoerikwaggo trail.
Table Mountain covers around 73% of the Cape Peninsula, stretching from Signal Hill to Cape Point. Table Mountain is part of the "Chain" which includes Lion's Head and Signal Hill (Lion's Rump). The Chain of mountains is a National Park, a natural world heritage site and a Natural Wonder (declared by the New 7 Wonders Foundation in 2012).
The National Park is not fenced in like one would imagine, but is surrounded by the city. Certain areas have free access and others charge a conservation fee which are payable at Cape Point, Boulders Penguin Colony, Silvermine and the picnic sites (Oudekraal, Newlands, Perdekloof and Tokai).
The chain is home to the world’s smallest, yet most diverse floral kingdom, The Cape Floristic Region. The vegetation type is called fynbos. It consists of three main families of plants, namely Proteaceae (Proteas), Restionaceae (grasslike plants) and Ericas (heath type plants with fine leaves and tiny flowers).
Large mammals are no longer abundant in these regions but small interesting and often endemic animals such as tortoises, snakes, lizards, frogs and toads can be observed.
Look out for the bright blue-headed Southern Rock Agama, the prehistoric looking Black Girdled Lizard and the Cape Skink.
There are some interesting endemic and endangered Amphibians, the Table Mountain Ghost Frog is a special find, but look out for the Cape Chirping Frog, Cape River Frog, the endangered Leopard toad and the tiny Arum Lily Frog.
Two species of Tortoises are common, the Angulate Tortoise and the Parrot-beaked Tortoise.
There are 22 snakes species, ten of which are non-venomous, although they can still deliver a nasty bite if provoked. Some of the venomous species include the Cape Cobra, the Puff Adder, Boomslang, Rinkhals and Berg Adder. The good news is it they are mostly shy and will avoid human contact. The one you are most likely to encounter is the Puff Adder which enjoys nice warm spots, such as rocks and pathways (best to keep out of its way).
Insects play an integral role in the fynbos ecosystem either by directly pollinating plants or as a vital source of nutrient for birds and animals. Some are especially adapted to pollinate specific plants. Look out for butterflies such as the Mountain Pride Butterfly that is the exclusive pollinator of a variety of red plants such as the red disa, and the red crassula.
On the Mountain and in the reserve the Western Cape’s famous fynbos is the predominant vegetation type.
Table mountain fynbos being such a diverse ecosystem changes from place to place. The endangered Renosterveld (rhinoceros field) is a common type of vegetation found on the slopes of Signal Hill. There are guides who offer walks and hikes in and around the fynbos and can tell you what is currently happening in the botanical world on the Table Mountain Chain.
Renosterveld is a small-leaved, evergreen shrubland. Dominated by the renosterbos. It is also extremely rich in species and bulbs which produce magnificent flower displays in spring (September and October). Many of these are endemic. Typical renosterveld include members of the daisy, lily, iris and oxalis families.
Fynbos consists of four major plant groups:
● Proteas: large shrubs with broad leaves and large flowers.
● Erica’s: heath-like, low growing shrubs.
● Restios: reed-like plants; are the only group that are found in all fynbos habitats.
● Geophytes (bulbs): these include watsonias and disa’s both of which occur mainly in wetland areas and are prominent after fires.
Fynbos is a fire-dependent vegetation that needs to burn around every 15 or so years to stimulate new growth and ensure that plant and animal communities remain healthy. If fynbos does not burn in about 20 – 30 years it will become moribund which could result in the extinction of some species.
If the fynbos experiences fire too frequently due to human intervention it can be destructive to the ecosystem because when young fynbos burns, seed banks are depleted which can change the diversity of plant species in the area.
Devil’s Peak Walks
There are numerous easy walks on the lower slopes of the mountain. A popular short hike is from Rhodes Memorial to the King's blockhouse. The only safe ascent of the peak is from the Saddle, between the peak and Table Mountain. There are three routes to reach the Saddle: from Tafelberg Road on the city side, up Newlands Ravine from Newlands Forest or the upper contour path from Mowbray Ridge and Minor Peak. Once on the Saddle, a straightforward path climbs directly to the summit. The 360° views from the summit is well worth the slog.
