CAPE TOWN, Oct 9 — From the mountain to the sea, that’s the promise of the Mother City, an affectionate nickname for Cape Town, the oldest town in South Africa.
In the north of the Cape Peninsula is the iconic Table Mountain, thus named because of its unusually wide and flat apex. Towards the south, the Cape of Good Hope looms, marking the point where a ship travelling the African coastline begins to head more eastward than southward.
By car, the journey from one end to the other takes only one and a half hours. Along the way, you’d enjoy dramatically changing views, from the coast of Camps Bay in the north when exiting the city to the shrubland of the Table Mountain National Park in the south as you approach the Cape of Good Hope.
Begin with Table Mountain as it’s likely closer to where you’re staying (i.e. in the city centre). Most visitors will head directly to the aerial cableway, which is the fastest way to the summit of the mountain.
The drawback is twofold: First, when you’re that close, you don’t have a decent view of why the mountain is thus named (nor actually take a decent photograph). Secondly, the snaking queues for the cable car ride means you’d be spending most of your time with hundreds of other tourists.
An alternative idea is to drive up the neighbouring Signal Hill, just 10 or so minutes away. The flat-topped hill is also known as the Lion’s Rump because when you view it together with Lion’s Head, another mountain peak, it forms a structure resembling a lion or sphinx. Signal Hill is thus named because of the guns that were used to communicate weather warnings to ships and also to let the public know when a ship was in trouble along the coast.
From this unparalleled vantage point, you’d not only get a spectacular view of Table Mountain in all its “table top” splendour but also enjoy outstanding vistas of the city centre and Table Bay, a natural bay on the Atlantic Ocean. Quite often there will be paragliders taking off from one of the gentler slopes; you might be tempted to join them!
Not sure how to pose for the perfect shot with Table Mountain in the background? There is actually a gigantic yellow picture frame that was installed to commemorate Table Mountain’s inauguration as one of the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2012. Strike a pose, smile and you’ll have an Instagram-worthy portrait in no time at all.
Aside from the panoramic views, also take a closer look at the flora around you. The Table Mountain National Park is home to some endangered plant species such as the Silvertree (Leucadendron argenteum) found nowhere else in the world. Many of the flowers here are part of the fynbos, a shrubland vegetation native to the Western Cape of South Africa.
You will discover more fynbos as you travel farther south along the Cape Peninsula; indeed the park isn’t a continuous area but also includes other areas further away from Table Mountain such as the Cape of Good Hope. As you drive along the long, well-sealed road to Cape Point, yours might be the only vehicle as the horizon stretches for miles. A few cyclists pass you by but that’s it.
The solitude is utterly beautiful.
When you reach Cape Point, you’ll park your car by the side of the road and walk the rest of the way to the lighthouse. Pay attention to the shrubbery next to you as you stroll and you may spot some of the local wildlife such as lizards basking in the sun or a tortoise crawling into the bushes.
There are two rocky capes at this southern part of the peninsula: Cape Point, at the south-east corner, has the higher peak and the lighthouse; the Cape of Good Hope is found lower, on the south-west side. The Cape Point lighthouse, in particular, offers great views. Here you can also find a pole measuring the distances of various cities around the world, such as New York and Rio de Janeiro, from Cape Point.
Colonies of cormorants and other seabirds nest in the raw edges of the cliffs. The horizon seems to be perpetually cloud-covered. If you’re lucky, you may observe whales in the waters. There is a decidedly wild atmosphere here.
For hiking enthusiasts, both of Cape Town’s foremost landmarks make for solid trails. The terrain can change dramatically as you trek — as will the flora, fauna and views — so you’ll never get bored. Whether it’s a half-day hike (only for the physically fit) up Table Mountain or exploring the cliffs from Cape Point to the very edge of the Cape of Good Hope, the experience is unforgettable.