#1 Table Mountain Tours - Best Rates and Packages ( 2020 )

7 minute read08 May 2020

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YOUR GUIDE TO TABLE MOUNTAIN TOURS

 

 

Table Mountain is an iconic natural landmark in the heart of the city of Cape Town, located at the southern end of Africa. It has stood sentry over what is now Cape Town City Bowl and the Atlantic Seaboard for over 600 million years, witnessing the comings and goings of the men and women who have travelled to the Cape’s inviting shores.

The towering mountain is instantly recognisable, being one of the most photographed mountains in the world. Standing on the beach at Bloubergstrand overlooking the glistening Table Bay, South Africa’s most famous mountain is a striking natural beacon.

You can explore the flat-topped mountain on a strenuous but exhilarating hike but we recommend taking the more leisurely route up in a rotating cable car operated by Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. Often the giant mountain is shrouded in white mist, nicknamed the Table Cloth. But most days, visitors enjoy a panoramic view of the beautiful Mother City.

 

Did you know?

Cape Town is called the Mother City because it was the first city of South Africa. Established in 1652, Cape Town was originally developed as a refueling station by the Dutch East India Company for ships bound for the East, along the ancient Spice Route. The city is affectionately referred to as the Mother of South Africa because it gave birth to the country’s civilisation.

 

What is Table Mountain?

 

Table Mountain is a towering flat-topped mountain that is a prominent natural landmark overlooking the City of Cape Town in South Africa. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cape Town and yearly, attracts thousands of tourists who either choose to hike to the top or take the more leisurely option of a 5-minute ride in a state-of-the-art aerial cableway.

Table Mountain falls within the Table Mountain National Park, previously known as the Cape Peninsula National Park. This incredible natural wonderland was proclaimed a national park in May 1998 and is home to a fascinating array of mostly endemic fauna and flora. The spectacular Table Mountain National Park forms part of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site.

 

How Table Mountain got its name

 

António de Saldanha, an Admiral and explorer, gave the mountain the name that stuck in 1503. He called it ‘Taboa da caba’, meaning ‘Table of the Cape’. It was so named because of its uncanny resemblance to a giant table. The billowing white mist that often shrouds the summit looks like a giant tablecloth thrown over the table.

De Saldanha was a Castilian-Portuguese ship captain from the 16th century. He was the first known European to set anchor in what was later named Table Bay and made the first recorded ascent to the mountain summit.

The ancient indigenous Khoikhoi tribe called the mountain Howerikwaggo, or more correctly ‘Huriǂoaxa’. It means ‘sea-emerging’ or ‘mountain of the sea’.

The name given by the original Dutch and Afrikaans-speaking inhabitants of the Cape was Tafelberg.

 

Table Mountain: New 7 Wonders of Nature

 

Table Mountain is one of the official New 7 Wonders of Nature. It’s also the only one located in the heart of a city. Table Mountain was chosen for a selection of 200 existing monuments and natural wonders in a campaign that attracted more than 100-million global votes.

New7Wonders of the World (2000 - 2007) was a campaign that started in 2000 to bring to the world’s attention the Wonders of the World. The popularity poll was led by Canadian-Swiss Bernard Weber and organised by the New7Wonders Foundation based in Zurich, Switzerland. The winners announced on 7 July 2007 in Lisbon.

Table Mountain joins an illustrious group of natural wonders, including:

 

Getting to the top of Table Mountain

 

You can get to the summit of Table Mountain on foot or by aerial cable car. The perfect combo is to hike to the top of the summit and come down in a cable car. Just make sure you make it to the Upper Cable Station in time to catch the last cable car of the day.

 

Hiking Table Mountain

 

If you’re fit and energetic, hiking to the top of Table Mountains is one of the most exhilarating ways to explore this mighty mountain. The 360° view from the summit is beyond spectacular and you’ll see so much more of the indigenous fynbos, wildlife and rock formations on foot.

There are over 300 hiking routes that lead to the summit of Table Mountain. They provide endless joy for both novice and experienced hikers.

 

Beautiful but dangerous

 

Hiking up Table Mountain is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, it can be extremely dangerous if not done with a professional guide or in a group with hiking experience. The top of Table Mountain is not flat as one would imagine. It has deep crevices and ravines that can disorientate even the most experienced hikers.

Table Mountain is as dangerous as it is spectacular. Never underestimate the mountain and what is involved to get safely to the top and down again. Avoid hiking Table Mountain alone and always let people on the ground know which route you have taken and keep in touch throughout the hike via your mobile phone. Leave the parking lot with a full battery.

If you find you’re too weary to walk back down again, you can buy a one-way ticket and catch the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to the bottom. This should only be done if you’ve walked up to the summit on the side where Upper Cable Station is located. It’s extremely perilous to navigate your way across the top if you’ve hiked up Skeleton Gorge from the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden side.

 

Plan for bad weather

 

Take all-weather gear with you on a Table Mountain hike. You can set off from the bottom in sunny weather and hit gale-force winds and thick mist at the top.

 

Look for Maclears Beacon

 

If you are hiking the length of the table top, look out for Maclears Beacon. It marks the highest point of Table Mountain, at 1 086 metres (3 563 feet) above sea level. It beacon can be found on the eastern end of the plateau and is marked by a stone cairn built in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear for a trigonometrical survey.

Sir Thomas Maclear (1794-1879) was an Irish-born South African astronomer who became Her Majesty’s astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope. The lofty beacon was used by Maclear in 1865 to help re-measure the Cape Arc of Meridian.

Maclears Beacon stands about 19 metres (62 feet) higher than the Cableway station at the western end of the plateau (overlooking the Atlantic Seaboard).

 

Take the easy route up Table Mountain

 

Platteklip Gorge is rated as the ‘easiest and quickest’ route to the top of Table Mountain. It’s the most direct route to the summit and the best one to take if you want to take the Cableway car down to the bottom.

