There can be few better things in life than sitting in a quiet, private spot, watching the sun melt into the sea. Or sipping a glass of champagne as the mountain cliffs glow in the late light, turning shades of burnt orange as the last rays climb up their slopes.
Words by Fiona McIntosh
Photographs by Shaen Adey
Siyabona Africa recommended book on Table Mountain:Table Mountain Activities
Authors: Shaen Adey and Fiona McIntosh.
Copyright © 2004 Struik Publishers Cape Town.
What better start to the day is there than walking to a vantage point to have an unobstructed view of the sky turning pink and the sun rising from behind a distant ridge, the first beams shimmering over the ocean? Then, in the burning heat of the Cape summer, taking shelter in a cool glade and listening to the sound of the wind or trickling water while enjoying a wonderful mountain picnic.
Table Mountain, sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and False Bay, offers romantic, easy places to enjoy the views, and the arrival and passing of each day from its mountain roads, ridges and peaks. And you don't have to be an avid mountaineer to enjoy the experience - picnic sites and viewpoints are scattered throughout the mountains of the Peninsula where you can stop for a few minutes to enjoy the view or sit out enjoying a picnic or watching the full moon rise. Each peak described in Going Up or Scrambling has an outstanding view from the summit and along the trail and here is a selection of other, magical places to relax and appreciate the true beauty and solace of Table Mountain.
Sites you can drive or stroll to Top of Table Mountain
This has to be the ultimate viewpoint - perched at over 1 000m (3 281ft) above sea level, the views are outstanding whichever way you look. No matter how many times you go, Table Mountain will always take your breath away. If a steep couple of hours of uphill slog doesn't seem the ideal prelude to enjoying your view or picnic, hop in the cable car and enjoy a 360-degree view from the rotating platform. Once you're on top of the mountain, a convenient, easy trail leads to the main viewing areas found around the Upper Cable Station.
If you are heading up for sunset, take a bottle of bubbly and sit out over the Camps Bay side watching the Twelve Apostles glowing in the last light. Then stroll back to the viewing platforms near the Cable Station for the last pink light over the City Bowl and the distant Cape Fold Mountains. Soon the city, sandwiched between the dramatic profiles of Lion's Head and Devil's Peak, is a mass of neon and twinkling lights and the bay is studded with the lights of container ships. The cocktail bar above the Upper Cable Station offers a cosy alternative to Bring Your Own and is certainly a place to retreat to if the temperature sinks with the sun.
The view may not be as good from the road as from on high but it is still pretty impressive, particularly in the evening when Lion's Head is silhouetted in the setting sun and the city lights begin to twinkle. This is a much quieter spot to enjoy the full moon rise than Signal Hill. Mountain streams trickle down a couple of the steeper ravines, providing some relief from the summer heat. If you prefer to get away from the cars, the Contour Path can easily be reached from several spots along the road - notably Platteklip Gorge and the Saddle routes.
The views from Signal Hill are superb and this is one of the most popular picnic, sunrise, sunset and moonrise spots that you can drive to. Take the Signal Hill Road at the top of Kloof Nek and drive all the way along to the car park at the end. Otherwise, park along the road near the kramat and wander onto the ridge. You may see model aircraft buzzing around - this is a popular launch site - and paragliders can often be seen soaring overhead.
Rhodes Memorial is a popular place to laze on the shaded lawn, gazing out over the city into the deep blue yonder or to spy the odd fallow deer. A hike from the car park takes you onto the Contour Path or the slopes of Devil's Peak from where the view is even more spectacular.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
This little piece of paradise on the lower slopes of Table Mountain is world renowned. Most people picnic around the Dell and other shaded spots in the main gardens but, if you walk a little onto the mountain's higher flanks, you can easily find a quiet spot, with a view to die for, far from the madding crowd. A wonderful Kirstenbosch institution is the summer concerts on Sundays. Take a picnic basket and listen to jazz or blues as the balmy day draws to a close. Early risers can enter at 7:00 through the top gate but the gardens normally close before sunset, unless there is a concert or other evening function.
The picnic and braai sites around the Silvermine Reservoir ensure that this is a popular spot for families, particularly at weekends, although swimming is no longer allowed. There is a wheelchair-friendly boardwalk, and a hike up one of the surrounding peaks is rewarded by views stretching across False Bay and down to Cape Point.