The peak is very exposed to wind and mist, so hikers must always take care. Several descents on the Southern Suburbs side are very steep and wet, and are highly dangerous (particularly Second Waterfall Ravine, Dark Gorge and Els Ravine). These routes should not be attempted as many lives have been lost by hikers taking the wrong route. The general rule that applies is to stick to known and well-marked paths, and not to push on into the unknown.
HOW TO GET HERE
Table Mountain is easily accessible by car, taxi and bus. You can even take a City Sightseeing bus to the foot of the mountain.
AROUND THE AREA
Lion's Head is also popular with hikers (an easier climb than the main mountain, providing a 360 degree panoramic of the mountain, coastline and the city.
The mountain is a reserve, so only foot traffic is allowed and the cableway offers transport up and down the mountain.
WHAT WILL IT COST
A return trip for one adult on the Cableway costs around R205 at the ticket office or R185 online (plus, buying your ticket online means you'll skip long queues during popular summer days). Hiking is free and if you don't feel like walking back down, take the cable car for R105. The cable car will close if the weather is inclement so always be prepared to hike down.
LENGTH OF STAY
Half-day to full-day
WHAT TO PACK
It's generally a fair bit colder at the top than at ground level, so take a jacket.
WHERE TO STAY
Cape Town has ample accommodation options. A double room in a back-packers' lodge will cost around R400 per person for a night, while a room in a four-star hotel would cost between R800 and R1200, depending on the time of year.
WHAT TO EAT
There is a restaurant and shop on top of Table Mountain.
There are scores of routes on Table Mountain alone, covering everything from easy strolls to extreme rock climbing. Entrance fees have to be paid for the Boulders, Cape of Good Hope, Ouderkraal, Silvermine and Tokai sections of the park, but otherwise the routes are freely open. Signage is improving, but it's far from comprehensive and even with a map its easy to get lost; read the safety tips below before setting off and consider hiring a guide.
1) Platteklip Gorge is the most straight-forward route up the mountain
2) If you want less of a slog then the Pipe Track is preferable but takes roughly double the time.
3) Climbing Lion's Head and the walk from the Upper Cableway Station to Maclear's Beacon, the highest point of the mountain are both easily achievable.
4) Overnight treks include either the two-day, one-night, 33.8km Cape of Good Hope Trail or the five-day, four-night, 80km Hoerikwaggo Trail (running the full length of the Peninsula from Cape Point to the Upper Cableway Station)
Just because Table Mountain National Park is on the doorstep of the city doesn't make this wilderness area any less dangerous and unpredictable.
Hardly a week goes by without some accident or fatality on the mountain, often due to some climbing expedition gone wrong. More people have died on Table Mountain than on Mt Everest. Mountain fires have also claimed their victims and muggings on the slopes have been known to happen. There are 50 staff patrolling the park but it covers such a large area they cannot be everywhere, so be well prepared before setting off.
Be aware that the weather on the mountain can change very rapidly.
Main emergency numbers are 086 110 6417 (to report fires, poaching, accidents and crime) and 021 948 9900 for Wilderness Search and Rescue.
1) Abseil Africa - www.abseilafrica.co.za
2) AWOL Tours- www.awoltours.co.za
3) Downhill Adventures -
4) Venture Forth - www.ventureforth.co.za
5) Walk in Africa - www.walkinafrica.com
6) South African Slackpacking - www.slackpackers.co.za
7) Table Mountain Walks - www.tablemountainwalks.co.za
8) Christopher Smith - Freelance guide with plenty of experience (fauna.flora7gmail.com)
ACCOMMODATION IN THE PARK:
Visit http://sanparks.org.za/parks/table_mountain/tourism/accommodation.php/tented or 021 422 2816
How to get there-