Devil's Peak series launching this week! We sat down with the South ...
A myth of mountainous proportions
Once upon a time, well... around 1700, there was a Dutch guy named Jan van Hunks who lived at the foot of Charles Mountain, in Cape Town. Hailing from Holland, Jan liked to smoke a lot, but his wife was a clean living soul who would chuck him out of the house every time he sparked up. One day he was sat on the porch, when saw a mysterious figure, who just so happened to be smoking. He was so busy bragging about how much he could smoke, that he failed to notice that the shady character had two horns and a forked tail. Before he knew it, he'd struck a deal with the devil, and a ferocious pipe smoking contest ensued. Van Hunks eventually won the contest, but not before the mountain was covered in a Table Cloth cloud of smoke. Later that day, Charles Mountain became known as Devil's Peak and van Hunk's wife moved to Australia in protest.
Or was it a dove he saw? Some argue that Duifespiek (Dove's Peak) and Duiwelspiek (Devil's Peak) are two very similar words, but van Hunks was smoking something far too potent to be certain. Perhaps, we'll never know.
Fast forwards to the present day and Devil's Peak is the spire that forms part of the mountainous, natural amphitheatre around Cape Town, along with Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. Although the peak stands at an impressive 1000 metres tall, it's still shorter than Table Mountain's highest point, Maclear’s Beacon. Passive smoking obviously leads to stunted growth.
Landmarks at Devil's Peak
At the base of Devil's Peak, on the Northern side, you'll find 49 steps, guarded by eight scary looking lions. Follow the steps to the rostrum and you'll come across the bust of a guy called Cecil John Rhodes. Cecil contributed greatly to the creation of the sub-continent and would come and sit at this exact spot, to ponder about things. Sir Fancis Macey, Sir Herbert Baker and the citizens of Cape Town, decided to build the Rhodes Memorial, in remembrance of Cecil. Today, it's a popular lunch spot that affords fantastic views of industrial Cape Town; and the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland Mountain range.
On the Eastern side, you'll find the only working windmill in Africa, Mostert’s Mill, built in 1796. You'll also find the Groote Schuur hospital, founded in 1938, where the first human heart transplants took place.
Hiking Devil's Peak
Devil's Peak is separated from Maclear’s Beacon and the main table by a steep drop down to the saddle, which puts most hikers off. They're missing out on a fantastic hike and equally fantastic views of Table Mountain. The easiest ascents are via the upper contour path above Tafelberg Road, or from above Newlands Forest, via Newlands Ravine. Alternatively, mid to strenuous routes begin at Rhodes Memorial including; the Knifes Edge path and the upper traverse path. Just beware of the smoking dove, or you might meet a similar destiny to old van Hunks.
Devil's Peak Ecology
On Devil's Peak, you'll find Cape Fynbos and indigenous forest including, the famous native silverleaf tree. You'll encounter eland, wildebeest and zebra, as well as indigenous animals including; porcupines, caracals, small grey mongoose and rock hyrax. You'll also find aliens...
Yes, that's right. Aliens. Imagine going through life being classified as an alien. A pair of Himalayn Tahr (a goat that occurs naturally in the mountainous regions of India and Nepal), escaped from Groote Shuur Zoo, in 1936 and had multiplied to a herd of 600, by 1976. They caused substantial damage to the ecology of Devil's Peak and there have since been attempts to cull the species altogether.
During the second half of the 19th century, Devil's Peak was planted with cluster pines, which proved problematic and invasive. Most of these pines have since been chopped down, but some still remain in Newlands Forest, for recreational purposes.
Whether Devil's Peak was inspired by a dove or the devil himself, this really is the mountain with everything. Its monuments and historical buildings can spin yarn or two, its hiking trails lead to unrivalled views of Cape Town and Surrounds and its ecology is fascinatingly complex.
By Lisa Nevitt
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