The picnic sites in Newlands Forest, nestled in the shade of the pine trees, offer a welcome retreat from the summer heat. You won't find any views, but from here easy walks meander through the trees, up onto the mountain and to Lady Anne Barnard's Cottage.
Scenic drives - The False Bay coast
The views from the roads that circumnavigate the Cape Peninsula are outstanding, so I will highlight only a few of the prime viewing sites.
The top spots for watching the sunrise are on the eastern (False Bay) side. The rising sun is really only seen over the Hottentot's Holland Mountains, so, if you are hoping for a bright orange globe rising from the sea, then I'm afraid you will be disappointed. If you are coming from the direction of Cape Town, head up Boyes Drive (near the end of the M3) for magnificent views over False Bay. There are numerous places to stop before the road heads down to Kalk Bay and if you have the energy, you can hike up one of the ravines, such as Echo or Spes Bona, for an even better perspective.
Ou Kaapse Weg
Trying to enjoy the view and negotiate the hairpins on Ou Kaapse Weg is a near impossibility, but there are a few places to stop once you reach the plateau. The top spot on this incredible mountain pass is from the lookout on the Silvermine access road. If you are coming from the direction of the M3, take the right turn off Ou Kaapse Weg, signposted to Silvermine, and park, almost immediately, at the roundabout. The view over the Steenberg vineyards and beyond is magnificent at any time of day. Drive across to Noordhoek in the late afternoon to appreciate the mountain moods fully.
Other great drives
Other top spots along this coast include the top of Red Hill, to which you can drive from Long Beach just before Simon's Town. This is also fine mountain-biking territory. There are a few picnic sites on the stunning drive from Millers Point to Cape Point and the view from the road above Smitswinkel Bay is mind blowing. The fit and keen can get an even better perspective from the trail that runs up the ridge of the Swartkop Mountains (the range behind the bay), which is visible from the road just before you get to Cape Point's entrance gate.
Scenic Drives - the Atlantic Coast
The dramatic sunsets and views from the roads along the Atlantic Coast are particularly impressive where the route rises over the mountain passes.
Camps Bay and Llandudno
The view of Camps Bay and the Twelve Apostles as you drive over Kloof Nek never fails to take my breath away. Some thoughtfully placed benches and roadside cannons, in the shadow of Lion's Head, are very popular impromptu spots to watch the sun going down or to admire the stunning view. Several picnic spots flank Victoria Drive and the view from the road as it rises to cross the pass above Llandudno is outstanding at any time of day.
Chapman's Peak Drive
This wonderfully scenic mountain drive re-opened at the end of 2003 following extensive engineering work to stabilise the cliffs and protect road users from rockfalls. There are several official picnic spots on the Hout Bay side and a viewpoint at the top of the pass. If you want to get away from the crowds, take a hike up Chapman's Peak for one of the best 360-degree views to be found on the Cape Peninsula.
This little peak can be climbed in an hour and is one of the classic viewpoints and sunset spots, particularly when it's full moon. This is when the little mountain resembles a Christmas tree decorated with fairy lights, as hikers make their way down by torchlight. However, this is not a trip to be taken lightly. It is a scramble, not a walk, and there are a couple of steep rock bands to be negotiated if you wish to reach the summit.
Fortunately, the lookout point at the base of the summit ridge is broad and ideal for a picnic and there are some conveniently placed benches for enjoying the view from the lower slopes within 20 minutes of the car park. If you are uncertain of the route, join the Friends of Lion's Head and let them show you the ropes. Some evenings you will be treated to a marvellous spectacle as paragliders sail off from one of the peak's two launch sites. The sight of all the colourful canopies floating high in the sky before swooping down to La Med near Clifton is amazing. If you are feeling brave (and strong: you will have to carry your gear to the launch site) sign up for a tandem flight and enjoy a bird's-eye view.
Little Lion's Head
This little peak can be climbed in just half an hour, so it makes a great viewpoint or sundowner spot if you have lots of energy but little time available.
