Cape of Good Hope has an epic hiking trail. Shhh, it’s a secret

This stunning trail at the tip of the Cape Peninsula is hiking guide author Fiona McIntosh’s favourite two-day hiking trail in South Africa, and one of Cape Town’s best-kept secrets.

The overnight trail through the Cape of Good Hope section of the Table Mountain National Park is an absolute gem, but it’s surprisingly little known.

A self-guided, circular trail, it can be hiked clockwise or anti-clockwise and each has its advantages.

If you hike clockwise you have a fairly short first day (10.5 kilometres, 4 to 5 hours), so you should have plenty of time to explore Cape Point in the late evening when all the day-trippers have left.

The anti-clockwise option means that you do the long day (20.3 kilometres, 7 to 8 hours) first and can explore Cape Point early the following morning while you are fresh, and still get back to your car in good time on the afternoon of day two. That is my personal preference, but it’s worth checking the weather—in particular the predicted wind direction—before making a decision.

If taking the anti-clockwise route you head from the entrance gate towards the Atlantic coast. The trail leads through swathes of colourful flowers in early spring (September) and past herds of Cape mountain zebra, bontebok, eland and other plains game, then traverses Blaubergvlei, an area that is out of bounds to day hikers. The scenery is glorious. The path leads through a section of coastal forest and past empty golden beaches, from which you’ll often see whales and dolphins, before cutting across the neck of the peninsula to the wonderfully located overnight huts on the flank of Vasco da Gama Peak.

The route on Day Two completes the circle, along the dramatic cliffs and wild beaches of the False Bay coast and back to the gate.

Although it’s not particularly steep at any stage, don’t underestimate this trail—33.8 kilometres is a long way in two days if you’re carrying a pack. My advice is to pay the small extra charge to have your bag (and your cooler bag of beer and meat) delivered to the huts. The three huts, each of which sleep six hikers, are equipped with showers, flush toilets, mattresses, cutlery, crockery, pots and pans, braais and grids and you can purchase wood at the gate and have it delivered.

Try to factor in two detours. The absolute “must-do” is to visit the lighthouses at Cape Point in the evening of Day One, or on the morning of the second day—a round hike of about two hours. Another worthwhile short detour is to the wreck of the Phyllisia at Hoek van Bobbejaan. The turn-off is about halfway between the entrance gate and the overnight huts on the long day and the path takes you past some KhoiSan middens on the way to the wreck.

The Cape of Good Hope Reserve is part of the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site and the flora is suitably impressive, with 1080 plants, including 14 endemic species, having been recorded in the reserve. The birdlife is also a highlight so I strongly advise you to take a field guide to the birds and flowers.

Explore the best of Cape Town’s nature on these 5 hiking trails

The Cape Peninsula, with Cape Town’s Table Mountain at one end and Cape Point at the other, is a wild, special place that begs to be explored on foot, says Fiona McIntosh, author of Hike Cape Town (published by Jacana), a full-colour guide with detailed descriptions of Cape Town’s best day hikes.

A network of hiking trails from Cape Town all the way to the tip of the Cape peninsula criss-crosses the peninsula’s mountainous spine, taking you through exquisite fynbos, indigenous forest and to dramatic rocky viewpoints. Easy coastal tracks lead to gold sand beaches, rock pools and whale-watching viewpoints. Much of the peninsula is protected as part of the Table Mountain National Park, an area of complex beauty and biodiversity that stretches about 60 kilometres from Signal Hill to Cape Point. It includes a significant portion of the mountain chain of the peninsula and 1 000 square kilometres of coastline and sea.

Nature lovers in Cape Town are spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring on foot. But these five iconic trails should be on your to-do list:

1. Maclear’s Beacon

The Table Mountain Cableway will whisk you high onto Table Mountain, but if you want to go to its true summit you will have to hike for about an hour each way across the flat plateau to a large pile of rocks known as Maclear’s Beacon. This beacon marks the highest point on Table Mountain, (1 086 metres above sea level) and was constructed in 1844 by the then Astronomer Royal at the Cape, Sir Thomas Maclear, as part of his efforts to measure the arc of the meridian of the earth.

