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.

Don’t mess with Table Mountain! 5 life-saving tips

Table Mountain’s position in the centre of a cosmopolitan city has a sneaky way of luring tourists, hikers and cyclists into a false sense of security, as if it’s not a “real” mountain. But it’s very much real, as are its dangers; more than 200 people have died up there…

Table Mountain has reportedly been responsible for something like 200 deaths in the past century, yet many of the four million people — hikers, cyclists, climbers and tourists — that visit the mountain each year don’t prepare properly before they go.

“People don’t treat Table Mountain like a ‘real’ mountain because it is so easily accessible surrounded by a city that views it as a back garden … people are under the impression it is a walk in a park,” says Merle Collins, SANParks’ regional communications manager.

She says many hikers don’t even take the basics ‒ sunscreen, water, food or proper lighting and clothing ‒ when venturing onto Table Mountain’s trails. A lack of preparation that could lead to a rescue mission, or worse.

The 35,000-hectare Table Mountain site has seen about 228 deaths between 1920 and January 2015, according to online reports from South African Mountain Accidents Database project manager Andrew Lewis. While some of these deaths can be attributed to suicide, random violent crime or homeless people dying from exposure, many are the result of falls or poor planning.

When Table Mountain’s infamous cloud (known as the “tablecloth” among locals) rolls in, the fog can obscure trails and cause hikers to become disoriented, lost or unaware of looming hazards. Many people also underestimate the time it takes to reach the cable car and begin their hikes too late in the day. They’re then stuck on the mountain at night without a torch or warm clothing.

Here are 5 basic tips that could save your life:

1. Pack the essentials

Merle says hikers should all carry a few essentials, regardless of whether they’re taking a casual stroll or doing a more challenging hike.

She recommends packing a detailed map of the park, sun hat and sunscreen, a torch or headlamp, sufficient water, energy snacks, sturdy hiking shoes (no flip-flops!) and gear for wet and windy weather.

2. Don’t go alone

Don’t hike or cycle alone, Merle adds. Good practice is to hike in groups no smaller than four but no bigger than 10.

3. Check in with someone

Let someone know which trail you plan to take and when you’ll be back, says Merle ‒ they can notify authorities if you become lost.

Also sign up for the free Whatsapp group monitored by mountain rescuers (details here).

4. Save emergency numbers and check the weather

Save Table Mountain’s emergency number on your mobile phone (+27 86-110-6417) and check SANParks’ website for the weather forecast before embarking on an adventure.

5. Stash it, don’t flash it

There are occasional muggings on the mountain, especially on lesser-trodden routes. If you do take valuables such as iPods, cameras or smartphones, don’t keep them obviously visible, and stick to popular routes after 08h00 and before 18h00.

Experience The Cape Camino

Cape Town’s most sacred walk, The Cape Camino, is modelled on the famous Spanish pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago, says founder Gabrielle Andrew.

The Cape Camino is inspired by the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage across northern Spain. The Cape Town version of this famous long-distance walk takes in the diversity of Cape Town’s sacred sites and natural wonders as well as the creativity of local entrepreneurs.

A pilgrimage is universally accepted as a cleansing opportunity: a chance to clear the mind, heal, connect with your higher power, make decisions or just spend time on your own considering what needs to be considered. But there are no rules; the pilgrim uses the space to achieve what they wish to achieve.

We have identified a route around the Cape Peninsula which is rich in spiritual diversity, natural beauty and logistical support for pilgrims. The route embraces the city of Cape Town as well as Cape Point. By crossing over the peninsula twice at Constantia Nek it forms the shape of the symbol of infinity, ∞.

The route creates a platform to showcase our sacred diversity, share our combined wealth and build a peaceful, sustainable nation. The Cape Camino offers a rich travel experience for both domestic and foreign visitors who seek unique, local experiences. We support micro business and the repopulation of indigenous species through this.

How it works:

Pilgrims purchase a once-off Infinity Ticket (∞) which gives access to the route in detail. This includes maps, information on sacred sites and places of interest, discounts from the service providers registered on the route, and forums to connect with other pilgrims, share experiences and form relationships.
Pricing:  The Infinity Tickets cost R380, last a lifetime and can be purchased online. We would like for every individual in Cape Town to be a ticket bearer. If you can’t afford it, we will give you one for free.