You start the hiking trail on Tafelberg Road above Cape Town City Bowl. Drive past the Cableway station and look for the Platteklip sign and parking. The signposted hiking trail begins a few meters to the right of the lower Cableway station.

The Platteklip Gorge trail takes about 2 to 3 hours to complete. It’s the most popular route so you should come across quite a few novice and seasoned hikers along the way. It’s the more sociable hike up Table Mountain.

This hiking trail is the route António de Saldanha in 1503 and was the first recorded European to reach the summit of what he called Taboa da caba.

 

Take the scenic route up Table Mountain

 

More adventurous and agile hikers opt to climb to the top of Table Mountain via Skeleton Gorge. The hiking trail starts at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and takes hikers on a strenuous 6.2 kilometre (3.8 miles) to the top.

The Skeleton Gorge hike is not for the fainthearted but it’s well worth it. You ascend through a deep ravine that’s shadowed by incredibly lush Afromontane forest. It arrives at Smuts Track which is a steep laddered climb that takes you to the very top of Skeleton Gorge.

You can take a short walk to Maclears Beacon and return down the same ravine. Or, for a change of scenery, you can take the more gentle Nursery Ravine, straight down to the botanical gardens. Enjoy a refreshing drink and meal at Kirstenbosch Tea Room before setting off home for a much-needed shower.

The Skeleton Gorge hike to the top of Table Mountain and down again takes between three to five hours to complete. The climb takes you to an elevation of 930 meters (3 100 feet) above sea level.

 

Best time to hike Table Mountain

 

The best time to hike up Table Mountain is in the early morning, mainly because this gives you enough time to get back down before the sun goes down.

It also means you’ll be hiking in warmer weather, as you reach the summit mid-morning to mid-day. The temperature on the top of the mountain is always a few degrees cooler than in the City Bowl and often a strong wind comes up later in the afternoon.

Avoid hiking Table Mountain in poor weather conditions, or if it’s predicted the weather will turn foul later in the day. Take plenty of water in the summer months between November to November, and a waterproof in winter between May and August.

Cape Town experiences winter rainfall. Avoid hiking Table Mountain if it’s raining because the paths become treacherously slippery.

 

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway

 

The best way to get to the top of Table Mountain is on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. You can book tickets online through the official website or book a Half-day or Full-day Cape Town City & Peninsula Tour that includes the highlights of the historic city and a tour of Table Mountain.

 

What is Table Mountain Aerial Cableway?

 

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is a rotating aerial tramway that takes visitors on a 5-minute ride to the summit. Approximately 1 million tourists use the Cableway ever year for a Table Mountain Tour. In January 2019, the Cableway celebrated its 28 millionth visitor since it was established in the 1920s.

Upper Cable Station is located on the western end of the mountain plateau, overlooking the City Bowl and Table Bay to the north and the Atlantic Seaboard to the west. It stands over 1 000 metres (3 500 feet) above sea level and offers visitors a panoramic view as far as Robben Island, the white beaches of Bloubergstrand and the beautiful Boland mountains.

 

Quick facts about Table Mountain Aerial Cableway

 

Operated by:                     Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company

Type of cableway:           Bi-cable aerial tramway

Vertical distance:             765 metres (2 510 feet)

One-way duration:           4 to 5 minutes

Maximum speed:             10 meters per second

Number of cars:                              2

Passenger capacity:         65 people

Daily round trips:             880 people per hour

Began service:                   4 October 1929

Manufacturer:                   Adolf Bleichert & Co. of Leipzig, Germany

 

Fun facts about Table Mountain Aerial Cableway

 

The cables used for the aerial tramway weigh 18 tonnes and are 1.2 kilometres each in length.

The cables are attached to counter weights, each weighing 134 tonnes.

Each cable car can carry a weight of 5 200 kilograms. That’s an average of 80 kilograms per person.

The base of the cable cars have built-in water tanks that hold 3 000 litres of water. The water acts as a ballast in very windy conditions.

The cable cars are aerodynamic in high winds which ensures a smooth ride to the top and bottom.

The cable cars rotate 360 degrees, offering visitors panoramic views of Cape Town.

 

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway operating times

 

Weather permitting, Table Mountain Aerial Cableway operates at the following times:

 

Time of year

 

First car up

Last car up

Last car down

16 January to 31 January

1 February to 28 February

08h00

08h00

20h00

19h30

21h00

20h30

Peak holiday season

1 March to 31 March

1 April to 30 April

 

08h00

08h00

 

18h30

17h30

 

19h30

18h30

1 May to 15 September

16 September to 31 October

08h30

08h00

17h00

18h00

18h00

19h00

Peak holiday season

1 November to 30 November

1 December to 15 December

16 December to 15 January

 

08h00

08h00

08h00

 

19h00

20h00

20h30

 

20h00

21h00

21h30

 

Note: These times are subject to change.

Please check the official website for TMACC for up-to-date operating hours, rates and booking information for Table Mountain tours.

 

History of Table Mountain’s Cableway

 

In the 1870s, plans to operate a tramway to the summit of Table Mountain were under discussion but they were put on hold by the Anglo-Boer War. Cape Town City Council investigated the proposal again in 1912 but again, it was put on the backburner when World War I broke out.

The tramway project was costed at an initial sum of 100 000 Great British Pounds and, despite the extravagance of the proposal, the people of Cape Town voted overwhelming to continue with it in a local referendum.

In 1926, plans submitted by a Norwegian engineer, Trygve Stromsoe, were approved and building of the aerial cableway started soon after. Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) was established to coordinate the building of the cableway and ultimately operate it.

The construction contract was awarded to Adolf Bleichert & Co. from Leipzig in Germany. At the time, they were the world’s leading wire ropeway manufacturers.

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway was completed in 1929 at only a cost of GB£ 60 000 and was opened to the public on 4 October 1929 by the Mayor of Cape Town, AJS Lewis.

Since then, the Cableway has been upgraded three times. Sir David Graaf, a leading industrialist, former Mayor of Cape Town and a government minister invested heavily in the initial upgrades.

