Nature and Legends: Exploring Cape Town’s Table Mountain

Table Mountain, Cape Town
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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.

Table Mountain, Cape Town
Seen here from the V&A Waterfront, the Table Mountain dominates the city of Cape Town

Exploring the Table Mountain

The mountain is criss-crossed with miles of hiking paths, like the Platteklip Gorge Trail. However 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.

Climbing up Table Mountain
It is possible to walk up the mountainside, but it is a steep path!

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.

View from Table Mountain
There are spectacular views from the top of Table Mountain

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.

Fynbos
The top of the mountain is covered with bush and wild flowers

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.

Southern rock agama
A southern rock agama

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!

Mist on Table Mountain
When the mist comes down visibility on the mountain is much reduced

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.

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8 thoughts on “Nature and Legends: Exploring Cape Town’s Table Mountain”

  1. Nice you were able to enjoy the view before the mist closed in. I hope to get to Cape Town some day soon. Good advice about not leaving the cable car ride until the end of your trip.

  2. We spent a total of 12 to 14 days in Cape Town. About a week at the beginning of January and about a week at the beginning of March and it was rare that we were able to see the mountain without it's "Tablecloth". Fortunately the day that we decided to hike up the mountain was one of the clearest days that we had. We started out in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens going up on Skeleton Gorge which is one of the steepest but also one of the most interesting hikes up to the top of the mountain and then we returned down via the cable car. it was a fantastic day.http://www.travelwithkevinandruth.com/2014/03/on-top-of-table-mountain.html

    So glad that you were able to make it up there and enjoy your time before the clouds started rolling in.

  3. Your post triggered many Cape memories, Karen. My parents once lived in Cape Town, and I spent time camping at Hout Bay, and other other stunning nearby areas. You are right. The Table Mountain cable car is worth the ride – minus the 'tablecloth'. A beautiful province.

  4. I think your thighs must be in good shape for that stair climb! Wow, what a view. It's great advice to not leave your trip up the mountain to chance. We did just that when visiting Mt. Ranier, missing the clear days and then not being able to see it at all when we finally got to the hike ; (

  5. Your photo that shows the mountain with the clouds topping it is beautiful and I'd love to take the cable car to the top for to see the amazing view. Here's hoping that we can schedule a visit in the near future to see this fascinating area!

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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