Table Mountain National Park
Brief overview of Table Mountain National Park
The Table Mountain National Park is a national park in the Cape Town which was formerly known as the Cape Peninsula National Park. It was officially declared a national park on 29 May 1998 in order to protect the natural environment of the Table Mountain chain, especially the rare fybno vegetation.
The park is managed by South African National Parks and is included as part of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site.
The park contains two world-famous landmarks namely the Table Mountain after which the park is named, the Cape of Good Hope and most of the south-west area of South Africa.
Visiting Table Mountain National Park
This Natural World Heritage Site and Natural New 7 Wonder of the World is a perfect oasis of spectacular and awe-inspiring mountains plunging into crystal-clear seas edged with magnificent white sands of the Cape Peninsula. The mountain chain expands from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the South. To add to the splendour of the place, the world's smallest, yet most diverse floral kingdom is a top attraction for visitors.
Any visitor to Cape Town, local or international, must visit Table Mountain National Park. From open access hikes and delightful forest walks to amazing picnic and day-visit spots to quiet retreats and great accommodation facilities throughout the park, there is plenty to do, see and experience.
A fee is payable at only three access-controlled sections of the park: Cape of Good Hope, Boulders Penguin Colony and Silvermine.
Sections of Table Mountain
Table Mountain National Park is divided into three separate sections:
Table Mountain section
This section covers Signal Hill, Lion's Head, Table Mountain, including the Back Table, Devil's Peak, the Twelve Apostles, and Orange Kloof. It borders on central Cape Town in the north, Camps Bay and the Atlantic coast in the west, the Southern Suburbs in the east, and Hout Bay in the south.
This section runs northwest-southeast across the Peninsula from the Atlantic seaboard to the False Bay coast. It covers Constantiaberg, Steenberg Peak and the Kalk Bay mountains. It borders on Hout Bay in the north-west, the suburbs of Constantia and Tokai in the north-east, Kalk Bay in the south-east, and Fish Hoek and Noordhoek in the south-west.
Cape Point Section
This section covers the southernmost area of the Cape Peninsula, stretching from Cape Point, as far north as Scarborough on the Atlantic coast and Simon's Town on the False Bay coast. It was formed from the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
Points of interest in Table Mountain National Park
Table Mountain is not only the most iconic landmark of South Africa but it is also the country’s most photographed attraction. In fact, looming large, Table Mountain becomes the most welcoming symbol not only to the local people but also, to travellers from all over the world.
Visited by millions of people each year, Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains on the planet. It stood witness to the years of political turmoil in South Africa and represented hope for Madiba and other freedom fighters on the Robben Island during the apartheid. Famous for the image of tablecloth caused by the constant pour of the clouds down its slopes when the south east winds blow, this mountain of various shades and moods, hides many surprises that await to be discovered!
You can decide if you want to reach the top of the mountain and bask in spectacular views of the city or simply stroll along in the cool shade of indigenous forest – either way, you will be amazed!
Hiking at Table Mountain
Walkers and hikers can choose from a range of over 350 routes varying from light strolls to tough hikes. The easier trails include the Constantiaberg, the Silvermine or the Cape of Good Hope while the more difficult trails are the Platteklip Gorge, Nursery Ravine or Skeleton Gorge.
Since Table Mountain is located close to the city, people feel safe in the park but it should not be forgotten that the area is wild nonetheless and climbing it can be dangerous at times. The national park is very well marked but if you are inexperienced, it is recommended that you hike with a group. There are keen and committed volunteers who offer free guided walks the second Sunday of each month. The meeting point is inside the main gate.
Cable car ride
Take a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, 1 089 metres above Cape Town, and explore the summit! The cable car is the fastest and easiest way of reaching the summit. Formed in 1929, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company has since provided a world class experience to over 22 million visitors. Getting to the cable car is easy. The best option is to take the bus as parking spots are hard to find.
16 September-30 April: 08.00 am
1 May-15 September: 08.30 am
Note: Closing hours vary depending on the time of the year, but in peak season (16 December to 15 January) the last cable car ascends at 21h00 and descends at 22h00
The self-service restaurant operated by the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company at the top of Table Mountain has a variety of food. Visitors can opt for hot breakfasts, the meal of the day, snacks and coffee. A selection of fine local wines is also available to accompany your meal. The restaurant has sitting arrangement for 120 persons.
Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope
With its rich cultural and natural heritage, Cape Point is among the top tourist destinations in South Africa. A variety of wildlife can be found at Cape Point. This is why it is the only section of the Table Mountain National Park that is fenced. This is also the spot where visitors should watch for eland, red hartebeest, bontebok and zebra.