The route, mostly along a natural rock track that leads through windswept vegetation, is marked with yellow footprints but it’s still easy to lose your way—this hike should only be undertaken in good visibility or with a guide. Remember also that on the top of the mountain the weather can change quickly so always take warm, waterproof clothing even if it’s a glorious sunny day. The Table Mountain Cableway is closed in high winds so don’t rely on it being open by the time you reach the top: make sure that you have the time, and energy, to walk down.

Free, guided walks from the Upper Cable Car Station around the plateau and across to Maclear’s Beacon are run by volunteers. Contact the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway for details.

2. Cape Point to Cape of Good Hope

This moderately difficult trail links two of South Africa’s most iconic landmarks  — Cape Point, with its two striking lighthouses, and the Cape of Good Hope, the south-western tip of Africa. It offers stunning views, wildlife sightings and interesting history. The route up to the now-redundant, upper lighthouse at Cape Point is easy, while that to the new lighthouse is steeper and exposed at times, so requires more effort and a head for heights. You can tour both lighthouses in a couple of hours, then hike along the spectacular cliff path from Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope in another 30 minutes. Either return the way you came or arrange to be picked up at the car park at the Cape of Good Hope.

3. The Contour Path

This shady path through the forest on the eastern flanks of Table Mountain starts at Constantia Nek and goes across to the King’s Blockhouse above Rhodes Memorial (the car park closest to the King’s Blockhouse). Allow around six hours to hike the whole way or, if time is short, hike only the popular second half, from the National Botanical Gardens at Kirstenbosch to the King’s Blockhouse.

Since it is largely flat and shaded this is an easy trail for walkers of all ages and abilities and there are plenty of escape routes down into the Kirstenbosch gardens if the going gets tough. This is a good year-round trail, with the forest offering shelter from the hot sun in the summer. It’s particularly lovely in winter when the forest is lush and moist, waterfalls tumble down the ravines and colourful fungi adorn the dead branches.

4. Lion’s Head

The trail up Lion’s Head is one of Cape Town’s most popular hikes, partly because it is often in the wind shadow so makes a good outing when the southeaster, Cape Town’s dominant wind, is howling. Although clearly marked, it involves scrambling up some steep rocky sections, often with the aid of ladders and metal staples in the rock, so it is for confident and adventurous hikers only. The seasonal wildflowers are a particular treat and the views of Table Mountain, the World Cup stadium and Robben Island from the top of the peak are breathtaking. Allow two hours to return.

5. Sea Point Promenade

The Sea Point promenade stretches south along Cape Town’s Atlantic coastline from the Green Point lighthouse, a Cape Town landmark, to Queen’s Beach at the southerly end of Sea Point. It’s a wonderfully bracing child- and dog-friendly walk that can be hiked one way if you have two cars (or have a pre-loaded myconnect card for use on Cape Town’s MyCiTi bus), or as an out-and-back walk from either end.

In addition to refreshment stalls, jungle gyms and playgrounds there are several beaches along the way, as well as two tidal pools. The pool at Milton Beach is close to the sand and is protected from the crashing waves beyond so is ideal for families, while Graaff’s pool is a stunning, but more exposed gully nestled between jagged rocks.

As with all good promenades there are benches along the way where you can relax and watch the world go by. The Sea Point promenade has a great vibe, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon when walkers, joggers and rollerbladers head out for a little fresh air. Allow an hour each way.

How to get to the top of Table Mountain by foot

There is no easy hike up Cape Town’s iconic mountain, but if you are fit and fairly strong you can take one of several well-trodden paths to the top.

The most heavily used path on Table Mountain is the one up Platteklip Gorge, the deep nick in the flat top of Table Mountain that is visible from downtown Cape Town.

The path, which starts about a kilometre and a half beyond the Lower Cable Station on Tafelberg Road, is so popular that it’s nicknamed Adderley Street (after the main street in Cape Town city centre) by the locals. It’s incredibly steep and direct and there is no shade other than in the narrow section at the top, so don’t underestimate it. However, the route is easy to follow and thus provides a good, safe ascent or descent, particularly in bad weather. Take water and be prepared for some knee jarring on the descent. The route is about two and a half kilometres long and will take about 90 minutes one way (probably a bit quicker if you’re coming down!)

