A great achievement of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) has been the establishment of a new hiking trail that runs the full length of the Peninsula.
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.
The Hoerikwaggo Trail is more than just a hiking trail, it is a programme designed to protect this unique environment, as well as involve and bring economic benefit to the six communities that call Table Mountain home: Masiphumelele, Red Hill, Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay Fishing Village, Ocean View and Westlake.
The vision is that the Hoerikwaggo Trail will inspire more people to get out onto the mountain, create employment, and, of course, put Table Mountain firmly on the map with the overseas market. Apart from this highly publicised project, there are a few other trails that have been designed for special interest groups - the visually impaired, the wheelchair-bound, and those with an interest in flora and fauna. The eye-opener for me was the Walks with Baboons.
I discovered that in their own habitat these fascinating primates were curious but coy, quite unlike the rather aggressive nuisances I had experienced in my encounters with them at Cape Point. The trip was a privilege and an insight.
Cape of Good Hope Hiking Trail
This stunningly beautiful overnight hiking trail follows a circular route of 33.8 kilometres (21 miles) through the Cape of Good Hope section of the Table Mountain National Park. Day one leads hikers along the Atlantic coastline, past the shipwreck of the Phyllisia and along to the overnight huts near Cape Point. Herds of bontebok, eland and other antelope are usually seen grazing along this stretch and the fynbos is magnificent.
Hikers have the option of choosing between a shorter (19-kilometre/12-mile) route, or the longer 23.3-kilometre (14.5-mile) trail, which allows them to explore the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. The superbly located overnight cottages, high on the slopes of Vasco da Gama Peak, are perfectly placed to enjoy both sunset and sunrise views. They are quite luxurious with bunks and mattresses, gas stove, hot showers and braais, but watch out for the baboons. Day two is shorter (10.5 kilometres/6.5 miles) but more rugged, as the trail winds past windswept beaches and then follows the mountainous eastern boundary of the reserve.
Kirstenbosch Braille Trail
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a wonderful place for anybody to picnic and wander slowly. Many of the paths are wheelchair-friendly and easily accessible to visitors of any age and physical fitness. The visually impaired can enjoy a short, 470-metre long Braille Trail, which is aided by a guide rope. Braille interpretative boards describe the plant species along the trail.
This is an exciting, five-day, six-night hiking trail from the City Bowl along the Peninsula mountain chain to Cape Point. The Hoerikwaggo Trail takes its name from the Khoi word for Table Mountain meaning 'Mountain of the Sea'. Hikers will start at Deer Park, overnighting on the back table, followed by Silvermine, Red Hill, above Smitswinkel Bay and finally at the Goldfields Centre near Cape Point. Accommodation will be in overnight huts or under canvas.
Orange Kloof guided hikes
Access to the protected area of Orange Kloof - encircled by Constantia Corner Ridge and Bel Ombre, the back table and the Twelve Apostles - is strictly by permit only. Groups of up to 12 people can, however, organise a free permit and a guide to take them through this magnificent wilderness area. Highlights include the indigenous forest with a wide range of trees including yellowwoods, milkwoods, red alder and Cape beech and beautiful kloofs adorned with ferns. Guided hikes take visitors to some beautiful, remote spots such as Hell's Gate with its tumbling waterfalls and pools, and to Disa Gorge, up which one can ascend to the back table. Contact the TMNP Newlands Forest office for permits.
Walks with Baboons
Baboons have been part of the fynbos ecosystem on the Cape Peninsula for thousands of years, but they have never been closer to extinction. Because baboons and humans are competing for the same land and resources, they come into regular conflict. In an attempt to educate the general public and dispel some negative perceptions about baboons, Baboon Matters offer educational walks to observe the behaviour of troops in their habitat. Two- to three-hour guided walks, for small groups, are organised on demand and part of the fee then goes back into baboon conservation.
Silvermine Reservoir Boardwalk
Opened in September 2003, the 'floating boardwalk' allows wheelchair-bound visitors to enjoy the area, as well as minimising trampling and compaction damage to the forest.
The first horseback ascent of Table Mountain was around 1800 from the eastern side of the mountain. One of the more unusual, and well-recorded, early ascents on horseback was in 1829 by James Holman, a Royal Naval officer. What makes Holman's achievement all the more notable is that he was blind. He notes that 'the descent was much more difficult than the ascent, and if the horse's feet had slipped or the crupper leather given way, nothing could have saved either the animal or its rider from destruction.
In some places it was so steep that I had to lie on the back of my horse, with the stirrups lifted to its shoulder blade.' It must have been terrifying. Nowadays the situation regarding horse-riding within the Table Mountain National Park is under review. Currently, the Tokai and Cecilia plantations, under the management jurisdiction of Mountain-to-Ocean (Pty) Ltd, are intensively utilised areas for recreational horse-riding but riding in the areas managed by the national park is on an unofficial basis.
However, the national park does recognise that horse-riding is an extremely popular and well-established recreational and commercial activity in specific areas of the Cape Peninsula, with a number of routes having been created and used for many years by the horse-riding fraternity, and it therefore seems likely that these will ultimately be recognised. For further information, contact the Table Mountain National Park's Westlake office. One of the major horse-riding events on the Peninsula is the Simon's Town Endurance Ride held annually in the month of February.