Look for the lighthouse. The lighthouse at Cape Point is the most powerful one on the South African coast. It has a range of 63 kilometres, and beams out a group of three flashes of 10 million candlepower each, every 30 seconds.
October-March: 06.00 am-06.00 pm
April-September: 07.00 am-05.00 pm
Some attractions at the Cape Point are The Flying Dutchman Funicular, The Two Oceans Restaurant and the curio stores.
The Flying Dutchman Funicular
The Flying Dutchman Funicular or the Cape Point Funicular is a funicular railway found at Cape Point. It is believed to be the only commercial funicular of its type in Africa and derives its name from the local legend of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship.
The Flying Dutchman funicular offers the visitors a new and exciting way of travelling. Apart from the thrill, visitors are spared from the long uphill walk from the car park to see the old lighthouse and enjoy the panoramic views.
The line runs from a lower station at the Cape Point car park, up an incline through dense fynbos to the upper lighthouse. The funicular departs from the lower station every 3 minutes. It can comfortably accommodate 40 passengers per car and can carry 450 persons to the upper lighthouse per hour, making it the ideal way to whisk closer to the lighthouse even during peak times.
October-March: 09.00 am-05.00 pm
April-September: 09.00 am-05.00 pm
There are three wonderful stores near the Flying Dutchman Funicular upper and lower stations where visitors can choose from a collection of Cape Point and traditionally South African curios and souvenirs.
All the stores have their own take on natural beauty and captivating maritime history that makes Cape Point and they have perfect items for you to take as a reminder of your trip.
The stores at Cape Point also provide a selection of essentials, should you have left anything behind.
The Cape Point Logo Store
The Cape Point Logo Store is the ultimate souvenir shop at the Point! Visitors can choose from a wide variety of merchandise branded with the Cape Point Logo, from t-shirts and tops, caps and hats, mugs and teaspoons to key rings, magnets and books!
Cape Point Parks Shop
Since Cape Point falls within the Table Mountain National Park, the natural beauty and diversity of the floral kingdom is celebrated in this store. Visitors can buy bath and body products made from uniquely African extracts like rooibos and aloe, take home their own Protea seeds or buy books to guide them through the flora and birds of the area. The African heritage is also reflected in the bright ceramics and cloths. Clothing and accessories for adults and children complete the picture.
Lighthouse Five oozes with maritime history and has a distinctly nautical feel with rich dark wood fittings and polished brass.
Buy your own ships wheel or brass bell, take home an intricate replica of an old sailing ship or an ostrich egg decorated with old maps.
Great white shark posters, shark tooth jewellery, DVD’s, globes and Ngwenya glass figurines are just a few of the treasures to be found!
For the kids the store has a range of soft and cuddly marine toys, bright accessories and clothes.
October-March: 09.00 am-05.00 pm
April-September: 09.00 am-05.00 pm
Cape of Good Hope
This rocky promontory was first sighted by the Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias in 1488 while he was on his way back to Portugal after having ascertained the southern limits of the African continent. One historical account says that Dias named it Cape of Storms and that John II of Portugal renamed it Cape of Good Hope because its discovery was a good sign that India could be reached by sea from Europe.
Known for the stormy weather and rough seas encountered here, the Cape of Good Hope is situated at the convergence of the warm Mozambique-Agulhas current from the Indian Ocean and the cool Benguela current from Antarctic waters.
Grass and low shrub vegetation is characteristic of the promontory, which is part of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Established in 1939, it encompasses the southern tip of the peninsula.
The Cape of Good Hope has some of the most brilliant scenery for those participating in active sports, be it on land or on or in the water. From scenic walks to hiking and biking, swimming in the tidal pools, diving, surfing, fishing, bird-watching, whale-watching and animal-watching all over the reserve.
Boulders Penguin Colony
Located in Simon's Town, Boulders Penguin Colony is home to a unique and endangered land-based colony of African Penguins. This penguin colony is one of only a few in the world and the site has become a famous and popular international tourist destination.
The Boulders section of the Table Mountain National Park comprises of 3 pristine beaches, 1 penguin viewing area and 3 boardwalks. The boardwalks' purpose is to allow the visitors to view the penguins while keeping the penguins safe from poking fingers and the like-which is not appreciated by the penguins who can retort back with a nasty nip. Visitors must make sure to stay on the boardwalks all the time while viewing the penguins.
This beach is ideal for children as immense boulders shelter the cove from currents, wind and large waves - but please always take care.
Also, an access fee is required to go to the beach. Strict control to the beach makes it that the beach is always clean and tidy. Other amenities include toilets and outdoor beach showers. Park rangers keep patrolling the beach to ensure the safety of visitors as well as the African Penguins.
