Explore South Africa’s amazing biodiversity without leaving home
Our natural wonder
Hike from the Castle Gate to the cable car
It’s 1503 and Admiral Antonio de Saldahna has anchored his fleet of ships in the bay. Doing what all good explorers worth their salt do, he climbs up to the highest point to survey the land. His scramble up Platteklip Gorge must have been a lot harder without the 800 plus steps to the top that are there today. Once on top the admiral proclaims that this natural wonder will be known as Taboa do Cabo, ‘Table of the Cape’ and the name sticks. In true colonial style this declaration failed to recognise that the Cape’s first inhabitants, the Khoikhoi, had already named the mountain Hoerikwaggo which means‘mountain of the sea’.
The admiral was lucky he didn’t come across the leopards and lions that roamed the area at the time - the last lion was spotted in 1802. The only creatures you’re likely to see now are dassies and the odd klipspringer.
Along the Pipe Track and up Kasteel Poort
We’ve lucked out with the weather – sunny skies and a light breeze. We set off along the Pipe Track and are blown away by the ocean views. My V-Lite Altitude Ultra Luxe WPi Hi-Tecs come in handy when we start climbing the steep path up Kasteel’s Poort. The higher we get the more we can see so it’s worth taking catch-your-breath breaks to admire the view.
What to bring
- Something warm. It’s easy to assume that the warm weather and blue skies mean that you don’t need anything more than shorts and a T-shirt, but once you’re on top the icy winds may pick up or the tablecloth cloud might come sweeping over so make sure you’re prepared.
- Hat and sunblock. There are patches of shade for you to rest in but the majority of the walk is exposed. It’s a good idea to get an early start to avoid the midday sun.
- Hiking shoes. There’s a bit of semi-climbing and a lot of steep paths so you’ll need shoes with a good grip.
- The obvious. Water, and plenty of it. Take as much as you think you’ll need and then pack more. Bring a packed lunch too – this is a long hike and you’ll need the energy boost.
- The views are incredible so do bring a (light) camera.
- Numbers. Take these two numbers up with you just in case. Call Mountain Rescue if you get lost or injured: +27 (0)21 937 0300. Call the cable car to check if they’re running (strong winds and visibility can cause them to shut down. So if you’re planning on taking this easy way down, make sure they’ll still be running once you get there): +27 (0)21 424 8181.
We chose a round route that takes you back to where you parked, but there are plenty of other ways to get to the top of Table Mountain. The route we took was up Kasteel Poort and we took the cable car down; you could also do the shorter route and brave the steps up Platteklip Gorge, which will take you to the top close to the cable car. If the slog up or the scrambling down doesn’t appeal then you can take the cable car both ways and go for a short walk on top of the table.
Park your car in the first parking lot to the left immediately after you turn up to the cable car from Tafelberg Road. Cross the road and walk around the corner of the grassy area. You will see the beginning of the Pipe Track, which will lead you along an easy path with spectacular views of the coast and Lion’s Head. After about an hour you’ll see a sign pointing up to Kasteel Poort: this path will take you up the ravine, and to the top. There’s one section where the path is blocked off on the right, it’s a bit of a scramble up to the left before the path is clear again. This is quite a slog, but the breaks you take will be accompanied by the most amazing views.
Once you get to the top you’ll see a signpost; take the path to the left which will take you up and down a series of valleys all the way up to the cable car. Keep an eye out for the old cable car ruins, just past them is the diving board – a piece of rock that juts out and offers awesome photo opportunities for those without a fear of heights. Follow the signs to Platteklip Gorge and once you reach it follow the stream of tourists to the cable car. The peaks of the valleys get higher and higher until you can see the Sentinel in Hout Bay and Muizenberg beach. Once you come down the cable car you’ll have to walk down the road to the parking lot.
Duration: 5 hours to get to the cable car with rests along the way and a lunch stop.
Drive past the cable car for about a kilometre and look out for the Platteklip signpost. The path is clearly marked, follow it up the initial section until you reach the gorge, from here it’s a straightforward route up (a lot) of stairs. Once you have reached the top you are a short walk away from the cable car, which you can take down or take the easy way out and buy a ticket for the cable car.
Duration: The hike up and down can take up to 4 hours depending on your fitness level.
The only hard part about catching the cable car up is the queues. Get there early to avoid this and it’ll be a quick trip up. The revolving floors make sure that everyone gets to enjoy all the amazing views that the trip up offers – from Lion’s Head and Signal Hill to the ocean views and sheer rock face. Once on top there are a number of walks to do, they’re well marked and because of the flat surface it’s very easy to find your way back to the cable car once you’re done. There’s also a restaurant and gift shops to browse plus you can abseil off the cliff, which is 1000 metres above sea level. Keep an ear out for the horn that will sound if they’re going to be shutting the car down due to weather.
Duration: This depends on how busy it as as there are often queues for the cable car but the trip itself only takes a few minutes.
What to look out for
Flora: In 2004 Table Mountain National Park was declared a World Heritage Site, it’s home to 8200 plant species and is the richest single floristic area on the planet, it makes up part of the Cape Floral Region. Fynbos makes up one of six floral kingdoms in the world and is the only one that occurs entirely in one country.
The variety of fynbos is clear as the type of plants that you see all along the mountain, from the yellow pincushion proteas to vibrant red ericas. Plant lovers will be kept interested for days with the huge amount of different plants and others will simply appreciate the sheer beauty of the different colours and textures.
Trivia: She’s an old girl...Table Mountain is approximately 260-million years old. The Rockies (60-million), the Himalayas (40-million), and the Alps (32-million) are positively adolescent in comparison.
By Lindsay Callaghan