Table Mountain : Hiking above the Mother City

There are a few signature features that draw visitors to Cape Town. The Mountain, Cape Point, Penguins, Robbin Island, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Two Ocean Aquarium, the V&A Water Front and the beaches. Kilometers of beaches of white bleached sand.

It is a city to be explored, savored and experienced. It is a city with four seasons in one morning. A metropolis with a 24 hour heartbeat that caters to every nuance of human identity and welcomes them all with arms open wide.

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Table Mountain is crisscrossed with a network of trails from the cable way to the Cape Point lighthouse.

Table Mountain, and the spine of mountain range stretching from the cable way station to the Cape Point Lighthouse, is crisscrossed with a network of hiking trails. Ranging from mild contour paths ideal for a leisurely stroll to some strenuous ascents and descents, all of which exhibit a spectrum of magnificent panoramic views from the Fynbos shrouded slopes.

Trail Networks.

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The ladder exiting Echo Valley heading towards the cable way from the direction of Kasteelpoort.

As any detailed map will reveal, there are endless paths for hiking on the Cape Peninsula, each with it’ own special feature.

There are a few popular routes well covered in social media that have become pedestrian highways with a steady stream of avid hikers setting off on the obligatory ‘Bag it and Brag it’ outing to add validity to their Cape Town visit.

Balancing out the super popular routes, there are a mix of well frequented and low impact trails to choose from. Whether you are looking for a quick half hour to walk your dog or a serious 15km to 20km mountain hike, it is all possible.

On the Level.

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The Pipe Track has a rich diversity of Fynbos along the level trail.

For hikers that just want a relaxing walk above the city line, the pipe track overlooking Camps Bay and Clifton on the north western side of Table Mountain is ideal. Suitable for walking pets, there are a variety of access points to the path which is, like the rest of the trails, flanked with spectacular Fynbos.

Surfers Rock
Balancing on surfers rock at the summit of Kasteelpoort Trail while overlooking Camps Bay makes the climb worthwhile.

A popular point of departure for the Pipe track is from Kloof Nek while the alternative of setting off from the start of the Kasteelpoort trailhead will mean that you avoid the crowds.

Heading south east from Kloof Nek, The Contour Path passes under the looming cableway stations towards the popular Platteklip Gorge with absorbing views of the Mother City from the base of the towering cliffs which define the famed table skyline.

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The contour trail from Constantia Nek is a popular walking location for locals and families with pets.

Another flat walk that is popular with local residents either jogging or walking their dogs is on the contour path from Constantia Neck. A popular weekend and sunset walking destination, groups set off from the parking area at the traffic circle before splitting up on the various route options of either loops or straight out and back trails.

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Diaz Beach with the lighthouse in the distance.

Further south, in the Cape Point National Park, there is a mild trail between the lighthouse parking area and the Cape Of Good Hope with the option of heading down to Dias Beach which is ideal to escape the maddening throngs on the selfie pilgrimage to the lighthouse. In addition to the spectacular views, and a different perspective of the lighthouse along this trail, there is the exhilaration of walking through grazing wildlife and even the chance of a close encounter with an Ostrich, though don’t get too close to the males during mating season (the scales on his legs are bright red).

Up to the Challenge.

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Platteklip Gorge and Indian Venster both offer a direct route up from the city bowl to the plateau of Table Mountain.

In essence, Table Mountain is in the middle of a metropolis, and as such is considered by many as a simple adventure hiking to the top of a hillock. Most visitors to Cape Town plan a hike up and return down in the cable way without realizing that it is over 1050m high with an ascent of on average 750m in less than 1.8km, making most of the trails to the rim a steep endeavor.

By far, according to heat maps on sports apps, the most popular hike up Table Mountain is Platteklip Gorge, with Indian Venster a close second. Both start from a base of just over 300m and top out at 1050m.

Platteklip Gorge has an ascent of 690m and is 2km (depending on where you start from), but despite it’s apparent short distance, expect to take between 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on your level of fitness.

Indian Venster has an ascent of 820m over 2.5km and is considered a difficult, but achievable option. It is well worth planning your route when opting for this route as some day trippers end up on the Kloof Corner route which is definitely not ideal for inexperienced hikers.

Both give unsurpassed views of Table Bay and the Cape town CBD with Robben Island in the shimmering ocean.

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Kasteelpoort is less busy an offers superb views of Clifton and Camps bay

For something less taxing, Kasteelpoort is an option with 570m ascent over 2km. This allows you to test your tolerance of heights on a short detour to step out on Surfers Rock. Unless you plan to head down the same way, you have an additional 3.2km with 440m ascent via Echo Valley to the cable way for an easy trip down and an Uber ride back to your vehicle.

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Skeleton Gorge has its own challenges, but on a hot summers day, being under forest canopy is a viable option.

These routes are out in the open with mesmerizing panoramic views. By contrast, Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine have sections that are cloaked in shady forest and are definitely worth considering in the heat of summer.

