africa · travel

Adventure’s on the Table (Mountain)

360 views on top of Table Mountain

New York has the Empire State. Dubai has Burj Khalifa. Cape Town, on the other hand, didn’t have to spend a dime nor lift a finger for epic 360-degree views. Why build a tower, when your city’s naturally blessed with the colossal crag that is Table Mountain? This breathtaking backdrop to the Mother City perhaps prepares you for the awe-inspiring landscapes that lie in waiting as you go off to explore the rest of the city.

View of Table Mountain, all the way from Bloubergstrand Beach across the bay
Table Mountain’s commanding presence is felt all the way over the at Bloubergstrand Beach, miles away on the other side of the bay.

Most visitors to Cape Town would get their first welcome from Table Mountain, as it is hard to miss from almost every angle. We, however, arrived in twilight, the darkness only punctuated by the soft amber lights from posts and only a few skyline windows. We caught our first glimpse of the majestic plateau on the next day — against a perfectly clear, sunny sky, which we took as a good omen to go up the mountain.

Along the Plattenklip Gorge

Taking the cable car up the mountain would have been easy-peasy — only if you were willing to wait three hours behind a long line of tourists reminiscent of Star Wars opening night queues. As we were poised for a great adventure, we set off to hike up instead on the trail along Plattenklip Gorge. The jump-off point’s a good 20-minute walk from the cable car station; just keep on going to the direction away from the city and the taxi stands. I got a bit worried that we might have missed the trail’s starting point, but it was exactly where the locals have pointed us to: next to a wooden house, marked by a trail sign.

It commonly takes two hours from the base to the peak (shorter than standing in a queue!), but don’t dismiss the trail as a light walk. On the first 30 minutes, you’ll be a bit out in the open with only a few stops for shade, so make sure to bring a hat and water. The next legs of the hike are mostly steep, but with frequent stops to enjoy the scenery and to snack on trail mix, you’ll be alright.

An almost boundless mountain top with epic views -- I'll have this over any skyscraper view anytime.
An almost boundless mountain top with epic views, with clouds at your feet — I’ll have this over any skyscraper anytime.

I’ve never met a mountain-top that wasn’t worth all the effort; Table Mountain’s no exception. In fact, as it has an insanely wide and flat ‘peak’, there’s so much to explore once the ascent’s done. To view the big blue wall of sky against the equally vast blue wall of water, adorned by the white sand and green mountains along its sides — ah, the rewards of a well-earned hike. Seeing the clouds cascade over you, beneath you, and along the side of the mountain — that’s pretty amazing too. That wasn’t even the best part. Our humble picnic of BBQ chicken wings, as we sat along the rocks on the cliff looking off to the coast, feeling the chilly mountaintop wind blowing through our hair — I’ll remember that fondly as one of the best feasts I’ve ever had.

Lion's Head and Robben Island, as seen from Table Mountain
Lion’s Head and Robben Island, as seen from Table Mountain

We got to enjoy the cable car ride on our way down the mountain. As a treat, one side of the circular car is open-air (read: no glass. Eep!). As the walls spin around the visitors, everyone gets their turn to feel a gust of the chilly mountain air (and score pretty terrific sights) as the car descends.

Back at the base of the mountain, we hopped onto a cab and made our way into Longstreet. As the name suggests, this main thoroughfare stretches on for several blocks, lined with ethnic restaurants, craft and clothing stores, pubs and hostels, which makes it a hip hangout for tourists and gourmands alike. Of course, we were craving for a taste of African cuisine and strut towards Mama Africa, an institution in Longstreet since 1995. I’ve never eaten meat in my life like I did that night in Mama Africa. I ordered the Game Grill, and I was given a feast of zebra, kudu, ostrich, crocodile and deer (yup, it was definitely game on!). As we dug in, the house band warmed up for their first set of the night, tickling the xylophones to set free an upbeat rhythm to set the evening vibe.

A full day’s worth of stunning trails and vistas etched into memory, finished off by soothing sounds and mouthwatering fare — from dawn til dusk, the Mother City did not fail to amaze.

These Big Smiles were brought to you by Cape Town, in cooperation with Table Mountain and Mama Africa.
These Big Smiles were brought to you by Cape Town, in cooperation with Table Mountain and Mama Africa.

Casualty Assessment:

  • Cable car fare: ZAR 215 (~USD 19) for return, ZAR 110 (~USD 10) for one-way
  • One-way fare from Table Mountain to Longstreet: ZAR 100 (~USD 9) [a bit steep when compared to metered cabs, but the choice of cabs when riding from the base of Table Mountain is limited, and you may be at the mercy of what the cab driver asks]
  • Mama Africa’s Game Grill – I can’t remember the exact amount, but it was approximately ZAR 200 (~USD 18)

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