The Skeleton Gorge path, which starts in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, is steep but shady, well-marked and of only moderate difficulty. There are several ladders over some very steep sections, which can become slippery when wet. This was the favourite ascent of Field Marshall Smuts, a keen mountain walker, so the final trail on this route is known as the Smuts Track. The route is approximately four kilometres long and will take about two hours one-way.

There’s no shade on the popular Kasteelspoort trail, but it affords incredible views. To get there, park at the top of Theresa Avenue on the Rontree Estate in Camps Bay, then follow the concrete jeep track up until it divides. The start is not well marked but is fairly obvious: stay on the main track, which goes right, and continue up for about 100 metres until you can see a green signpost on the contour path above you. Leave the jeep track at this point and take the narrow path directly up the mountain to the signpost – you will see the cairn marking the way just after a big rock on the left. The signpost directs you over the contour path and up – a distance of three kilometres, about 90 minutes to the top of the trail.

Note that the Skeleton Gorge and Kasteelspoort trails go to the top of the lower, southern plateau of Table Mountain, often called the “back table”. It will take another 60 to 90 minutes from the top of these trails to get across to the upper cable car station on the ‘front table’.

Howl like a wolf on full-moon hikes around Cape Town

Hiking up Lion’s Head to see the full moon rise is something of a Cape Town tradition. And when you’ve added that to your bucket-list, here are a two more to try…

There are few things more romantic than watching a full moon rise from the top of a mountain—particularly if you’ve just toasted the end of another fine day in Africa. But all hikes in the moonlight are special, particularly since you see all sorts of nocturnal critters that you never spot in the daytime—and, like them, avoid the heat! So, if you’re in Cape Town for the next full moon, grab your head torch and try out one of these moonlit walks.

Climbing Lion’s Head to watch the sun set and moon rise on the evening of a full moon is so popular that, come nightfall, the peak is lit up like a Christmas tree. Corks pop, the city lights twinkle below and the sheer front face of Table Mountain provides an imposing backdrop. It’s a wonderful tradition but go carefully, particularly on the way down. Although young kids, agile grannies and the occasional adventurous dog make it to the summit, the route involves some rock scrambling so you need a good head for heights. Allow at least an hour each way as the scrambles and chains that are put in place to aid hikers up and down the steep sections can get as congested as Everest’s Hillary Step. Remember also that this is a serious mountain outing so don’t overdo the champagne!

If you’re looking for something more exclusive, the Delvera Hi-tec Full Moon Hike, on the Delvera Wine Farm near Stellenbosch, also offers spectacular views of Cape Town and the surrounding winelands. The full hike to the top of Klapmutskop and back is 9.75km but you can catch a shuttle to the halfway point, so it’s ideal for families with young kids and those who don’t hike often! The season runs from September to April (with sundowner hikes also organised on special occasions like Valentine’s Day). Picnic baskets from the Simonsberg Café can be arranged on request.

Personal safety is inevitably a concern on beaches and isolated spots at night so group walks, such as Safer Together’s Muizenberg Moonlight Meander, are popular options, particularly with families—and dogs. The free monthly stroll along the Blue Flag Muizenberg beachfront in Cape Town’s southern suburbs, takes place on the Saturday nearest to the full moon.

Overseers Cottage is my best hiker’s hut in Cape Town

The Overseers Cottage on top of Table Mountain is a unique memory maker, says Saskia Marlowe, Hospitality Manager at Table Mountain National Park.

My most treasured possessions are memories, so when it comes to family gifts I go for experiences that will create lifelong memories. For many people the most special memories are about spending family time together: if it’s in a unique location, all the better.

The Overseers Cottage, perched on top of Table Mountain, has one of the most spectacular settings for an overnight stay in Cape Town. But there is a catch: to get there you have to hike. The most obvious route up the mountain, particularly if you have a mixed-ability hiking group, is the jeep track that leads from Constantia Nek up to the cottage—a two-hour walk if you stop a couple of times to look at the view and gaze at the vastness of the city below. For the more adventurous, a hike up Skeleton Gorge and then across the top of Table Mountain is an enticing alternative.