Starting from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, you meander through the renowned botanical display, cross over the contour track and start heading up.

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From Skeleton Gorge you can either head to the cable way for a ride down or continue past McClears Beacon to the western side of Echo Valley to return via Nursery Ravine.

Skeleton Gorge follows a stream and has a few ladders to get over the steep sections. From the contour track it is 490m ascent over 1.25km, but is not always well marked. The path becomes indistinct after approximately 900m, and I have often encountered hikers scouting around to find the path on the left hand side of the stream. In fact the path crosses over the stream and arches upstream on the right hand side. The rocky sections, in the wet season, can be covered in moss and algae and a good pair of walking shoes are advised.

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Two water reservoirs nestled below the plateau of Table Mountain.

Nursery Ravine is short and steep (1.4km, 510m ascent from the contour track) and should be considered as a descent. While a large number of people ascend up Skeleton Gorge, cross to McClears Beacon and on to the cable way, I enjoy returning back across Echo Valley, across the dam wall of the Hely-Hutchenson Reservoir and then descending down Nursery Ravine for a longer 12.5km hike.

Blitz Hike.

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Most visitors dash to summit Lions Head on the most direct route, but if you have more time available, then it is worthwhile exploring the trails that circumnavigate the peak before heading to the summit.

Lions Head is  the quick go to for visitors to the Mother City wanting to hike. Most choose the well-trodden path to the top of Lions Head, a quick 45 minutes return outing with iconic vistas. The path less traveled, or actually the paths less traveled circumnavigate Lions Head on the north west and even extend to Signal Hill with a breath taking single track to join the main path for the final ascent to the summit.

Flaming Fynbos.

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In November the southeastern slope of Lions Head is blanketed in carpet of Watsonia spp, a Fynbos bulb.

On all the trails on the Cape Peninsula, the diversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom, simply referred to as Fynbos, is spectacular. Boasting in excess of 9000 species, the Cape Floral Kingdom fills the smallest area of six global floral kingdoms. Fynbos is a fire climax floral kingdom, requiring fire to both sanitize and invigorate it. The Cape is renowned for its fearsome wild fires in the summer month, but when managed correctly, stimulates a mosaic of floral beauty that surpasses anywhere else in the world.

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On Table Mountain, in one hectare, there are more plant species than in the entire United Kingdom.

Evolved to flourish in a winter rainfall region, Fynbos has an extended flowering season that starts in mid summer (February) and extends through winter to late November. There is no best time to view the flowers. Each month a collection of species will erupt into bloom for approximately six, resulting in a kaleidoscope of colour, shapes and sizes that continues for over 10 months.

Hiking on any of the trails will immerse you in the Fynbos tapestry, each season with its own tonal hue and community of pollinators shimmering across the landscape.

Mountain Safety

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For safety, always carry all weather gear. The cloud can shroud the mountain in less than a half hour, drenching and chilling you very quickly.

Table Mountain presents its risks and dangers which need to be planned for.

  • First and foremost is the weather which can fluctuate from stifling hot to cold, misty and extremely cold. Most injuries are falls in poor visibility as the infamous tablecloth cloud blows in rapidly when the wind picks up.
  • While the trails are well maintained and marked, hikers get lost frequently in poor viz conditions.
  • Platteklip Gorge and Indian Venster, being north facing, can be extremely hot and are best hiked before midday.
  • Risks of attacks. The reality is that there are areas on the peninsula where hikers have been attacked and robbed. Before heading out on a trail, find out if the trail you are planning to do is a risky trail. Walk in a group and don’t carry excessive valuable digital and electronic equipment that is visible. Be vigilant of other hikers on the trail. Note : the trails described above are popular hikes and are low risk routes.

Maps.

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    The trails on Table Mountain are well marked, but it is best to have a map to navigate with.

    If you are good at map reading, the Slingby Map range of Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula are ideal.

  • Two offline digital maps which you pre load onto your smartphone are My Trails (more technical) and Maps.Me (less technical). The advantage is that they don’t require an internet connection to function and have all the trails precisely mapped. Maps.Me also allows routing navigation.

 

Clothing and footwear

  • The correct foot wear is comfortable walking shoes with a good grip.
  • Always carry a good light weight all weather outer shell.
  • Daypack with water and a snack.

Beyond Cape Town.

If you get bitten by the hiking bug on Table Mountain, it is well worth heading east to the Garden Route where a large diversity of trails awaits you.

Here you will be spoilt for choice between some iconic forest or coastal trails between Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay. If you are looking for a demanding multi day hike, the 108km Outeniqua Trail is worth considering.

If you are looking for a more relaxed multi day option you can plan for the 5 day slackpacking Garden Route Coastal Trail between Wilderness and Brenton on Sea.

Planning a Hiking Tour between Cape Town and the Garden Route.

One of the best ways to explore the Western Cape is hiking. It is possible to compile a 15 day tour with 10 hikes between Cape Point and Plettenburg Bay.

Contact Garden Route Trail for an itinerary and nature guiding,

 

 

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