In 1993, the son of one of the founding members of TMACC sold his shares in the company and new owners took over operations of the Cableway. In 1997, after extensive renovations and the replacement of the cable cars, the Cableway was re-opened to the public.

The new and improved rotating aerial cable cars were installed in 1997 by the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group from Switzerland. Known as the Rotair cableway system, each car carries up to 65 passengers and runs a double cable. This ensures the Cableway is more stable in high winds.

The aerial cars rotate through 360 degrees on the 5-minute trip up and down, offering visitors the most gorgeous panoramic views of the city of Cape Town.

 

Is Table Mountain Aerial Cableway wheelchair-friendly?

 

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is wheelchair friendly. In fact, TMACC does a lot to make sure visitors with disabilities enjoy a fun and pleasant Table Mountain tour.

Wheelchair-friendly facilities include:

 

How to get to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway

 

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway overlooks the Cape Town City Bowl and Cape Town Harbour to the north and the Atlantic Seaboard to the west.

If you don’t have your own car, you have the option of travelling to the Cableway using Uber, catching the double-decker City Sightseeing ‘hop-on/hop-off’ tourist bus or booking a Table Mountain tour with a reputable Cape Town tour operator.

Distance from:

 

Getting to Table Mountain Aerial Cableway on the City Sightseeing red bus

 

City Sightseeing Cape Town is the official Red Bus of the Mother City. The double-decker, open-top bright-red bus is a feature of the city and a super-convenient transport option for tourists.

Tourists and locals can hop-on and hop-off the City Sightseeing bus and enjoy a leisurely tour of the major attractions. The Classic package gives you one full day on the bus and takes you from V&A Waterfront to Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, a tour of the iconic Cape Peninsula, and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Tickets can be bought online. After payment, you receive an automated bar code which you simply present to the bus driver. Your ticket for each of the 4 routes.

Hop on at any of the 30 designated bus stops. Hop-off at any stop along the way. Hop back on by showing the same ticket when you get on the next bus.

Your online ticket is valid for a period of 2 weeks from the selected date. Once presented, it’s valid for between 1 to 3 days.

Seating is available on a first-come, first serve basis. Seating is only guaranteed if you pre-book your ticket online.

City Sightseeing Cape Town offers a number of day tours:

Red City Tour:                                  90 minutes

Yellow Downtown Tour:               30 minutes

Blue Mini Peninsula Tour:            140 minutes

Purple Wine Tour:                          30 minutes

 

The City Sightseeing Red Bus offers audio commentary for every tour. It’s translated in 15 languages and you also have the option of an English kid’s channel.

 

How to book a tour of Table Mountain

 

There are two convenient ways to book a tour of Table Mountain:

 

  1. Buy tickets online

Buy before you arrive. It’s the fastest and most convenient way to get to the top of Table Mountain.

Check rates, operating hours, FAQs and book your ticket through the official TMACC website.

 

  1. Book a combo tour with MoAfrika Tours that includes a tour of Table Mountain

MoAfrika Tours offers travellers a fun selection of day tours to the main attractions in Cape Town. You can join a group tour or book a private tour where you are collected and dropped off at your hotel or guest houses.

The most popular option is the Half-day Cape City and Table Mountain Tour

This 4-hour tour includes historic attractions in Cape Town City Bowl such as Company Gardens, Castle of Good Hope, Parliament Buildings and the famous Bo-Kaap. The tour ends with a wonderful tour of Table Mountain, taking the rotating aerial cars to the top.

The full-day Cape Peninsula and Table Mountain Tour takes you from the Cape Town City Bowl and V&A Waterfront to Table Mountain and around the magnificent Cape Peninsula. It ends with a walk around the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

 

Things to do on a tour of Table Mountain

 

There is a lot to do on a tour of Table Mountain, apart from soaking up in the peace and tranquility at the summit, enjoying gorgeous panoramic views of the Mother City and vast Atlantic Ocean and taking selfies.

Table Mountain Café

 

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway has revamped its restaurant at the summit and it’s now a modern, café-style restaurant with a trendy interior and cosmopolitan atmosphere.

You can have anything from delicious toasties and hearty breakfasts to gourmet pizzas and hamburgers, sushi, freshly-baked pastries with frothy cappuccinos, healthy baguettes and traditional Cape Malay dishes.

The menu at Table Mountain Café is Halaal- and vegetarian-friendly. Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is committed to sustainable tourism and reducing their carbon footprint. For example, all the crockery and cutlery is 100% biodegradable which also reduces water wastage, kitchen waste is composted and kitchen and bathroom water is recycled as grey water.

Table Mountain Café seats 110 visitors indoors and another 100 visitors outdoors under new shaded canopies. For a real treat, pre-book a picnic hamper and enjoy it overlooking the beautiful Atlantic Ocean.

Table Mountain Café closes 30 minutes before the last cable car goes down.

 

Table Mountain Wi-Fi Lounge

 

The Wi-Fi Lounge at the top of Table Mountain is the best Wi-Fi zone in the whole of the Mother City. It’s the ultimate place to recharge your batteries (you own and your phone’s) and refuel after a fun tour of Cape Town. The Wi-Fi Lounge is also hugely popular for special events which are hosted in the VIP room.

It’s open for breakfast and lunch, offering a yummy selection of toasties, baguettes, muffins and scones. The lounge opens when the first car goes up and closes 15 minutes before the last car goes down.

The best treat at the Wi-Fi Lounge is the Very High Tea experience that’s hosted every Thursday afternoon from 14h00 to 16h00. Scrumptious pastries, delicious beverages and panoramic views. It’s the perfect place for a special occasion.

 

Table Mountain Souvenir Shop

 

Retail therapy in the sky. Is there any better way to shop? You’ll find a selection of souvenirs, gifts and clothing at a choice of four retail outlets on your tour of Table Mountain. More than 95% of the merchandise is sourced from local suppliers.

 

Shop At The Top

The main store is located in a National Heritage stone building right next to the Table Mountain Café.

