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.

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.

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.

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.

Continue reading “Lions Head Full Moon Hike”