Visit Cape Town's Landmark: Table Mountain
January 1, 1970
by Julia Naidoo
Table Mountain, Cape Town
As my high school’s anthem declares, “the mountain stands watching over us”, it is indeed true that Table Mountain stands as a beacon that can be seen from almost anywhere in Cape Town. The landmark was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 and inaugurated as one of the 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012. The indigenous inhabitants of the Cape, the Khoi and San, named the mountain ‘Hoerikwaggo’, meaning ‘Mountain in the Sea”, but it was renamed ‘Table of the Cape’ in 1503 by Portuguese navigator Admiral Antonio de Saldanha, who was the first recorded person to climb the mountain. The word ‘table’ so accurately describes the mountain as its surface appears flat from most angles, resembling the top of a table.
The kilometre high mountain we see today was once merely sandstone under water. Magma began to rise from the earth’s core and stopped before reaching the surface. It cooled and formed granite. The mountain was still at sea level during an ice age 300 million years ago, and ice sheets flattened the surface we know as the ‘table top’. When the continents shifted, pressure built up in the earth’s crust. Due to the fact that the (now) mountain was made of granite, the pressure forces pushed downwards and caused the mountain to rise slowly. Sea shells are sometimes found on the mountain, and this is possibly due to lapping waves once beating against it.
One can often see clouds pouring over the top of the mountain, a sight colloquially called the ‘table cloth’. In Winter in particular, these clouds can amass so greatly that the mountain can barely be seen. There is a folklore describing this as a smoking competition between Van Hunks, a Dutch pirate, and the Devil.
The story goes that Van Hunks often smoked on Table Mountain, and smoked large quantities of tobacco. One day when Van Hunks was on the mountain for a smoke, he encountered a tall stranger wearing a hat. The stranger asked if he could join Van Hunks for a smoke, and Van Hunks replied that the stranger would not be able to smoke as much as Van Hunks could. This resulted in a fierce smoking competition that lasted days, creating smoke clouds that spilled over the mountain. Eventually, the stranger fell over, exhausted, and his hat was moved from his head. Van Hunks then saw the Devil’s horns and easily identified him. Legend says that the Devil cursed Van Hunks to have an annual smoking competition with the Devil, and that is why we still see their billowing clouds.
The Cable Car
The cable car station was built in 1929 to allow guests to reach the top of the mountain without having to hike. It was renovated in 1997 and has a rotational feature that allows all riders to see the spectacular view on the way up. The ride is free for riders who celebrate their birthday on the day they decide to take the trip. This is, however, only open to South African citizens with a valid ID.
One of the most popular things to do on Table Mountain is to hike! I have personally climbed up as well as down the mountain (on two separate occasions). I am nowhere near fit and while the hike was challenging, it was definitely manageable. Summers in Cape Town can see the temperature reaching 30 degrees Celsius so it is advised that hikers bring sunscreen and water. One can even have a picnic in several spots on the way up, but please do not leave litter. If you choose to hike down the mountain, it is possible to enter Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, another exquisite Cape Town attraction.
Table Mountain is home to an array of beautiful animals, and the first creatures seen once on top of the mountain are the lovable dassies. These rodents are also known as hyraxes and enjoy sleeping on rocks in the sun. This is due to their poor thermoregulation, and they can also be found huddling for warmth in colder seasons. The mountain is home to less cuddly animals, too – there are 22 species of snakes on the mountain, 5 being deadly and only 10 non-venomous. These species include the Cape Cobra, Puffadder, Boomslang and Berg Adder just to name a few. Table Mountain is home to amphibians and smaller reptiles, too, including the Leopard Toad (which is endangered) and the Southern Rock Agama, a species whose males display bright blue heads during mating season. Rock art as well as fossils found on the mountain show that it was once home to leopards, lions and hyenas. Very rarely, indicators of leopard activity are still found.
Various bucks live in the Table Mountain National park and one might see porcupines or mongoose whilst exploring. For bird lovers, one can spot the Verreaux’s Eagle, the Cape sugarbird, red-winged starlings, Peregrine falcons or orange-breasted sunbirds.
Flora and Fynbos
The Cape Floral Region is home to 8200 species of plants, 80% of which are fynbos. On Table Mountain alone, one can find 1500 species of Fynbos. The restios species of fynbos dates back 60 million years, originating in the Late Cretaceous period when the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor roamed. Fynbos rely on fire for the spreading of seeds and growth. Table Mountain was made a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the vast number of plant species.
Table Mountain Café
Visitors to Table Mountain need not worry about food – the Table Mountain Café offers cooked meals as well as pre-made sandwiches and refreshments at excellent prices. There are tables and benches available for a restful meal after a hike or day of exploring. During peak season, there are various other kiosks available selling ice cream, snacks and refreshments.
Whether you enjoy hiking, sight-seeing, dining or photography, Table Mountain offers a unique experience to explore nature and admire the Cape Town skyline.