Irrespective of the route you walk, your bags and cooler box will be waiting for you on arrival and you will have earned your drink at the end of the day. The Overseers Cottage is an exclusive-use cottage so there will only be you and those you invite to share this special place.

Overseers has no electricity, but gas makes everything possible and a warm shower and hot cup of tea will reward you for your efforts.  As night falls the twinkling city lights draw you outside and the stars enthral. Remember to take a warm jacket with you: even in the summer months the wind tends to chill the skin.

If you can resist the urge to just sit in the sun and take in the view in the morning, you should drag yourself out of the crispy white linen early and hike towards the dams as the sun rises. Table Mountain is always beautiful, but never more so than when the dams and the view are there for just you and your family to share.

When the magic of an overnight stay ends at Overseers there is still the joy of the hike down. Your choice of route depends on your fitness: one of the easiest options is to meander across the top of Table Mountain and then take the cable car down. Going down the Twelve Apostles side of Table Mountain on either the Kasteelspoort or Wood Ravine path is also a possibility, one often forgotten in favour of the more obvious alternative.  No matter what hiking trails you take up and down, a night at Overseers Cottage will delight everyone in your family and create a memory to be treasured.

The Pipe Track: an easy way to walk round Table Mountain

The Pipe Track, from Tafelberg Road to Slangolie Ravine on the Camps Bay side of Table Mountain, is one of the finest easy walks on Table Mountain.

The Pipe Track was built in 1887 to service the pipeline that brought water from the Disa River, on Table Mountain’s “back table”, through the mountain via the Woodhead tunnel, to Slangolie Ravine and eventually to the Molteno Reservoir in the city.

The trail starts across the road from the car park at the top of Kloof Nek Road. Climb the granite steps and follow the clear path, which contours around the mountain’s flanks, occasionally dropping down to cross gullies.

You soon catch your first glimpse of the pipeline as it crosses a little ravine via an aqueduct. This was the Blockhouse Aqueduct; the French defenders of the Cape erected a blockhouse and battery near this spot in 1781, but the fortifications have completely disappeared. The path continues under the shade of vast pine and gum trees that were planted when the pipe was laid, but they occasionally open up to reveal views of the mountain.

After passing below the Kloof Nek Filtration Plant (built in 1938 to provide clean, treated water to Cape Town) the track plunges down to cross Diep Sloot Ravine. A short, steep section of uphill follows before the path flattens out once more and, as you emerge from the trees, a magnificent vista unfolds. To your left are the deep gullies of Cairn, Fountain and Grotto Ravines and you can see all the way up to the Upper Cable Car Station.

The path winds on, past another aqueduct, to Blinkwater Ravine, the divide between the “front table” and the buttresses of the Twelve Apostles – the ‘back table’. You continue on an easy, still largely shaded path that winds through dense stands of large protea and slopes speckled with a variety of indigenous flora, far above the houses of Camps Bay.

Approximately 35 minutes from the trailhead you’ll reach the junction with Kasteelspoort, a very straightforward ascent and descent to the back table and reservoirs. Shortly after that, the Pipe Track joins the jeep track coming up from Theresa Avenue – a wide, open section on which you’ll usually see sugarbirds and sunbirds flitting among the fynbos. The road ends soon after and the now rocky and eroded path climbs to a grand, domed sandstone building ­– a break-pressure tank that dates to the same time as the Pipe Track – and then contours the shady start of the Woody Ravine path before climbing steeply up along the base of Spring Buttress to some stone steps. This is Slangolie Ravine, the ‘official’ end of the Pipe Track. You can continue on and climb the mountain via Corridor Ravine, or simply retrace your steps, a round-trip of about two-and-a-half hours.

This trail is particularly attractive in the late afternoon, when the sun sinks into the Atlantic and Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles glow burnt orange in the evening light.

Shortly before the Pipe Track opened, the Cape Argus newspaper noted that “This path, when completed, will no doubt be recognised as the promenade of the inhabitants of the suburbs of the future”. Living in Camps Bay I use it almost daily.

