THE TABLE MOUNTAIN CHAIN A WILDERNESS WITHIN A CITY
The inhabitants of Cape Town are indeed fortunate that geography has gifted them an a vast recreational area including mountains, forests, beaches and oceans in the form of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP). Stretching from Lion’s Head and Signal Hill in the north to the windswept cliffs of Cape Point in the south, the park is fragmented somewhat by the surrounding urban areas and private land. It is however a mostly open access park with only three pay-points and partially for that reason welcomes over 4.2 million visitors annually.
Hikers are spoilt for choice with numerous trails for all fitness levels, from the casual stroller to overnight camping trails. The raised elevation offers spectacular views of the city, mountains and sea amid lush vegetation, rooikranz and fynbos. Most of the popular hikes up Table Mountain such as Platteklip Gorge (north face), Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge (the latter two being accessible from Kirstenbosch) are fairly strenuous, while Silvermine, the Cape of Good Hope and the Constantaiburg offer easier options. The Cape of Good Hope trail is a 33km hike that offers overnight accommodation in three cottages. The TMNP is also one of the few national parks in the country that permit dogs to be walked on certain routes.
For those that want to enjoy their views without breaking a sweat, you could always take a ride up the Table Mountain Aerial Cabelway. The view from the top is a must-see for any visitor to Cape Town and roughly 2km of trails offer stunning vistas that take in the whole Peninsula, the Cape Flats, the CBD and surrounding country. The flat expanse of Table Mountain hosts over 1500 species of plants, some found nowhere else on earth and roughly the same number as are found throughout the entire British Isles. The indigenous birds that can sometimes be seen are the Black Eagle, Rock Kestrels and Sunbirds. Mammals are represented by the dassies (rock hyrax). Though small and rodent-like in appearance these animals are actually distant relatives of the elephant. A visitor centre and restaurant have been built near the upper cable station. Although there are numerous world-class routes for Rock and Sports Climbing, the most famous is surely Africa Face, just beneath the cable station.
Mountain Biking is an option growing in popularity and the steep slopes and complex terrain provide numerous challenging trails for the enthusiast. The environmental impact places certain restrictions on where cycling can take place, but the Tokai Pine Plantation and Silvermine should be more than enough for a day of two-wheeled fun.
A range of surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing opportunities present themselves to board riders. Secluded and uncrowded surf spots can be found in the Cape of Good Hope Reserve, but the Atlantic swell provides numerous rocky reefs, points and beaches along the coastline. There’s always a good wave to be caught somewhere in the Cape. The World famous Red Bull Big Wave Africa is held at Dungeons just of Hout Bay and attracts top big wave surfers from all over the world. Fishing is also popular in the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, and anglers can fish from the shoreline or use one of several slipways to launch boat-based expeditions, although permits are necessary.
If you enjoy Scuba diving then the TMNP has a much to offer you. Particularly rewarding are the numerous wrecks that scatter the coastline as well as the six "no take" zones that have been established as breeding and nursery areas for marine species. Popular dive sites include Maori wreck off the Sentinel in Hout Bay, Oudekraal on the Atlantic Seaboard and Miller's Point in the False Bay.
Cape Point in the Cape of Good Hope Reserve is a breathtaking rock formation and the most south-western point of Africa. The sheer cliff faces plunging into the foam flecked Atlantic will make it obvious why it has been called “the fairest cape in all the world”. The reserve itself also has much to offer in terms of picnicking, hikes, beaches and wildlife and will give visitors an idea of what the Cape must have looked like when the only inhabitants were the nomadic San herders roaming through the endless fynbos. Animals in the reserve area include several species of buck such as Grysbok and Klipspringer, larger antelopes such as Eland, Cape Fox, Baboons and many more.
As the Park is serious about protecting it’s wildlife and flora and is keen to preserve its World Heritage Site status, numerous restrictions apply to most activities in the park. It’s always better to find out a little bit about how you can help protect this treasure. The official website at www.sanparks.org/parks/table_