Silvermine Nature Reserve
Silvermine Nature Reserve forms part of the Table Mountain National Park and is just 20 minutes’ drive away from the city centre. It envelops part of the Cape Peninsula mountain range, from Kalk Bay to Constantiaberg.
Silvermine Nature Reserve is an easy getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city life and offers some relatively gentle walks compared to the more rigorous hikes up the mountain. Hence, it is a good option for younger and older visitors and those who might not be fit enough or have enough time to go on a longer hike.
One of the easier walks circles around a large reservoir. A boardwalk accessible to wheelchairs and prams is in place for much of this walk. Other than that, the relatively short hiking trails lead to a point where a picturesque view of the landscape stretching from False Bay all the way around to Cape Town can be viewed.
As for the fitter visitor, walking up the back of Table Mountain from Silvermine makes a pretty much a full-day hike.
The Silvermine Nature Reserve is an important conservation area for indigenous fynbos. Apart from walking and hiking, it is also a well-known spot for bird-watching, picnicking, and mountain biking.
Silvermine Nature Reserve also has a number of sandstone cave systems and rock climbing routes to Muizenberg.
The South African naval headquarters are also situated within the reserve, but are off-limits to the public.
The entry point to the reserve is at the top of Ou Kaapse Weg and a small fee is charged The reserve is open daily from 07h00 to 19h00 and plenty of parking is available.
Signal Hill is found at the northern-most tip of the Table Mountain National Park and offers marvellous views of the city and harbour. It forms the “lion’s body” for the adjoining Lion's Mountain.
Signal Hill derived its name from its original use: the practice of flying signal flags to communicate with nearby ships and later for the daily firing of the famous Noon Gun.
In fact, Signal Hill is an important landmark because of the historic noon gun is fired at noon in Cape Town.
Hikers on the hill are rewarded with great views across Table Bay harbour, the central city and the Atlantic Ocean. There are many family-friendly picnic spots on Signal Hill which are preferred by tourists and locals all year round.
Many first-time tourists to Signal Hill are quite startled by the presence of the gun. While the local people almost instinctively tend to glance at their watch at the sound of the gun, tourists are alarmed on hearing the gun's boom which sends birds fluttering skywards.
The cannon weigh more than two tons each and fire 1.5kg of gunpowder everyday at noon except on Sundays and public holidays. Members of the public are welcome to assist (from a demarcated safe distance) this daily ritual. Since 1902, the Noon Gun has been fired more than 62 000 times.
Providing a spectacular backdrop to the City of Cape Town, Lion’s Head is part of the Table Mountain range and falls within the Table Mountain National Park.
Rising to a height of 669 m above sea level, Lion's Head is the peak to the right of Table Mountain. Its short but popular hike offers a 360 degree view of the Atlantic seaboard, the City and Table Mountain. This is mainly why the hour-long walk to the top is really worth the effort.
A really popular activity is to hike to the top on full moon. The moonlight adds a little mystery to the walk and the hikers are rewarded with a glittering view of Cape Town by night. While this is a memorable experience, it should only be done in groups and led by someone with experience. Also, do not forget a head-torch and warm clothing as it can be chilly up there – even on a mild summer’s eve.
Although a walk to the top can be a slightly tough at times, there is nothing too hectic about this hike. Along the path you will find a series of chains and ladders to assist you as you scramble up a particularly steep section of rocky faces. When walking with very young children, take the alternative route that goes around the chain- section.
Photographers should put aside the first clear day of their visit to Cape Town to walk to the top of Lion’s Head as it provides a great location with good opportunities for photography. One can click pictures of the well-known Robben Island prison, where Mandela was held captive.
Due to its height above the city and the favourable wind conditions that prevail around it, Lion’s Head is a great spot to go paragliding, hang-gliding or microlighting.
There are some beaches that fall under the Table Mountain National Park. In fact, it can even be said that Table Mountain National Park has beaches to cater for everyone.
If you want to hang out with bronzed beach goers and enjoy a bit of a beach culture, then Llandudno on the Atlantic seaboard is for you! However, if you are seeking for some quiet time to relax on the beach, head south and try out Noordhoek, Kommetjie or Scarborough - all of which are wide enough to accommodate crowds and are also good for watching provide amazing sunsets.
The Cape of Good Hope section offers more wild and secluded beaches with the benefit of beaches on both the Atlantic and False Bay sides.
Some of the beaches have really strong tides and most of the times, life-guards on the popular beasches are on duty only during the peak season. So, swimmers should ensure that they are familiar with the area and should take all necessary precautions.