The Magical Table Mountain in Cape Town
Beautiful, majestic, and calming when you look at her during difficult times. This is Table Mountain for me …
From the moment I arrived in Cape Town, every time I saw Table Mountain, I said, “Oh God, how beautiful she is!”, capturing her pictures literally every day. During the day at the beach, at sunset, downtown for shopping, and then another pic on the way to dinner in the city for instance. As a result, I almost filled up a large memory card on my phone. Friends laughed, saying that I would get used to it, but honestly, nothing has changed. I still look at her with admiration. Each hike or ride on the cable car to the top is a remarkable experience that leaves one breathless.
I think even though you watch her for many, many years, you can still feel her magical vibe, especially when her top is covered with a specific layer of clouds, the so-called “Tablecloth”. The explanation for this phenomenon is a legend about Van Hunks, a pipe lover. The short version says that a long time ago, Van, a retired Dutch pirate, smoked a pipe in his favourite spot on the slopes of the Mountain. At one point, a stranger (who turned out to be a devil) approached him and suggested smoking bet. After a day or so (versions vary), a cloud of smoke enveloped them. Eventually, Van Hunks won the competition, which infuriated the devil terribly. Nobody likes being a loser, especially the devil in legends, so the story ended badly for the pirate. The devil created thunder and took Van Hunks with him. Now, when these specific clouds appear and “cover the table”, it is said that the devil and the pirate are smoking a pipe, and the place where the competition was made is called Devils Peak in honor of this legend.
Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world. “She” (the old lady) is about 260 million years old, but not only her age has guaranteed her place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Perhaps Fynbos was even more important. My first contact with this mysterious term was when I was trying gin, very tasty by the way. Fynbos is a type of vegetation, such as savannah. It is a vast number of plants, as many as 9,000 species (2,000 of them grow on Table Mountain), and most of them are endemic. It is the kingdom of flowers, one of six found in the world and the only one that occurs entirely in one country. It is amazing that from a distance it seems that these grass clusters are uninteresting, only up close do we discover their richness and diversity. The Fynbos kingdom is huge and includes heathers, orchids, daisies, citrus representatives, as well as rooibos (known as tea), and protea, which is South Africa’s national beautiful flower.
There are two ways to get to the top of the mountain – a cable car or climbing/hiking. Even though hiking is quite demanding (at least for someone with the average physical condition), it gives great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment once at the top. There are several routes to choose from. I chose the Platteklip Gorge route which took me roughly three hours to climb and I ended up drinking about 5 litres of water while climbing and two energy drinks for that extra boost. Hiking to the top first time was a big event for me.
Table Mountain is just one of the few attractions which forms part the Table Mountain National Park. The park is vast, around 221 km2 and includes Signal Hill and Cape Point. It also includes some of the park’s other local attractions i.e. Lions Head, Boulders Beach, known for the largest and cutest African penguin colony, and the Silvermine Reserve. All these places are absolutely breath taking and a must see if not already on your bucket-list.
As I stood at the bottom of Table Mountain and looked up at the never-ending path that twisted and turned. At that point, I wondered what went through Lady Anne Barnard’s mind. Lady Anne was the first European lady, that we know of, who climbed to the top of the mountain in July 1797. I’m sure she felt the exact same way as I did, “What did I get myself into?”. But, being motivated and driven to conquer, the climb is something we have in common.
Lady Anne is an interesting figure that contributed to the history of Cape Town. If there was a gossip column in those days, she would have definitely found her very own spot. She was a Scottish writer and amateur artist. She reportedly turned down 20 marriage offers, and finally, at the age of 42, she married a soldier, Andrew Barnard, who was 12 years her junior. Gossip has it that the lady was quite a catch. Thanks to numerous endeavors by Anne, her husband was appointed as the colonial secretary of the Cape and they both settled in Cape Town for 5 years.
You can feel the spirit and the history of those times when you visit the Castle of Good Hope. Lady Anne Barnard hosted parties at the Castle which, I was told, was an event you just had to be a part of.
The couple’s country house is now part of the beautiful “Vineyard Hotel”. Here you can learn more about a woman who was ahead of her time by sheer determination, motivation, and perseverance of being. “She”, the Lady, put on her husband’s pants and supported herself, literally and figuratively, all the way to the top.
For those of you that choose not to climb/hike, the cable car ride is an unforgettable attraction in itself. The 360-degree panoramic view of the rotating gondola is beautiful and breathtaking.
The lower cable car station is located at an altitude of 363 meters above sea level, and in five minutes ride by cable car to the top of Table Mountain, we will be at an altitude of 1067 meters above sea level.
How was it before? The idea of building was born at the end of the nineteenth century, and after a few perturbations, finally materialized on October 4, 1929. At that time, the cable car had a maximum capacity 25 people. Today it has a maximum capacity of 65 people. The last modernization took place in 1997. It was a great event when Colombian film producer, Federico Velasquez, was welcomed as the 20 millionth passenger on March 25, 2010. Annually, the cable car transports about a million tourists.
Once at the top, we can spend as much time as we want, strolling, contemplating the beauty of the landscape, or looking for the small, local resident, the “Dassie”. Fun fact: Surprisingly, the Dassie is related to the elephant!
There is a fully functional restaurant on the top of the Mountain (yes, with electricity) where in my opinion they have some very good pizzas and local beers. It is a good idea to pack a picnic basket for longer stays on the mountain when you have more time. You can always admire the sunset, sit with a bottle of your favourite wine, or you could be really spontaneous and use this perfect setting for your marriage proposal. Enjoy!
Useful information for those coming to the top of Table Mountain by cable car:
- The weather at the top is unpredictable at times. Make sure to carry something warm. The best are the layers.
- In summer, from November to March, it can be quite windy. On the day of the tour, check the weather on the website.
- Once a year, the cable car is maintained. The dates are provided on the website.
- Ticket prices.
- Watch out for snakes – the five most poisonous species such as Cape Cobra, Snakeskin Viper, Boomslang, Ring Neck Spitting cobra and Bitis Atropos are founded here.