Table Mountain National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrNo matter where you go in Cape Town, the flat-topped roof of Table Mountain is watching over you. Voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, it is the city’s most popular tourist attraction with thousands of visitors hiking or taking the scenic cable car to its top to take in the stunning surrounding views.
HistoryThe three-kilometers-long plateau is flanked by steep cliffs and was formed by layers of sandstone that was deposited on tidal flats nearly 450 million years ago. Magma rose up from the Earth’s core and solidified into granite that together, with the sandstone, was compressed and flattened by ice sheets during an Ice Age period. Stress and pressure that built up in the Earth’s crust, when the continents split, caused the layers of rock to rise, forming the basis of the mountain we see today that is thought to be 260 million years old. Over time, erosion by wind, water, fire, and ice, chiseled back softer sediment, leaving the resistant Table Mountain sandstone that we see in the cliffs today.
Two geologically associated peaks are detached from the main mountain. Lion’s Head rises to 2,195 feet in the northwest and is a favorite spot from which to watch the sunset, while Devil’s Peak at 3,281 feet is to the northeast.
Table Mountain itself is 3,560 feet at its highest point and offers views all the way out to Robben Island on a clear day.
Before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1500s, the Khoikhoi were the dominant tribe in the area, replacing the San who came before. The Portuguese explorer, António de Saldanha, was the first European to climb the mountain, declaring it ‘Taboa do Cabo’ (Table of the Cape) from which its name evolved.
The mountain was included in the Cape Peninsula National Park, encompassing the Cape of Good Hope, in the early 1990s before claiming its own status as the Table Mountain National Park in 1998.
Orographic clouds often cover the top of the mountain, resulting in its iconic 'table cloth' that often flows off the plateau like ocean waves. Local legend, however, explains it as a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate.
Flora and FaunaThe mountain is home to more than 1,500 species of plants with the majority being from the Fynbos plant kingdom. The vegetation found here is part of the Cape Floral Region, a protected World Heritage Site that features a number of species found nowhere else in the world, in particular Proteas.
While lions and leopards used to be found on the mountain they are all now locally extinct. Porcupines, Rock Hyrax and a number of reptiles are extant on the mountain that is also home to the Table Mountain Ghost Frog, a rare species endemic to the area.
Cable CarTable Mountain is within short and easy access of downtown Cape Town. Tafelberg Road runs along the base of the mountain and is the departure point for hikes and the cable car station. City sightseeing buses offer one day passes for around $ 13 USD and will drop you at the base or where there is well signposted parking available. The cable car was built in 1926 and operates every day (weather permitting) and takes around 5 minutes to reach the top. Tickets can be bought from $ 10 USD one-way, at the station or, to avoid long queues, online at the official site.
The Platteklip Gorge trail from Tafelberg Road is a steep 2.5-hour zig-zag, switch-back track along stone steps. It is only 1.9 miles up but it is a relentless walk and known as the ‘highway’ because of the large number of people who attempt it each day. Other more gradual but longer ascents are available from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden or Silvermine Nature Reserve . The Smuts Track is accessed from Kirstenbosch but officially starts at Skeleton Gorge, climbing 2.5 miles to Maclear’s Beacon. It starts along rock and log steps but also includes some wooden ladder climbs over rocky outcrops that can be slippery when wet.
Maclear’s Beacon is connected to the cable station by a 1.7 miles path across the plateau, marked out by yellow footprints. Around the cable station there is a maze of paths, signposted allowing you to explore the plateau and take in the multitude of views. You don’t need a map to explore this area as all paths lead back to the station.
No matter how good the weather is, when you depart Cape Town, prepare for the worst as conditions change rapidly on the mountain and it can quickly be enveloped in cloud and rain. Don't attempt to climb the mountain in unfavorable weather as powerful winds at the top can be dangerous!
There is also a café at the top, near the cable station with magnificent views that supports the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway’s mission to reduce its ecological footprint by using compostable containers and reducing water consumption.
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Author: Pip23. Last updated: Feb 28, 2015