Panorama of Cape Town as seen from the top of Table Mountain. Photo by Oberhbe on Wikimedia Commons

It was a wonderful and sunny October morning after an overwhelmingly busy week-long discussions over complexity of health systems and researchers’ collective aspiration for a people-centred health system held at a venue largely unrepresentative of the rest of South Africa, when a small group of us decided to trek up the Table Mountain (Tafelburg in the local Afrikaans language, recalling the 17th century origin of this language from the then Dutch language). We were quite a motley group of young and younger, and some experienced trekkers and some less. Below is a small photo-essay with my own photos. See my entire album on Flickr too, if you like.

The red line of the Hop-on Hop off bus at the Cape Town Long Street bus stand goes to the foot of the Table Mountain. Click photo for Tripadvisor reviews of the bus

Table Mountain is easy to get to, as long as you are already in Cape Town. Just hop on to the red line of the Cape Town Hop-on-hop-off bus and get off at the base of the mountain from where one can either take the cable car to reach the top, approximately 1 kilometre in height from the base.  See here for more detailed directions. A few of us decided to trek up one way and return by cable car.

A busy street with colourful cuisine including Ethiopian, South African, Indian and middle-eastern cuisine. Also where the Hop-on Hop-off buses begin.
Cape Town too not without the ubiquitous (in India) Auto-rickshaws. Click photo for a blog that thinks this might be the “future” in Cape Town!
The Lion’s head as seen from the climb towards Table Mountain. This was among the first peaks scaled by the Portugese explorer , Antonio Saldanha. (Click photo to Antonio De Saldanha)
These Pine trees, probably Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) has colonised most of the slopes here. With a characteristic umbrella shape, it was probably planted by French Huguenot settlers in 1700s. Click photo for details


View of Lion’s head from foot of Table Mountain showing the invasive cluster pine species

Among the several trekking routes up the hill, we took the relatively less steep “Platteklip gorge hike”, first taken by Antonio de Saldanha, a Portugese explorer who gave the name “Table Mountain” and also the first (European?) ascent up the Table Mountain in the sixteenth century.

The lower slopes of Table Mountain carpeted by Fynbos (Fine bush in Afrikaans), local name for a natural shrubland native to the Western Cape and other areas with coastal mediterranean climate.

The weather is not always clear enough for the cable car to run. It can get quite windy and the top of the mountain can get misty, when clouds form due to sudden condensation of rising south-easterly oceanic winds when the wind suddenly ascends up the slopes to condense as clouds on the top (very similar to what happens when the monsoon winds suddenly encounter the Western Ghats, a phenomenon called Orographic lift). This cover of clouds is attributed in local legend to a smoking contest between a local pirate and the Devil himself, forming a “table cloth” when the contest goes on!

The mountains around make a stunning landscape around the Cape, the “Lion’s head”, “Signal hill” and such other hills nestling Cape Town and the small Robben Island (that once held an imprisoned Mandela) can be seen.

Our trek though was on a very clear and sunny day; the usual 2.5 hour route can turn much longer. We took a little over three hours, not only because some of us went slowly admiring the fynbos, trying to catch glimpses of the Cape Sugarbirds, rock thrushes, large flocks of White-eyes, Rock Kestrels, several species of rock agamas and trying to spot a Dassie (local name for the Rock Hyrax, the only remaining relative of Elephants, a brother from clearly another mother, as the expression goes).

The Plattenklip gorge is a deep gorge that “cuts” onto the table mountain. The trail begins with a relatively easy climb but fairly soon becomes bouldery and steep. Although marked as 2 hours, on a very hot sunny day, it could take up to 3.

The early portions of the Plattenklip trail are relatively easy. The point at the road where we took a left turn to enter the trail is seen in the background. This was about 15 minutes into the trail

The landscape is stunning. After a 15 minute walk along the road, the Platteklip gorge route begins on the right with a sign indicating not to undertake the trek alone and to only go in groups. We chanced upon a lone Colombian who joined us here.

