Most big cities around the world are recognisable by their skyscraper skyline; very few are synonymous with a natural landmark. Table Mountain not only defines Cape Town, but heralds the start of a 70-kilometre peninsula crammed with such natural biodiversity that it almost defies belief.
This is a destination where you can enjoy dazzling displays of flowers and see baboons and antelope foraging next to unspoilt beaches; you can also go diving with seals or slip into the water and watch sharks from the safety of a steel cage. There are endemic birds, honking penguin colonies and hiking trails ranging from half-day strolls to multi-day adventures.
The trick is to know where to go, when to go and how to do it all. The good news is that Cape Town’s most popular natural attractions are all-year-round affairs and easy to get to by yourself. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Table Mountain, Boulders Beach penguin colony and Cape Point at the tip of the Cape Peninsula are all good examples. Simply hire a car or jump on a tour – you can even catch the big red sightseeing bus to some of them.
Make sure you do a bit of research if you’re hoping to see a lot of flowers, whales or great white sharks leaping out of the water: several of Cape Town’s natural attractions are seasonal. And try to be flexible with your itinerary too – you may need to chop and change days to suit the weather, especially if you are doing ocean-based activities.
As for iconic Table Mountain — the first sighting of which used to earn a 17th century Dutch sailor 10 guilders and six bottles of wine — if you want to really maximise your experience, consider using a guide. For example, there are only a handful of self-guided trails up Table Mountain; a guide will know other routes far from the crowds as well as what to do if the weather’s not so good.