 

Little Shop At The Top

Located as you exit the Upper Cable Station.

 

Exit Shop

Located in the Lower Cable Station and perfect for last-minute purchases. Stock up on provisions for your walk at the top of the mountain.

 

Table Mountain Visitor Centre

Located next to the Lower Station Exit Shop. Visit the centre for booking and tour information and Table Mountain Aerial Cableway merchandise.

 

Guided Walks on Table Mountain

 

Join a group and enjoy a guided tour of the summit. The views are spectacular and the walks are easy as long as you’re able.

 

Dassie Walk: 15 minutes

Offers visitors spectacular views of the north, west and south.

 

Agama Walk: 30 minutes

Very easy and popular route that offers visitors a 360 degree view of Cape Town City Bowl, the famous Cape Town Harbour, Table Bay and Robben Island as well as the seaside suburbs of the Atlantic Seaboard.

 

Klipspringer Walk: 45 minutes

Takes you along the plateau edge to wear hikers ascend from Platteklip Gorge.

 

Table Mountain Functions & Venue Hire

 

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway offers the perfect outdoor venues for fully-catered buffet-style cocktail parties, pre- and post-conference drinks, weddings, product launches, end-of-year parties and incentive tours.

The Table Mountain venues are fully licensed and offer a selection of snack platters served buffet-style. The venues cannot cater for sit-down or à la carte events so expect a buffet-style function with limited seating.

Table Mountain functions are dependent on the weather and there’s always the risk that a function will be cancelled if there are strong winds and the cable cars aren’t running. There is a plan B for outdoor functions which can be hosted at the Lower Cable Station or Kiosk Viewing Deck.

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway can also cater for last-minute functions for up to 65 people, offering a picnic-style menu and beverages in the open.

All prices for Table Mountain function and venue hire excludes the cost of Cableway tickets. Venue hire includes tables, service equipment and service staff.

There are three outdoor venues located close to the Upper Cable Station and one outdoor venue at the Lower Cable Station. Bookings are made directly through Table Mountain Aerial Cableway.

 

Twelve Apostles Terrace

As the name suggests, The Twelve Apostles Terrace overlooks this spectacular mountain range. The open-air venue can accommodate up to 200 people, is wheelchair-friendly and ideal for breakfast and cocktail functions.

 

Café Balcony

This spectacular balcony faces the Twelve Apostle's mountain range and is a fantastic site for sunset cocktail functions. The open-air venue can accommodate 35 people and is ideal for functions any time of day.

 

Wi-Fi Lounge Balcony

An open-air venue is situated outside the popular Wi-Fi Lounge, next to the Upper Cable Station. The balcony faces the Twelve Apostle’s mountain range and is a fantastic site for lunch-time and sunset cocktail functions. Maximum capacity is 24 people, standing with optional bench seating.

 

Kiosk Viewing Deck at the Lower Cable Station

The shaded viewing deck is situated close to the gift shops and Visitor’s Centre at the Upper Cable Station. It offers guests spectacular views of Cape Town and Lion's Head and is ideal for sunset cocktail functions. Maximum capacity is 50 people, standing with optional partial covering to cater to adverse weather conditions.

 

 

Table Mountain’s rocky neighbours

 

Table Mountain has a level plateau that stretches approximately 3 kilometres (2 miles) from side to side, and drops off down impressive cliffs. The plateau is flanked by three instantly-recognisable hills; Devil’s Peak, Lion’s Hill and Signal Hill.

Table Mountain and its three rocky neighbours all form part of Table Mountain National Park.

 

Did you know?

The upper, rocky parts of Devil's Peak, Table Mountain and Lion's Head consist of a hard, uniform and resistant sandstone commonly known as Table Mountain sandstone. The tough sandstone rests conformably on a basal shale that in turn lies unconformably upon a basement of older (Late Precambrian) rocks (Malmesbury shale/slate and the Cape Granite).

The basal shale and the older rocks below it weather much faster than the sandstone. For this reason, the lower slopes are smoother in all parts, with few outcrops and deeper soil. Millions of years of erosion have stripped all of the sandstone from Signal Hill and that is why it looks very rounded compared to its sister peaks.

There is a road that runs almost on the contour from the Lower Cable Station at the base of Table Mountain to Devil's Peak. As it turns east around the bulk of Devil's Peak ,the road cuttings expose a few famous geological unconformities.

These rock formations illustrate very clearly that the Malmesbury rocks were folded, baked, intruded by granite and planed down by millions of years of erosion before the area sank below the ocean and a new sequence of sediments, including sandstone, began to accumulate.

Source: Geology of Table Mountain

 

Devil’s Peak

Devil’s Peak forms part of the magnificent amphitheatre that is the backdrop to the Cape Town City Bowl. If you look up at Table Mountain from V&A Waterfront, the spire of Devil’s Peak lies to the left of the mountain plateau.

The rocky outcrop stands 1 000 (3 281 feet) above sea level, just slightly lower than Table Mountain (at 1 087 metres/3 566 feet). You can walk to the top of Devi’s Peak via the western slope.

Famous landmarks on Devil’s Peak are Rhodes Memorial and the University of Cape Town. Both are located on the eastern slopes of the peak. You’ll also find a number of historic blockhouses on Devil’s Peak, along with a few cannons that were placed there to defend the city from attack from the south side of the Peninsula.

There is also an abandoned fire lookout located high up on Mowbray Ridge which is still manned today to watch for fires. From these vantage points, you overlook the southern suburbs of Cape Town, the sandy Cape Flats and the mountains of Somerset West and Stellenbosch in the far distance.

 

Lion’s Head

Lion’s Head lies nestled between the western side of Table Mountain and Signal Hill. If you’re looking up at Table Mountain from V&A Waterfront, you’ll see the small but distinct buttress directly below and to the right of the mountain.

The indigenous KhoiKhoi tribe called the peak !Orakobab: Xammi Mũ!’ab but it was the original Dutch-speaking inhabitants of Cape Town in the 17th that nicknamed it Leeuwen Kop, meaning Lion's Head. This was because of its striking resemblance to the head of a crouching lion or sphinx. Signal Hill that lies to its side was named Leeuwen Staart, meaning Lion's Tail.