Service providers:

To register as a service provider you need to be a small or micro business, be positioned on the route and provide a service relevant to the pilgrim. Registration is free with the proviso that you pass a reward, value-add or discount on to the Infinity Ticket bearer.

For more information visit www.capecamino.co.za  

There’s more to Gaansbaai than just shark cage diving

Gansbaai lies two hours east of Cape Town. The quaint fishing village has become famous for it’s toothy celebrities, but there is far more to do here than just great white shark cage diving.

Nestled along a stretch of coast called the Overberg, Gansbaai is a far cry from the hip, bustling city of Cape Town. The iconic lighthouse at Danger Point towers over a vast stretch of spectacular coastline with long, sandy beaches and offshore islands that are world renowned for great white shark cage diving.

Most visitors who arrive on great white shark cage diving tours often return to Cape Town the same day, which is a pity. As impressive as these creatures are, there is lots more to see and do in Gansbaai.

Walker Bay, situated between Gansbaai and Hermanus, boasts some of the best whale watching in the world. The bay is a spectacle in itself, a natural amphitheatre made of towering cliffs that plunge into the ocean. Southern Right and other species of whale come into the bay every year between June and December as they migrate along the South African coastline. October is the peak month for whale watching, and it’s not uncommon to see up to 30 whales close to the shoreline around Gansbaai on any given day.

Along with the sharks and whales, nearby Dyer Island is home to thousands of seals and there are abundant fish, soft corals and numerous shipwrecks for the avid diver. It’s hard not to get distracted by all these marine attractions, but you won’t be disappointed on land either.

Gansbaai boasts a number of incredible nature reserves – like Flower Valley and Grootbos Nature Reserve – that are home to a wide variety of fynbos and other endemic species. They also hold a number of spectacular hikes for the hiking enthusiast. The seven-kilometre Klipgat trail is a highlight, winding its way along the coast from Gansbaai harbour, past De Kelders and ending at the Klipgat cave.

Speaking of De Kelders, don’t miss out on these spectacular cliffs and caves that burrow deep into the coastal cliffs, or the dense milkwood forest trail that meanders through the conservation area. De Kelders is also a fantastic place for whale watching, and is less touristy than nearby Walker Bay. If you prefer taking in the scenery via pedal power, you’re in luck. There are a number of excellent mountain biking trails in the area.

Once night falls, there’s no need to rush back to Cape Town. Gansbaai offers a number of fantastic accommodation options, from B&Bs to self-catering cottages on the beach, where the sound of the waves will lull you to sleep in this low-key seashore paradise.

Smoking with the Devil – Devils Peak

Jan Hunks, a square faced Dutch man with deep-set eyes and a bellow of a laugh, was kicked out the house one day by his wife as per usual. She didn’t appreciate his smoking and because he did, he spent most of his days outside, puffing away on his wooden pipe. One day somewhere in circa 1700, an unknown fellow with the greenest of eyes and the tallest of hats approached Jan on the slopes of Devils Peak. Continue reading “Smoking with the Devil – Devils Peak”

Real Deal Hiking – Algeria Campsite

There are two ways of going hiking and/or camping, the lazy, still at home feel with all amenities on hand and the rogue, au naturel serious about nature exploration way. The Algeria Camp, 200km from Cape Town is an epic beautiful 75000ha of the latter. Continue reading “Real Deal Hiking – Algeria Campsite”

The Twelve Apostles

Keeping a watch over Camps Bay from the Table Mountain range is the grand twelve apostles. The Twelve Apostles only actual reference to the original twelve apostles is the Judas peak that crowns Hout Bay, otherwise the 17 differently shaped buttresses are not named after the twelve apostles at all.

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Lions Head Full Moon Hike

Just like sunsets and sunrises the moon also puts on a superb show most nights in Cape Town. Cape Town has a uniquely spectacular way to see the moon and it costs nothing to do.

Lions Head, so named because from a distance the mountain looks like the head of a lion watching over Cape Town, is a popular peak to climb. The climb follows one of a handful of dedicated paths that have been established over the last few decades to make climbing to the top that bit easier and safer.

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