Cape Point juts into the southern Atlantic Ocean and forms the tip of the peninsula’s rugged mountain chain, which stretches from Table Bay, soaring out of the sea to a height of 1,087m above sea level, dwarfing the high-rise buildings of the city and its surrounding suburbs. A scenic drive leads to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which offers hiking and mountain biking trails. The less energetic can ride the funicular to a lighthouse and superb views.
The Cape Peninsula’s most prominent feature, Table Mountain, has been a welcome landmark for travellers. Its impressive front wall, as well as the surrounding buttresses and ravines, is a spectacular natural wonder. The rock formations and twisted strata indicate turbulent geological processes that span a millions-of-years history. A mass of sedimentary sandstone and large areas of granite forms the Cape Peninsula’s mountain chain. The sandstone sediment, which forms the main block of the mountain, was deposited about 450 million years ago when the peninsula, then a part of Gondwana, lay below sea level. After the subsidence of the primeval ocean, the effects of wind, rain, ice and extreme temperatures caused erosion of the softer layers, leaving behind the characteristic mesa of Table Mountain.
Over 1,400 plant species of the 2,285 that make up the Cape Floral Kingdom of the Peninsula can be found in the protected natural habitat of Table Mountain. They include Disa uniflora (also called Pride of Table Mountain), which mostly grows near streams and waterfalls, and several members of the regal protea family. Wildlife, consisting mostly of small mammals, reptiles and birds, includes the rare and secretive ghost frog, which is found in perennial streams on the plateau.
The high plateau affords superb views of the Hely-Hutchinson reservoir, the Back Table, and southwards to False Bay and Cape Point. In 1998, extensive upgrading of the Table Mountain Cableway, as well as the lower and upper stations, resulted in special reinforced viewing platforms at strategic vantage points.
Table Mountain’s Tablecloth: An old local legend tells of the Dutchman, Jan van Hunks, who engaged in a smoking contest with a stranger on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. After several days, the disgruntled stranger had to admit defeat and revealed himself as the Devil. Vanishing in a puff of smoke, he carried van Hunks off with him, leaving behind wreaths of smoke curling around Devil’s Peak -- which is where the cloud begins pouring over the mountains -- forming the famous tablecloth.
Tips for Walkers: Several well-marked trails, graded according to their degree of difficulty, lead to the summit. All hikers must wear proper walking boots and are advised to check with the Lower Cableway Station before setting out, as weather conditions may deteriorate without warning. Winds at the top can reach over 80km per hour, so hiking on windy or misty days is not recommended.
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company:
Daily departure at varying times.