For some reason, the English called the peak Sugar Loaf during the time the city was a British Colony in the 17th century.

The small depression you see on the side of the peak is a decommissioned gold mine that never yielded much fortune for the company that sunk a deep shaft there. Gold was discovered on Lion’s Head in 1897 but the grade was too low and the mine was closed a year after it was set up.

Over the years, residential developments have grown up around the feet of the ‘lion’ but strict city council management has kept housing developments from encroaching up the side of the hill.

The historic suburb of Bo-Kaap lies at the foothills of Lion’s Head and the area is significant to the Cape Malay community. There are a number of old graves and shrines (Kramats) of historic Malay leaders that can be found on the lower slopes of Lion’s Hill and Signal Hill.

Today, Lion’s Hill is a popular local destination for hikers, nature lovers and paragliders. The slopes are used as a launching pad for paragliders and you’ll see many of them floating above the Atlantic Seashore on warm, summer days.

Lion’s Head is renowned for its gorgeous and totally-romantic sunrise and sunset views of both the city and the Atlantic Seaboard. A popular event is the hour-long walk to the top during full moon.

 

Signal Hill

Signal Hill is a striking landmark that is as recognisable as Table Mountain itself. If you’re looking up at Table Mountain from V&A Waterfront, it’s the flat-topped hill that rises up above Bo-Kaap to the right of the mountain.

The original Dutch or Afrikaans word for the hill is Seinheuwel, meaning Lion’s Rump (or Flank). Together with Lion’s Hill, the rock outcrop looks like a lion or an Egyptian sphinx.

Signal Hill has a long history and played an important role in the city’s shipping and naval past. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Dutch settlers placed watchmen on the top of the hill who used signal flags to communicate weather warnings and instructions to ships arriving in Table Bay.

Before modern shipping technology was adopted, the shipping route around the southernmost tip of Africa was treacherous. Passing ships battled to navigate their way into the turbulent and often unforgiving bay and many came to harm. The sailors on the ships would also use flags to signal for assistance which would be spotted by the watchmen in the tower on Signal Hill.

On arrival in Table Bay, the ships would fire their guns to alert farmers on the mainland of their arrival. This would give the farmers time to load their wagons with meat and fresh produce and make their way to the city market.

When the guns on Signal Hill were fired three times from Chavonnes Battery, it would signal to people on the mainland that a ship was in trouble and there were the possibility of causalities. A single gunshot from Imhoff Battery in the city centre would be fired in return to acknowledge the message had been received.

A historic feature of Signal Hill is the Noon Gun. It’s based at the Lion Battery and operated by the South African Navy and South African Astronomical Observatory. There were in fact two Noon Guns, one was a back-up in case the other one failed.

The Noon Gun has been fired at 12h00 Cape Mean Time every day since 1806 and is a well-loved tradition that has stood the test of time; through World Wars, changes in government, Dutch and British occupation and more recently the country’s independence.

The firing of the Noon Gun enabled ships in Table Bay to check their chronometers. This instrument is crucial for navigating rough seas. Even today, Capetonians check their watches when they hear the loud ‘boom’ of the Noon Gun at precisely noon.

In 1836, a time ball was erected at the Cape Town Astronomical Observatory. Because it wasn’t visible to the ships in Table Bay, a second time ball was erected on Signal Hill. These two historic pieces were used to relay the precise moment of 13h00 Cape Mean Time. The daily practice of the ‘dropping of the ball’ continued until 1934 and was then replaced by radio signals.

A tour of Signal Hill takes you on a road to the summit. The view from the top is simply magnificent and it’s a popular spot for sunrise and sundown drinks. While exploring the hill, look out for tombs or Kramats that are the sacred burial place of Muslim missionaries and religious leaders.

Warning: Avoid being on Signal Hill after dark, particularly if you are on your own or not in a big crowd. Over the years, there have been a number of reported incidences of robberies and car-jackings.

The most conspicuous Kramat is a white square building with a green dome where the Sheikh Mohamed Hassen Ghaibie (Shah al-Qadri) was laid to rest. Other tombs on Signal Hill are decorated elaborately with raised rectangles and satin coverings.

Signal Hill is not only an important historic landmark, it has significant ecological value. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can find critically-endangered Peninsula Shale Renosterveld vegetation.

The shale grasslands used to be the dominant grassland variety of what is now the Cape Town City Bowl but very little is left of it because of mass urban development. Shale Renosterveld vegetation is endangered because it is completely endemic to that area, meaning it does not occur anywhere else in the world. You’ll only find a small surviving sample on a tiny patch on Devil’s Hill.

 

The Table Cloth

 

A feature of Table Mountain is the billowing white cap that often covers the flat top of the mountain. The rolling bank of orographic clouds that regularly envelops the summit is nicknamed the Table Cloth.

Table Mountain’s famous Table Cloth is formed when a south-easterly wind id directed up the slopes of Table Mountain into colder air. The moisture condenses to form the billowing white cloth that covers the top half of the mountain.

The old inhabitants of the city had their own interpretation of the natural phenomenon. Legend had it that the cloud was formed from a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks. When the table cloth is seen, the Devil and Van Hunks are battling it out again.

 

Geology of Table Mountain

 

Table Mountain stands anchor at the head of a spectacular mountain spine that runs from the Cape Town City Bowl in the north to the southernmost tip of the Cape. The famous Cape Peninsula runs approximately 50 kilometres (30 miles) south and drops dramatically into the Atlantic Ocean at the Cape Of Good Hope and Cape Point.

Immediately to the south of the summit of Table Mountain at a lower elevation is a rugged plateau called the Back Table. This flattened lower plateau extends southwards for approximately 6 kilometres to the valleys of Constantia Nek and Hout Bay.

