I have been up Table Mountain a few times, in a cable car, I never considered hiking as it looked way too daunting and that blanket of cloud rolls in so quickly….but on my recent trip I discovered the secret is, as with many things in Africa, to get a good local guide – and to find a route that suits your fitness levels.
Few, me included, realise just how big the Table Mountain National Park is. I am not referring to the sheer north face which acts as a startling backdrop to the city, I mean the sprawling wilderness area which runs from Cape Town city itself all the way to Cape Point Peninsula in the south, 221 sqkm. For a totally different outlook on the city and its surrounds, put on your ‘tackies’ (South African slang for trainers) and head for the hills, a few well-maintained routes which were recommended to us;
Platterklip Gorge – easiest to find, very steep but the most direct route to the summit of Table Mountain itself. It’s literally a gorge which runs up the middle of the mountain. Best to start the hike at the bottom of the cable car station (not at the bottom of the gorge itself) as the hike below the cable car and along the cliff edge is the highlight. You hike up 10-15 minutes then traverse across to the gorge and up. You can of course opt to take the cable car back down.
Skeleton Gorge – far more scenic and longer is the hike from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens up Skeleton Gorge, a ravine, then across the top of the mountain to the cable way at the top. You can also choose to go via Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point.
Lions Head is my personal favourite for the best views of Table Mountain, the City Bowl and the beach suburbs. Park at the bottom of Lions Head and the trail starts 300 m from here. Walking in a circular route, the gradual ascent allows you to soak up the ever-changing views of the city. This hike has become popular on a Full Moon – and with locals pre and post work to watch the sunrise and sunset. It’s fairly easy to begin with and only the last section involves a scramble and a series of chain ropes and ladders (there is an alternative route to this).
Silvermine and Elephant’s Eye Cave – one of the prettiest and quietest parts of the Table Mountain National Park that we visited. The hiking starts at the car park by the Silvermine Dam, popular for swimming in summer months. There are a couple of routes depending on fitness, we took the trail up to Elephant’s Eye Cave, where we sat and gasped at the panoramic views (nothing to do with breathlessness) across the Cape Flats to Muizenberg and beyond. Looking at the cave from a distance ie Steenberg Estate below, the cave resembles, funnily enough an elephant’s eye! On the way back down, look out for a path off to the right which takes you up to a viewpoint offering the most spectacular views over Hout Bay.
If you have longer and would like to get up close and personal with the mountain, how about a sleepover? There are several places, well away from the crowds, where we can arrange for you to enjoy a 2 or 3 day hike with overnight stays in one of the designated SAN Parks stone cottages. Fear not; your guide will be there to make up the beds and stoke the braai!