Mountain governs health, water governs wealth.
That popular Feng Shui saying is warmly embraced by inhabitants of Cape Town, a city lapped by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and pressed up against strangely shaped mountains. It's a city in which locals carry themselves with a distinct confidence, the kind that stems from a strong shared belief: that they live in one of the most blessed cities on earth.
A crucial part of this proud local feeling is Table Mountain - the flat-topped giant that swells up from inside the city and towers above everything from the sprawling Atlantic to the surrounding mountains. At 1,086 metres above sea level, with a level summit that is three kilometres in length, Table Mountain dominates the landscape and is flanked by the smooth mountain shapes of Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. The mountain remains a secluded piece of wilderness despite its proximity to the city – a contrast that is as striking as it is convenient. Adored by everyone, from daydreamers to rugged outdoorsman, it embodies the heart of Cape Town – a city exuding health, vitality and a deep love of nature.
Staring up at Table Mountain on a hot summer’s day, as a thick cloth of fog rolls over the summit and speeds down the face, propelled by the infamous Cape south-eastern wind, it’s easy to understand why the mountain is swathed in myths. One African legend speaks of Table Mountain as Umlindi Wemingizimu (the watcher of the south) - the strongest and biggest of the four giants created by the Earth Goddess Djobela to protect the four corners of the world from the Great Dragon of the Sea.
Alternatively, there is the tale of Adamastor - the titan banished by Zeus to the southern end of the world and imprisoned in Table Mountain. (Thousands of years later, apparently, Adamastor would throw up storm after storm as he tried to stop Vasco da Gama from rounding the Cape.) Whatever story you immerse yourself in, the impression is always the same: Cape Town is a charmed city with Table Mountain as its guardian.
Exploring the mountain
The easiest way to enjoy Table Mountain is to take a five-minute ride in the Cable Car that runs between the Upper Cable Station and Tafelberg Road. Since it's opening in 1929, over 18 million people have ridden the cable car. The new cable cars, which were introduced in 1997, have a revolving floor that allows passengers to enjoy a 360-degree view of the city, coastline and mountains as they travel to the top. On Table Mountain, walking paths, incredible views, a self-serve restaurant and a gift store keep visitors entertained. An hour-long walk from the cable station to Maclear’s Beacon – the highest point on Table Mountain - is also a good way to pass the time.
The cable car is fast and easy but if you have the time and energy, what you really want to do is hike up the mountain. There are a handful of main routes up Table Mountain, any of which you can self-explore. However, be sure to read up on safety tips and pack appropriately. Don’t be misled by the mountain’s proximity to the city: the weather is unpredictable and hiking can be very dangerous if you don’t take the right precautions. The fastest, most popular and most direct hiking route is Platteklip Gorge – a two-hour trek that takes you up the mountain face. Other popular hiking routes are Skeleton Gorge, The Pipe Track Walk from Kloof Nek, Constantia Nek towards Maclear’s Beacon, and Kasteel Poort from the Camps Bay side.
More than a mountain
Table Mountain forms part of The Table Mountain National Park (TMNP). The park, which is in fact three separate areas, stretches from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the south. To give you an idea of how unique and rich the plant life in this area is, there are more plant species within the park’s 220 square kilometres than could be found in the whole of the British Isles.
The TMNP is, in turn, part of the greater Cape Floral Kingdom – a 90,000 square kilometre stretch of land and sea that runs from South Africa’s Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Cape. The Cape Floral Kingdom, the richest and smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Over 70 per cent of the 9,600 plant species found in the Cape Floral Kingdom are unique to the region and cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.