The Atlantic Ocean side of the Back Table is known as the Twelve Apostles. The magnificent mountain stretch extends from Kloof Nek in the saddle between Table Mountain and Lion’s Head to the fishing village of Hout Bay.

The eastern side of Back Table extends from Devil’s Peak to Constantia Neck. On its lower slopes are the world-renowned conservation of Groote Schuur Estate, Newlands Forest, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cecilia Park and Constantia Nek.

Table Mountain was created over 600 million years ago which makes it one of the oldest mountains in the world. The mighty mountain of the Cape was created through seismic shifts in the earth plates and has withstood millions of years of erosion.

The Table Mountain region provides fertile grounds for what is the richest floral kingdom on the planet. Table Mountain National Park boasts having more than 1 470 floral species. More than 70% of the plant species on Table Mountain are endemic, meaning they do not occur anywhere else in the world.

On the summit while on a tour of Table Mountain, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’re standing on rock that is over 600 million years old, some of the oldest in the world.

 

Table Mountain’s stars

 

Table Mountain is the only natural site on the planet to have a constellation of stars named after it. The constellation is named Mensa, meaning Table in Latin.

The southern constellation Mensa was first introduced to Western astronomy in 1754 by Frenchman Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. The astrologist initially called the constellation Mons Mensae, the Latin term for ‘the table mountain’. It was later shortened to Mensa.

Incredibly, Lacaille catalogued 10 000 stars during his professional career. He named the Table Mountain constellation in respect of the historic significance of the Cape of Good Hope.

De Lacaille was by no means rich but his passion and knowledge drew the interest and eventual patronage of fellow French astronomer Jacques Cassini. Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière, a governor of France, officially sanctioned Lacaille’s strongly-motivated astronomical expedition to the Cape of Good Hope.

During his mission, De Lacaille not only recorded Mensa, he also made the first measurement of a South African arc of the meridian. This is an imaginary line that runs true-north to south on the Earth’s surface, that connects both geographic poles.

The brightest star in the Table Mountain constellation is Alpha Mensae. However, with a visibility magnitude of 5.09, the star is not bright at all. In contrast, the visibility magnitude of planet Venus is -4.4.

Table Mountain’s constellation, Mensa, is the faintest constellation in the sky. It’s one of the southern-most constellations, second only to the south-polar constellation of Octains. And it’s essentially “unobservable” from the northern hemisphere. Regardless, it’s an honour that the constellation was bestowed on Cape Town’s iconic mountain and a pride and joy of the Mother City.

 

Did you know?

Visibility magnitude is also called apparent magnitude. It’s the measure of brightness of a star, planet or any other heavenly body as seen from Earth. Interestingly, the brighter the object, the lower its visibility magnitude. Very bright objects have negative magnitudes.

Source: Table Mountain Aerial Cableway

 

What is Table Mountain National Park?

 

Table Mountain forms part of Table Mountain National Park, formerly known as Cape Peninsula National Park. Proclaimed in 1998, it’s one of the most perfect examples in the world of a ‘protected conservation area with no boundaries’.

Table Mountain National Park covers the bulk of the Western Cape; stretching from the iconic Table Mountain that overlooks the central business district and famous harbour to the Cape Peninsula and Cape of Good Hope at the southernmost tip of the country.

 

How big is Table Mountain National Park?

 

221 square kilometres

 

Why visit Table Mountain National Park?

 

Table Mountain National Park lies in the heart of the Cape Floristic Region which supports the highest diversity of flora found anywhere in the world, including rare and endemic plant species. It was proclaimed a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and is home to the iconic Table Mountain which is one of the Natural New 7 Wonders of the World.

The national park stretches across Cape Town and is renowned for its spectacular scenery, towering peninsula mountain backdrops and magical beaches. Cape Town itself is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Africa.

Table Mountain National Park is the perfect example of a ‘conservation area with no borders’; stretching from Signal Hill which overlooks Cape Town City Bowl and the famous Cape Town harbour to Cape Point at the southernmost tip of South Africa. The suburbs and quaint coastal villages of Cape Town fall within the national park.

The Cape Peninsula mountain range runs like a rocky spine down the centre of the national park, with the Atlantic Seaboard on one side and the lush wine-growing areas and coastal suburbs on the other. The main type of vegetation found on the Cape Peninsula is sandstone fynbos and Cape granite fynbos (fine bush) which is endangered and endemic to Cape Town, and occurs nowhere else in the world.

Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope are two iconic landmarks that fall within the national park. They’re the two most popular tourist destinations in Cape Town and basically book-end the beauty and scenic wonders of the rest of the national park.

 

Three sections of Table Mountain National Park

 

There are three sections to Table Mountain National Park:

 

Table Mountain section

Covers Table Mountain proper, Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak, the Twelve Apostles and Orange Kloof. It’s bordered by Cape Town City Bowl and the suburbs such as Camps Bay, Clifton and Sea Point that make up the Atlantic Seaboard.

 

Silvermine-Tokai section

This section runs northwest-southeast across the rugged Peninsula from the Atlantic Seaboard to False Bay. It incorporates Constantiaberg, Steenberg Peak and the Kalk Bay mountains. Popular seaside suburbs in this section include Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Noordhoek as well as the wine-growing area of Contantia and Tokay.

 

Cape Point section

The Cape Point section is spectacular; stretching from Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope on the southernmost tip of Africa to the coastal towns of Scarborough and Simon’s Town.

 

SANParks accommodation in Table Mountain National Park

 

There is a limited selection of SANParks accommodation in Table Mountain National Park but you’ll find an endless choice of places to stay in Cape Town that range from budget-friendly guest houses to ultra-luxury hotels.

 

Hoerikwaggo Tented Camps

Basic accommodation in camps that accommodate a maximum of 12 people; fully-equipped for a self-catering holiday with communal kitchen and dining facilities. Hoerikwaggo Tented Camps are popular with hikers who are happy to ‘rough it’ in the mountains with no electricity and minimal provisions.

