Climbing Table Mountain
You cannot come to Cape Town and not visit Table Mountain, but there are zillions of different ways to do it and so to make it simple we've focused on just one. It's quite a tough climb though easy to follow (even without a map) and it's our favourite. Starting in Kirstenbosch botanical gardens the path leads you up the back of the mountain via Skeleton Gorge (not as terrifying as it sounds) and across the top to the cable car, which makes for an easier way down into town than the zig-zagging, knee-nailing Platteklip path. So:
The Skeleton Gorge path is signed within Kirstenbosch gardens and starts on its upper boundary with a steady but steep ascent alongside a stream that in winter cascades down the mountainside. It's definitely a path to take at your own pace as it's fairly strenuous going but even in the height of summer it remains cool thanks to the constant shade from thick indigenous forest. The vegetation becomes steadily sparser as you climb and once at the top of the gorge you'll soon realise that Table Mountain's tabletop is anything but flat.
Follow signs to Maclear's Beacon along a path that winds its way around and over hillocks and hummocks to the highest point on the mountain at 1,086m (3,563ft), named after Sir Thomas Maclear who built the cairn in 1865 as a trigonometry point.
Pat yourself on the back, stop for snacks and photos and general view appreciation - from up here you can see down the Cape Peninsula, east across to the Winelands and Hottentots Holland mountains and north to the pointed Devil's Peak. From the beacon, follow the easy path across the top to the cable car station. More likely than not there will be a great many people here (looking somewhat fresher than you - if less satisfied with the whole experience) but it's well worth a wander around the fantastic lookout points built into the cliff top. The views down over the city bowl and out to Robben Island really are breathtaking.
If you're still bursting with energy and yearning for the satisfaction of having walked the whole thing the Platteklip path is the most direct route down. Beginning beside the cable car it's a steep zig-zagging descent, often via steps, to the car-park below. It's probably the most used route and you'll see a lot of dassies nibbling the grass. This descent will turn your legs to jelly and the path is very exposed to the sun in summer and the wet in winter, so be warned.
Alternatively, you can take the cable car. The cars themselves rotate as they move so even if it is full you're assured great views of the bay and the mountainside. There are plenty of taxis in the car park to take you down into town or over to Camps Bay; alternatively they can run you back round to Kirstenbosch to collect your car.
Or follow signs to Nursery Gorge which returns you to Kirstenbosch via a parallel gorge to Skeleton.
Clearly the timing depends very much on how fit you are and how long you want to spend taking pictures and picnicking, but do allow at least five hours to climb Skeleton Gorge, cross the mountain, take in the view and walk down. It can be very hot and dry in summer so take sun-cream, sun hats and water and wear stout walking shoes or boots. Avoid climbing the mountain when covered by its "cloth" of thick cloud as the view is terrible (often just a few metres) and it is easy to lose your way.
Entry into Kirstenbosch (see separate entry) costs R22 and it's open every day from 8am - 6pm (Apr - Aug) and 8am - 7pm (Sept - Mar), parking is free.
The cable car costs R57 one way or R110 return. It opens at 8.30am, with the last car going up at 5pm and down at 6pm. It sometimes closes if it is too windy.
A taxi from the cableway car park back to Kirstenbosch cost us around R150.
There are dozens of other paths on and around the mountain and walking maps are available from the two Cape Town tourist offices for R50 and also from the Kirstenbosch bookshop.
Contact: Cape Town tourist offices.
Tel: 021-426-4260 Cnr Berg and Castle St,
Tel: 021-405-4500 V&A Waterfront
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Rhodes Drive, Newlands (off M3).
Tel: 021-799-8783 / 8620 weekdays, 021-761-4916 weekends.
The Silvermine Reserve covers a large area of hillside behind Kalk Bay and, littered with caves, is well worth investigating. To do just that, try this walk which is popular with the locals and will give you great views across to Simon's Town and towards Cape Point.
Starting beside Kalk Bay harbour, take any of the steep alleys and stairways that lead from Main Road up to Boyes Drive, the high road that runs above Kalk Bay and St. James. Walk along this until you are roughly in line with the lighthouse and harbour entrance below you. Here take a flight of stairs where a signpost marks an entrance to the Silvermine Reserve. A clear path heads off right through the brush, across wooden footbridges and up towards two resting points. You should reach the first, known as Weary Willy's for its convenient sit-on-me boulder, after about 25 minutes. Here, another path comes in from the right across a stream. This is the way you will return later.
Another half hour or so uphill and you'll reach Hungry Harry's, a collection of boulders just made for snacking on and the approximate half-way point to the top. This marks the entrance to Echo Valley, which bisects two rocky peaks that tower above you; Cave Peak on the left and Ridge Peak on the right. A rough path off to the left leads to the front of Cave Peak. We went off-road here and - armed only with candles and an adventurous spirit - ventured into the various caves, crawling through one almost half-way into the mountain before it became too narrow (and us a little too nervous) to proceed.
Anyway, continue uphill from Hungry Harry's between the peaks and the path flattens out, leading you through beautiful brush bristling with proteas and onto a boardwalk that delves into a fantastically tangled milkwood grove. Once out of the other side follow the path as it veers uphill to the right, past turnings to other caves. A few minutes on, at the fork, turn right to the amphitheatre itself, a rough scattering of boulders in the bowl of the surrounding hills. Eat more snacks, rest and ponder the mysteries of the universe. Take a look in Robin Hood's cave before leaving (just next to the amphitheatre).