Fynbos shrubland vegetation with Lion’s head in the background. This is a perfect habitat to spot Hyrax, birds of prey and Agamas. Protea shrubs (not flowering in this season) are seen all around.
The Plattenklip trail begins to get steeper as we approach the “table”
A locust/grasshopper close-up
It’s spring time in October in the southern hemisphere. Many of the flowers in the Fynbos were in bloom. This one is perhaps(?) a species of Gladiolus (to be confirmed)
More flowers, this one perhaps one of the Proteas(?)
More Asters, possibly Felicia spp.
Watsonia barbonica in bloom all over the slopes

The initial part of the trek is through relatively sandy and bouldery portions that goes up along the lower slopes of the mountain and are not very tiring. We soon came upon a stream where we filled the half-litre bottles that each of us were carrying. It was already over 11 AM and the sun was really beginning to turn up the heat. The local rangers told us about all the fantastic fauna, much of which we unfortunately did not see – porcupines, caracals, foxes and even some introduced introduced Himalayan Tahrs!

The Plattenklip trail gets quite steep mid-way and on a sunny day, several litres of water are imperative, or so we discovered. If not for the table part of the mountain providing shade in the second half, it could have been quite difficult for some of us

We only realised much later (and much lighter thanks to the severe dehydration) that cute-looking 500 ml bottles are not made for mid-afternoon table mountain treks. While some of the group headed faster up the mountain, four of us formed a mutual support group, battling depleting fluids and scorching sun through tree-less fynbos which in spite of its stunning beauty cannot provide shade for more than a dozen ants.

While two of us nearly heat-stroked and woozy ambled up the lower slopes, we reached the cool shade provided by the “table”, about half-way up. For me, it was like entering the Elven realms described by Tolkien! We passed out in the shade for a 15 minute snooze, caught up on some water, chatted with fellow climbers, some nearly their seventies (!).

A signpost showing the major flora and fauna of Table Mountain, including photos here of the Cape Sugarbird, Rock Hyrax and Verraux’s Black Eagle. Click photo for official website of Table Mountain National Park.

The second half of the climb offered stunning views as we passed through the Platteklip gorge. More thrushes, rock agamas, sugarbirds and Verraux’s Black Eagle, much more closer to the Golden Eagle than to our own South Indian Black Eagle. A fairly large eagle, it is known to prey on the Hyrax. Full list of birds seen on the trip are on ebird.

We saw a lot of Agamids including the Southern Rock Agama. There are 37 species of Agamids in the Western Cape alone
And finally on reaching up the table, breathtaking views of the Atlantic ocean
View of Camps Bay from the top of Table Mountain

At the top of the mountain are of course stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and several trails including special ones to spot Hyrax and Agamids. At the risk of causing medical emergencies(!), we stocked up on some water and calories at the wonderfully resourced and reasonably priced Table Mountain Cafe.

Redwinged Starling, a very bold species quite widespread on the top of table mountain
…and we took the short-cut back, the cable way manned by somebody with a wonderful sense of humour. The cable way floor rotates to break the monopoly over the early birds who took over the windows, much to their consternation!
And finished the day with a lazy sunset at Camps Bay watching thousands of unidentified Tern spp and the usual assortment of large and small Gulls

Other links

  1. The site is very resourceful with interesting blog posts regularly updated such as this blog from yesterday on the cableway turning 85 and the event being celebrated on Instagram!
  2. Full bird list containing 800-odd species (including vagrants) of Table Mountain National Park here


5 responses to “Table mountain”

  1. What a lovely view of the ocean from up there….Daktre…keep writing and walking…and all best

    1. Hey Manish. Thanks. Was a lovely view indeed. Wish I were a bit more habituated to water. Would’ve loved the beaches too!

  2. jitendra Avatar

    A perfect beauty blend with nature and human creation that attracts our imagination! Above all a stunning picturesque of South Africa’s flora and fauna!
    Thanks Prashanth, you made my day !!
    Cheers !!

  3. Manoj Kumar Pati Avatar
    Manoj Kumar Pati

    Wonderful description of one of it’s kind trek journey on a sunny day at Table Mountain, Cape Town. Really nice to read the photo essay and congrats to the young researchers who found time to trek out of busy schedules mostly always discussing people centered health system. Apart from the trek journey what seems more fascinating and interesting to me the amount of information and resources each photograph (of course all are high dpi) carry with it. Lot to learn from the photo-essay.
    Thanks Prashanth and team !

  4. Thriveni Avatar

    Nice write up complimented with wonderful pictures!

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