 

Smitswinkel Tented Camp

Situated opposite the entrance to Cape Point and short drive from the major attractions in the area, including Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach. It falls outside of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and visitors need to pay a fee to enter.

 

Slangkop Tented Camp

A marine-themed tented camp nestled in a forest of indigenous Milkwood trees on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s popular with hikers, families and surfers; with the best surf spots in Cape Town only a 150 metres from the camp.

 

Olifantsbos Guest House

A unique retreat in the heart of Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve on a secluded beachfront. It’s sleeps between 6-8 guests. An annex for an additional 6 people is available for larger groups.

 

Eland Family Cottage

A perfect retreat for family holidays in the heart of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The cottage sleeps 6 people, is electrified and fully-equipped for a self-catering holiday.

 

Duiker Family Cottage

Situated in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve; sleeps 6 people and fully-equipped for a self-catering holiday in Table Mountain National Park.

 

Platteklip Washhouses

Overnight accommodation on the slopes of Table Mountain for hikers; sleep up to 24 people and equipped with basic provisions for a self-catering stay.

 

The Overseers Cottage

Accommodation for Table Mountain hikers; sleeps up to 16 people and equipped for a self-catering overnight stay. Vehicle permits are not issued and guests are expected to hike to and from The Overseers Cottage.

 

What is the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site?

 

A Table Mountain tour almost always forms part of a fascinating full-day tour of the Cape Peninsula. This tour takes you from the Cape Town City Bowl through the cosmopolitan ocean-hugging suburbs of the Atlantic Ocean to the famous Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and Cape Point.

The Cape Peninsula tour continues on through the iconic navy village of Simon’s Town and the quaint seaside villages of Southern Peninsula, usually making your way back via the incredible Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

With this in mind, you’ll find the following information on the Cape Floral Region fascinating because it’ll help you understand how privileged you are to visit one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders.

 

Cape Floral Region Protected Areas

 

The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2994. The natural wonderland is located at the south-western extremity of South Africa and is one of the world’s great centres of terrestrial biodiversity.

The extended region includes national parks, nature reserves, wilderness areas, state-owned forests and mountain catchment areas.

These areas are home to endemic species associated with the Fynbos vegetation, a fine-leaved sclerophyllic shrubland adapted to both a Mediterranean climate and periodic fires. The Cape’s famous fynbos (fine bush) is a unique feature of the Cape Floral Region.

The Cape Floral Region was adorned with heritage status due to its outstanding universal value. Here is an extract from the official website for UNESCO that describes its unique characteristics and its UNESCO qualifications.

 

Brief synthesis

 

The Cape Floral Region has been recognised as one of the most special places for plants in the world in terms of diversity, density and number of endemic species.

The property is a highly distinctive phytogeographic unit which is regarded as one of the six Floral Kingdoms of the world and is by far the smallest and relatively the most diverse. It’s recognised as one of the world’s “hottest hotspots” for its diversity of endemic and threatened plants, and contains outstanding examples of significant ongoing ecological, biological and evolutionary processes.

This extraordinary assemblage of plant life and its associated fauna is represented by a series of 13 protected area clusters covering an area of more than 1 million ha. These protected areas also conserve the outstanding ecological, biological and evolutionary processes associated with the beautiful and distinctive Fynbos vegetation, unique to the Cape Floral Region.

 

Criterion (ix)

The property is considered of Outstanding Universal Value for representing ongoing ecological and biological processes associated with the evolution of the unique Fynbos biome. These processes are represented generally within the Cape Floral Region and captured in the component areas that make up the 13 protected area clusters.

Of particular scientific interest are the adaptations of the plants to fire and other natural disturbances; seed dispersal by ants and termites; the very high level of plant pollination by insects, mainly beetles and flies, birds and mammals; and high levels of adaptive radiation and speciation.

The pollination biology and nutrient cycling are other distinctive ecological processes found in the site. The Cape Floral Region forms a centre of active speciation where interesting patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation are found in the flora.

 

Criterion (x)

The Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants when compared to any similar sized area in the world. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora.

The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide. Some 69% of the estimated 9,000 plant species in the region are endemic, with 1 736 plant species identified as threatened and with 3,087 species of conservation concern.

The Cape Floral Region has been identified as one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots.

 

Integrity

The originally inscribed Cape Floral Region Protected Areas serial property comprised eight protected areas covering a total area of 557 584 ha, and included a buffer zone of 1 315 000 ha. The extended Cape Floral Region Protected Areas property comprises 1 094 742 ha of protected areas and is surrounded by a buffer zone of 798 514 ha.

The buffer zone is made up of privately owned, declared Mountain Catchment Areas and other protected areas, further supported by other buffering mechanisms that are together designed to facilitate functional connectivity and mitigate for the effects of global climate change and other anthropogenic influences.

The collection of protected areas adds up in a synergistic manner to present the biological richness and evolutionary story of the Cape Floral Region.

All the protected areas included in the property, except for some of the privately owned, declared Mountain Catchment Areas, have existing dedicated management plans, which have been revised, or are in the process of revision in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act.

Mountain Catchment Areas are managed in terms of the Mountain Catchment Areas Act. Progress with increased protection through public awareness and social programmes to combat poverty, improved management of mountain catchment areas and stewardship programmes is being made.

 

Protection and management requirements

The serial World Heritage property and its component parts, all legally designated protected areas, are protected under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (57 of 2003).

The property is surrounded by extensive buffer zones (made up of privately owned, declared Mountain Catchment Areas and other protected areas) and supported by various buffering mechanisms in the region. Together, these provide good connectivity and landscape integration for most of the protected area clusters, especially in the mountain areas.

The protected areas that make up the property are managed by three authorities: South African National Parks (SANParks), Western Cape Nature Conservation Board (CapeNature) and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency.

These authorities, together with the national Department of Environmental Affairs, make up the Joint Management Committee of the property. All of the sites are managed in accordance with agreed management plans, however, there is a recognised need for a property-wide management strategy in the form of an Environmental Management Framework.