We took a slight detour from the path here (which leaves the amphitheatre from the far left corner seen from where you came in) and scrambled to the top of Ridge Peak to make the most of the views. Soak it up, then return the same way but cut down to your right into the next-door kloof (small valley), rejoining the path as it heads downhill towards the Spes Bona forest and Kalk Bay. Once again you're plunged into mysterious woods of low, contorted yellowwood and milkwood, whose branches often intertwine with the boardwalk built through it. Emerging from the other side continue downhill until you hit a gravel track and head right towards Simon's Town. This winds down the hill and, narrowing to a path, leads you back down into the kloof you originally walked up and brings you back across the stream to Weary Willy's. From here you complete this P-shaped circuit with the easy skip down the hill the same way you came up, back to Boyes Drive, Kalk Bay and civilisation.
Allow about three hours to complete the circuit plus any extra you want for cave investigation, picnics and universal ponderings. Wear stout walking shoes or boots (especially in winter) and suntan cream in summer. Don't forget the binoculars... and perhaps a candle or torch for cave exploration....
Lion's Head is the domed peak that juts into the skyline between the City Bowl and Camps Bay. The panoramic view from its top is magnificent, looking over the harbour, the Twelve Apostles, Camps Bay, Table Mountain, Devils Peak, Signal Hill and the Cape Flats. To make the most of it come for sunset or sunrise. It's quite an adventurous walk that does involve some scrambling - but it's well worth it. It should take about 3 hours in all including time for a picnic and plenty of view admiration.
To get to the start of the climb, drive up to Kloof Nek Rd and turn right onto the road to Signal Hill. Drive along for about 500m on the Signal Hill road, where you will see a parking area on the left side. Leave your car here and start walking!
From the parking area start climbing up the jeep track on the opposite side of the road. The track goes up fairly steeply, then does a right turn and begins to level out after about 200 metres. You will then encounter a fork; take the right-hand path, which continues to ascend and encircles the mountain. Just before you turn the corner to the right, the path splits again into a lower and upper contour. At this point (A) you can see the parking area below where you parked your car.
The upper path is the easier one and ascends 50 metres towards the summit cliff onto a contour path. Follow the path along the eastern flank until you turn the corner. Then climb up the last 120 metres along the ridge to the top. You will encounter some easy rock scrambling and a short steel ladder on the way up.
There is another more adventurous way up, which involves more rock scrambling and chains. It starts from point A. Take the lower contour until you find an open crack with a chain hanging in it. This provides an easy scramble up with another short length of chain just above the first one. Go straight up until you cross the higher contour path. Above is a more difficult rock section (about 10 metres), which is also secured by a long chain. After that scramble you continue the ascent on a well-known path until the southern ridge is reached, 60 metres below the top. Follow the ridge until you reach the summit.
Elsie's Peak Walk is an easy half-day walk requiring minimal fitness and, on a clear day, offers stunning views across False Bay as far as Hangklip. During the whale season you may see southern right whales with their calves in the bay below.
Drive along Fish Hoek Main Road towards Simon's Town and when you reach the traffic circle at the end of the road, turn right into Kommetjie Road. A few metres along to your left you will see a large parking area (diagonally opposite the Outspan pub) where you can leave your vehicle.
The walk starts by going up some steepish stairs in-between the houses; the first flight takes you to a road; cross this and continue up the next flight. When you reach the bench in front of you, take the right-hand path and follow it. It will take you through some fine fynbos (there are plenty of erica species and the metalasia muricata or blomb has a wonderful herbal pungency). You will walk along some stony gabions (rocks that have been placed in wire cages to stabilise the area) and the path will begin to rise and double back. Watch out for stone signs marking the route (the first one will point you to Elsie's Peak) and stay on the left side of the "Circular Route" marker. Soon after this you will notice two rocky koppies towards your right; continue walking so that you pass between them and then behind the right-hand one.
Presently you will see the mast attached to a small building at the base of Elsie's Peak, and a few more metres will take you to the beacon on the top of the peak. It can be very windy there, and you may prefer to stop for tea next to the telecommunications building, where it is usually quite sheltered.
From the top of the Peak you will see Glencairn to your right and Fish Hoek and Muizenburg to your left. If you look behind you, you will see the beaches of Noordhoek, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Your return is initially the same as the path you came up on, but take the left-hand fork at the cairn so that you complete the circle. Back at the Circular Route beacon, you will rejoin your original path and descend towards the car park again.
The route will take approximately 2 hours and it is wise to take an extra jersey even on the hottest day, as the wind can become very cold. Take water with you, as there is no water on the route. Dogs, on leads, are permitted.
This is probably the easiest route to climb to the top of the Back Table of Table Mountain and sets out from the car park at the top of the Constantia Nek pass along a smooth and step-less jeep track through the magnificent (and shady!) Cecilia Forest. From here you can see east to the Hottentots Hollands and south towards False Bay and Cape Point. You're also not far from the spectacular Disa Gorge and Woodhead Dam if your legs are up to it. Allow about 3 to 4 hours.
Camps Bay Contouring
This walk gives you remarkably good views in return for surprisingly little effort. It's a contour route that follows a pipe and track along the mountainside above Camps Bay and Bakoven and begins where Kloof Nek Rd meets Tafelberg Rd before it climbs towards the Table Mtn. cable car. Park your car/bike/helicopter in the parking lot here, cross the road and climb a few steps. At the top you'll spot the beginning of the pipe and track you are to follow. Head off along this and keep going for as long as you like. There are a number of paths that branch off up the mountain, but ignore these and enjoy the stroll and views up to the towering Twelve Apostles above and down to the brave swimmers below. The water off Camps Bay beach looks so inviting but it is utterly Antarctic.
Contact: For more details and maps contact the Cape Town tourist offices.
Tel: 021-426-4260 - cnr Berg and Castle St
Tel: 021-405-4500 - V&A Waterfront.