Kloof Corner Ridge
A clear stepped path leads from the big bend below the Lower Cable station on Tafelberg Road (near the Water Filtration Plant). The signal beacon at the top of the trail, just below the rock cliffs, is one of the prime viewing sites on the Peninsula, offering views down the Twelve Apostles on one side, and over the City Bowl to the Cape Fold Mountains on the other. It's a view to die for at any time of day, but you are not likely to be alone.
If you are descending the mountain late in the afternoon, or want a moderate hike to a high vantage point, head for Kasteelspoort. A large rock platform beckons you to stop about two thirds of the way up the trail, where the path turns sharply into the ravine. Remnants of the old cableway up Kasteelspoort are still visible and you can spread out your blanket and enjoy a visual feast. Unfortunately some mindless vandals have inscribed their names on the rocks but don't let that detract from the majesty of this place. The walk down to the jeep track and the entrance gate on Theresa Avenue will take about half an hour from here, so don't leave your departure too late.
This is one of Table Mountain's special, secret spots. Hike up Kasteelspoort and then turn right along the Twelve Apostles path (in the direction of Hout Bay). The next ravine is Woody Ravine, which is signposted at the top. You can also ascend by this route, which, although steep is at least partially shaded. Five minutes later keep an eye open for an interesting rock formation on your right. This is the famous Saucy Dog (it does take some imagination to see the begging pooch, but if you keep walking, you may recognise the profile). Descend to the nek above Slangolie Ravine. The sign warning that this is a 'dangerous descent' is something of an understatement. The ravine is extremely loose and eroded.
Fatal descent - almost!
Scramble up the easy rock band (or go around by way of the easier path on the left) and just after you reach the summit of the next ridge (Slangolie Buttress) take a faint path off on the right. After about three minutes you come to a rocky outcrop. The entrance to Tranquillity Cracks is quite difficult to find but look for a small tree in a narrow crack, marked by a cairn. Go in here and then head left and you will find yourself in a veritable maze of deep, cool cracks in which yellowwoods reach for the sky.
Valley of the Red Gods
This is a wonderful little dell on the path between Kasteelspoort and the Upper Cable Station where you will usually find water seeping out of the moss-covered rock. The shade makes it a perfect place to have a picnic on a hot day.
A walk up into the mountains behind Kalk Bay is not only rewarded by incredible views. If you follow the directions given for Kalk Bay Mountain, you will come upon a natural amphitheatre which is quite one of the most beautiful picnic spots on the whole Peninsula.
If you can cope with an early - and I mean early - start, take a walk up Pecks Valley and on to the summit of Muizenberg Peak for outstanding views over False Bay. The walk is fairly steep, but not extreme. Sunrise is also impressive from the summit of Elsie's Peak but the view is partially obstructed by the Muizenberg Peaks.
The opening hours prevent day visitors from enjoying sunrise or sunset in the Cape of Good Hope section of the Table Mountain National Park, but if you are fortunate enough to hike the two-day Cape of Good Hope Hiking Trail, you are will be in for a treat. Both sunset and sunrise are visible from the beautifully located overnight huts on this hike. Other good viewpoints and picnic spots in the reserve include the Kanonskop Lookout and the summit of Paulsberg, which are on the day trail.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Open: 8:00-19:00 in summer and 8:00-18:00 in winter.
Up to date opening hours and other information for Rhodes Memorial, the Silvermine and Cape of Good Hope reserves is available from the Table Mountain National Park office - Tel: 021-701-8692
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
Opening hours seasonal and weather dependent. Phone the info line for details.
Table-top pavement art
Now this is an even better location than Paris' famous square in Montmartre. As you walk from the Upper Cable Station towards the restaurant, keep an eye open for 'pavement artist' Don Hartley near the abseil site. A charcoal sketch of yourself takes only a few minutes and keeps the memories fresh.
Lion's Head full moon walks
Hiking up Lion's Head to watch the sun set and the full moon rise has become something of a Cape Town tradition. But you will need to get there early to park anywhere near the start of the walk on Signal Hill Road. Literally hundreds of people picnic out on top when the weather is fine, resulting in a very slow descent and long waits at the chains and ladders.
So go in a relaxed frame of mind and enjoy a magical experience. If it is a clear evening the moonlight will be enough to see you down but you would be well advised to bring a head torch to aid your descent in the dark.