Knowledge management systems are being expanded to advise improved planning and management decision-making, thus facilitating the efficient use of limited, but increasing, resources relating in particular to the management of fire and invasive alien species.

The provision of long-term, adequate funding to all of the agencies responsible for managing the property is essential to ensure effective management of the multiple components across this complex serial site.

Invasive alien species and fire are the greatest management challenges facing the property at present. Longer-term threats include climate change and development pressures caused by a growing population, particularly in the Cape Peninsula and along some coastal areas.

These threats are well understood and addressed in the planning and management of the protected areas and their buffer zones. Invasive species are being dealt with through manual control programmes that have been used as a reference for other parts of the world.

Source: UNESCO

 

Is it safe to visit Table Mountain?

 

It’s perfectly safe to visit Table Mountain using the world-class facilities of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC). The Cableway company has operated since 1929 and has undergone extensive upgrades since the iconic aerial tramway started operating.

Table Mountain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cape Town and over 1 million tourists use the Cableway every year to reach the summit. The safety of visitors and staff are an absolute priority of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company.

The safety of your and your family, friends or colleagues is also your responsibility. Follow the general rules of safety for visiting any big city in Africa as well as the rules outlined by TMACC to safely go up and down the mountain without incidence.

Hiking up Table Mountain is a different story. The ‘easiest route’ to the summit can be a challenge if you underestimate your fitness, and walking across the plateau can be treacherous if done without an experienced hiking partner or guide.

The majority of hikers that have to be rescued from Table Mountain are international tourists. This is because foreigners tend to underestimate Table Mountain. They misjudge the size and scale of the mountain and are unprepared for the epic hike.

 

Safety tips for a tour of Table Mountain

 

Dress appropriately

The temperature and wind conditions at the top of Table Mountain are often cooler and stronger than in the Cape Town City Bowl. Cape Town experiences winter rainfall and it can get wet and very windy at the top during the winter months between April to August.

Take a windproof or waterproof jacket with you on your trip to Table Mountain in case the weather turns nasty when you get to the top.

 Wear comfortable shoes to help with grip and balance walking over the stone pathways. They get very slippery when it rains.

If you are not dressed warmly, do not worry. You can buy scarves, hats, socks, sweatshirts or jackets at the Little Shop at the Top or at the Exit Shop located in the Lower Cable Station.

 

Keep your eyes on the clock

It's important to take notice of the seasons of the Cape. Winter days are short and it gets dark quickly when the sun sets. Plan your walks or hikes on Table Mountain carefully and make sure that by the time it gets dark, you are safely down at the bottom.

Keep an eye on the time if you walk away from the Upper Cable Station so you don’t miss the last cable car down to the bottom.

 

Obey the rules

If there is a sign that says, “No entry”, trust that there is a good reason why and do not wander off the beaten track. Respect restricted areas and do not take risks, even for that perfect Instagram picture.

Never wander off alone, far from the Upper Cable Station. It’s amazing how quickly one can become disorientated and lost so stick closer to the busy parts of mountain where there are more people.

 

Tell a friend about your plans

Tell someone if you plan on hiking  up Table Mountain, especially if you are doing it alone. If you get stuck or lost, people will know where to look for you first.

Stay hydrated and drink lots of water throughout your hike. Pack energy-boosting snacks and a warm jacket in your rucksack. Ideally, you should not hike by yourself.

 

Prepare well for a Table Mountain hike

Hike Table Mountain with a good supply of bottled water, particularly on a hot summer’s day. Stay hydrated to prevent becoming disorientated on the hike and falling ill.

Wear the correct hiking boots and gear, including an all-weather jacket that’s windproof and waterproof. Throw in a beanie, scarf and gloves for ‘just in case’.

Hike with a fully-charged mobile phone and, if possible, carry a fully-charged Powerbank in your rucksack. Top up your mobile data on your phone so you can make calls if you have to call for help.

Apply sunscreen and insect repellent before setting off. You need to use a good high-factor sunscreen even if it’s overcast. You can still burn badly from the light’s rays reflecting off the rocks.

Wear a hat that protects your ears and the nape of your neck from getting sun burnt.

Check the weather report before setting off. If there is a storm brewing or the wind is expected to become stronger, put off the hike for another day.

 

Never hike alone

Avoid hiking up Table Mountain alone. Join a group or hire the services of an experienced mountain guide who knows Table Mountain well and the hiking conditions.

If you are hiking alone, take note of landmarks to stay orientated. The summit of Table Mountain is not flat as one would expect. You’ll walk down into deep crevices and could get disorientated and lost if you lose sight of where you are walking.

 

Carry a map of Table Mountain with you

Slingsby produces a detailed map of Table Mountain which is very useful for hikers. Familiarise yourself with the route you’ve chosen before setting off.

If you get disorientated or lost on Table Mountain, find a prominent landmark or path and stay there. Phone for help and they’ll send a rescue team that should be able to find you at that point. Don’t keep walking and hoping you’ll find your way again. You’ll just get more lost and deeper into trouble.

 

Rescue numbers for Table Mountain

 

Save these numbers in your mobile phone before setting off on a hike up Table Mountain. You can save them even if you are using the Cableway because they’re useful if you have any problems.

 

Metro EMS:                                      021-937-0300 (includes Mountain Rescue)

Wilderness Search and Rescue:  021-948-9900

Table Mountain Emergency:        0861-106-417

SAPS Cape Town Central:             021-467-8001

SAPS Mountain Patrol Vehicle:    021-411-2401

General Emergency Number:       021-480-7700 or 107 from any Telkom number

 

BOOK A TABLE MOUNTAIN TOUR WITH MOAFRIKA TOURS

 

MoAfrika Tours is a leading tour operator based in Johannesburg, offering a diverse selection of day tours and long-stay tours to destinations in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.

Your safety and well-being are our main priority. We are here to help any time, any day with booking extra activities, sorting out any problems, offering advice on making your trip extra special and just being there for you if you need to talk to someone.

We know touring, we know Africa and we’re looking forward to getting to know you.