Table Mountain may not be one of the world’s highest or most impressive mountains, but it is one of the oldest. Surrounded by a city, this 260 million year old chunk of sandstone is everyone’s backyard and playground; and my office. Yet, it is still possible to escape the hiking crowds and explore some truly wild spots on Table Mountain.
The mountain has a long and fascinating cultural history, dating back to the San People of the Cape. They named it Hoerikwaggo, the mountain in the sea and sheltered in its caves and crevices. Since then, Portuguese admirals, Dutch Settlers, an American stowaway, royalty and politicians have all enjoyed relationships with the mountain.
Furthermore, Table Mountain has had a somewhat tumultuous geological history. It was pushed up to thousands of meters high, and eroded down to the mere 1086 meters it is today. It was once an island, and during a different period, it was connected to Robben Island.
Hiking Table Mountain
There are almost a hundred hiking trails, rock climbing and scrambling routes on Table Mountain. Most hikers, however, will stick to a handful of popular, well-known trails. This opens dozens of other trails to the more adventurous explorers and those on guided hikes. There are routes for all levels of hikers: from straightforward, non-technical walks, to scrambles that may require use of ropes and harness. Even though there is a cable car that can take you to the top in less than five minutes, hiking is definitely the best way to experience the magic of the mountain. And despite having enjoyed this mountain for 16 years, I still haven’t explored all her trails or discovered all her secrets.
The Western Cape is home to the smallest and most diverse floral kingdom, the Cape Floristic Region. Fine-leaved plants called “fynbos” (fine bush), succulents, geophytes and afromontane forest define typical Cape flora. Table Mountain is home to about 1500 species of plant, many of the which are found nowhere else in the world. Moreover, some of them are even unique to this mountain. No matter the time of year, there is always something in bloom – large, showy proteas, delicate orchids, bright daisies, eye-catching irises. Flitting about these colourful flowers are beautiful, bright sunbirds, chats, ground woodpeckers, starlings, sugarbirds and grass birds. And when there is no sun to entice the winged creatures out to sing, the frogs provide the choir.
Table Mountain’s larger animals
Table Mountain is home to the indigenous klipspringer (rock jumper) antelope, the elusive caracal and the non-indigenous Himalayan tahr – a Himalayan mountain goat. These are the larger animals, who generally prefer the quieter corners of the mountain. Although, ironically, the only time I have personally seen a caracal, one of the most secretive mountain creatures, was right at the cable car station! The most commonly seen animal on the mountain (usually at the cable car station) is the rock hyrax, or “dassie”. This marmot-like critter is, believe it or not, most closely related to the African elephant!
Moods of the Mountain
Whether you are a first time hiker or have been hiking for decades, Table Mountain always has a surprise up her sleeve. Even as a guide, hiking the same trail over and over again, it is never the same hike. There is always something new, be it a new flower, a first time sighting of a bird, or experience the famous cloud bank, the “table cloth” rolling in. The people and characters you meet on the hiking trails also keep it interesting and entertaining!
Kathy Leverton is a freelance mountain walking leader and a keen naturalist. Kathy guides Table Mountain day hikes for Active Africa.
‘The Mountain’ features prominently in all trips we run in Cape Town. The Best of Cape Town’s Outdoors includes a guided Table Mountain hike tailored to your strength and fitness.