It is one of the Natural Wonders of the World, and one of the most visited places in the whole of Africa. The fabled Table Mountain dominates Cape Town, blocking your way as you try to cross from one side of the city to the other. As befits its age and status, it is surrounded by myths and legends but, as I discovered, it is also part of a national park with a unique ecosystem.
Exploring the Table Mountain
The mountain is criss-crossed with miles of hiking paths but we were there in January, when the sun is at its fiercest, and opted for the cable car instead. The cars rotated as they ascended the hillside, allowing us a view of the city across Table Bay and towards Robben Island.
At the top lots of people choose just to visit the restaurant and to enjoy the views, but we set off on one of the waymarked walks to explore the mountain. We didn’t go too far: although it had been a nice clear day when we set out, one of the mountain’s famous mists had started to swirl around us.
A Natural Phenomenon
Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world, formed more than 200 million years ago. It is part of a range that runs down the Cape Peninsula and includes peaks such as the Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles. From a distance the levelled off granite summit gives it the distinctive table-top appearance, but close up it looks completely different.
The mountain is part of a national park, its rocky surface covered by the local fynbos vegetation (more about this in my post on the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden). There are over 2,000 species of plants here, creating a whole mass of colourful bushes and flowers. If you are lucky you may spot a variety of animals and birds, including dassies, snakes and tortoises, but all we saw was a southern rock agama (a blue-headed lizard) and an unidentified green bird.
Myths and Legends of the Table Mountain
It is not unusual for the mountain to be shrouded in mist and from the city it can often appear to be covered in a “tablecloth”. A traditional legend of the San people tells of a hunter who appealed to the god Kaggen for help when fire broke out on the mountain slope. Kaggen seized a gigantic white animal pelt and threw it across the mountain top, thus quenching the blaze.
A more modern story concerns the pirate Van Hunks who would often have smoking matches with the Devil, causing cloud to rise over the mountain. Apparently the pirate suffers from rheumatism in cold weather, so although there are clouds in the winter time there are no smoking contests and the full tablecloth does not appear!
Whatever the reason for the mist it is best to avoid being caught in it while on top of the mountain. When it started to come down in earnest we decided it was time to take the cable car down.
Tips for Visitors to the Table Mountain
- Queues for the cable cars can be long, but you can save time by pre-booking your tickets on-line (they are valid for 14 days from the specified date)
- Don’t risk disappointment by leaving your trip up the mountain until the end of your stay in Cape Town – weather conditions such as mist or high winds often lead to the cable car being closed
- The cable car base station is some way from the city centre. If you don’t want a long hike you can get there by Tourist Bus, service bus or taxi.