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.