Whatsapp could save your life on Table Mountain. Here’s how

A free Whatsapp group allows hikers to be tracked when on Table Mountain, says Tim Lundy, mountain guide, mountain rescuer and hiking guide author.

The safety of hikers is always of concern on Table Mountain. The weather can turn rapidly resulting in walkers getting lost and, no matter how careful you are, there is always the risk of an accident or a crime incident. So, together with Anwaaz Bent of Hikers Network (a member of Wilderness Search and Rescue), we created a Whatsapp group that is designed to track hikers and thereby enhance safety.

The concept is simple. When hikers depart for their walk they notify the Hikers Network via Twitter, Facebook or by phoning or smsing 083 444 5267 or 082 575 7123. They give the time of departure, number of hikers, start and finish points, an outline of the route, estimated time of arrival at the finish and alternate telephone numbers of other hikers in the group. One of the Hikers Network monitors then acknowledges that they have received that information, and hikers update the monitor on their progress at regular intervals. When they have finished, hikers simply send the monitor a message: “Done, all safe, thanks for tracking”.

In the event that there is an incident hikers can be quickly tracked and search and rescue teams can be alerted if necessary. The Whatsapp group helps fellow mountain users and should reduce the number of rescues performed every year, while at the same time speed up getting help to those in need.

Click here for more information.

The Iconic Lions Head

summitStanding on the summit of Lions Head is a thrilling feeling, the entire Cape Town is at your feet, seemingly small, buzzing and beautifully captivating. The vista of Cape Town from the Crown of Lions Head is truly beyond words, beyond photographs, it has to be experienced, you have to make the climb. It takes approximately 45min – 1.5hr to climb to the summit, and it’s not without its minor challenges of chains and ladders but it is definitely well worth it. Always remember to take water when climbing! Many a full moon sees groups of people hiking up Lions Head. The daytime hike and viewing reward is phenomenal but the full moon from the summit of Lions Head is seriously something else. Continue reading “The Iconic Lions Head”

Your next hike up Lion’s Head

Whether you are a Capetonian local or visiting the mother city for business or pleasure, you have without a doubt become familiar with the outcrop next to the iconic Table Mountain, also called ‘The Lions Rump’, Lion’s Head. It’s the perfect hiking expedition for people wanting something short and sweet, that will provide the same breathtaking views that the other surrounding peaks provide and will work up a sweat but not kill you half way up to the summit. The hike up and down Lion’s Head without a break will last a total of 45 minutes, so doing it at your own leisurely pace as well as perhaps having a picnic up on the top of Lion’s Head is a brilliant excursion no matter who you are.

The slopes of Lion’s head can be reached from the ample parking provided, or from the various entrances at the top of Sea Point. Many locals take a walk right from the main road and head straight up into the forested slopes from the roads above the luxurious houses and apartments found nestled in the foothills of Lion’s Head. Then its straight and to the right where the huge Lion’s Head peers over to welcome you. There is a very visible path that leads all the way up to the peak of Lion’s Head, so getting lost on this hike is very rare. Many people do venture up Lion’s Head alone, but it is definitely not advised, especially if you are not familiar with the territory or if it is a night time full moon hike up Lion’s Head. The beginning of the hike is fairly simple with a gentle incline that goes largely unnoticed. Then towards the middle there are some acrobatic movements required with a rope and chains, until you reach the peak. On your hike you will be able to marvel at the incredibly awe-inspiring vista that is Cape Town, the panoramic view stretches right into the blue horizon over the sea, and no matter how many times you climb to the highest part of Lion’s Head, the view will always inspire and leave you standing in awe.

The peak of Lion’s Head is filled with rocky outcrops and is not as large as one would think, but there is ample room and beautifully comfortable little nooks and crannies to enjoy a picnic or gathering with a few friends after your hike. It is by far one of the most incredible and easy to reach spots in Cape Town when wanting a breathtaking sight to picnic in, or even when lacking inspiration, many a creative find themselves, pen and notebook in hand, journeying up toward the summit of inspiration.