Capetonians love their city and they take every
opportunity to enjoy the outdoor adventures that surround it. Running south
from Table Mountain to the Cape of Good Hope, the Cape Peninsula is a favourite
local day-trip destination; on weekends paragliders fleck the skies around the
serrated peak of Lion’s Head mountain and surfers head south to False Bay’s
need not slip into the “Cape coma” – the lethargy that notoriously overcomes
travellers who come for a few days and, seduced by the city’s laidback vibe and
vibrant nightlife, stay for weeks. It is easy to make the most of the
surrounding mountains and coastline when most outdoor activities can all be
tried within an hour’s drive of central Cape Town – and many of the walking
trails and beaches can even be reached by taxi or bike.
From downtown Cape Town, cable cars ascend the hulking mass of Table Mountain, which looms above the city
and sometimes disappears into the cloud covering, known locally as the tablecloth.
Numerous trails climb the 1,000m-high
plateau but the most popular is Platteklip Gorge, a
steep, 3km walk that begins near the lower cable-car station. On weekends, a diverse
cross-section of Capetonians manoeuvre their way between the boulders
lining the trail, including groups of students in scarily inappropriate footwear.
the table top offering views of the city, Table Bay and the peaks of Table
Mountain National Park beyond. Visitors can also climb from the 36-hectare Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
on the mountain’s eastern side, one of the world’s most beautiful with 7,000
plant species including indigenous Cape flora and South Africa’s signature Protea
For a longer
look at the mountain – proclaimed this year as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature by the Zurich-based New7Wonders
Foundation, the five-day, 75km Hoerikwaggo
Trail leads through Table Mountain National Park and down the peninsula to
the Cape of Good Hope at its southwestern tip. Hoerikwaggo, the nomadic Khoi
people’s name for the famous formation, means “mountain in the sea” – an excellent
description of the sturdy mass surrounded by shimmering bays and beaches.
Table Mountain’s neighbouring peaks may not be as instantly recognisable, but
they offer just as many options for breathing some fresh African air. The most
distinctive is the jagged tooth-like 669m-high Lion’s Head, which rises
northwest of Table Mountain between the city centre and the Atlantic-facing
suburbs of Clifton and Camps Bay. At full moon, locals ritually walk up Lion’s
Head for sunset,
finding their way back down by moonlight and torch beam. Starting from Kloof
Nek -- the pass between Table Mountain and Lion’s Head -- the 10km return Pipe Track
is a gorgeous contour path that follows the Atlantic coast towards the dramatic
peaks of the Twelve Apostles mountains.
Another scenic stroll leads 2.5km northeast from Lion’s Head along the ridge of
the 350m-high Signal Hill, also known as the Lion’s Rump. The two adjoining
hills resemble a lion sphinx, and the rocks in the sea below are even known as
the Lion’s Paws. En route, a pretty green-and-white karamat
(a Muslim saint’s tomb) overlooks the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, the traditional
home of the Islamic Cape Malay people. An atmospheric 1km city walk climbs past
the Bo-Kaap’s colourful facades and cobbled lanes to the Noon Gun. This cannon
on the lower slopes of Signal Hill is still fired at noon Monday to Saturday, continuing
a 200-year-old tradition begun by the British in 1806, initially to announce the
arrival of ships to people living inland, and later as a time signal, allowing
ships to check their navigational equipment and Capetonians to set their watches.
Cape Town’s beaches are as equally accessible as its mountains, and as varied
as the multicultural locals catching some rays. Overlooked by Lion’s Head, the
suburb of Clifton’s four sheltered white-sand beaches, separated by giant
granite boulders, are popular for sunbathing and swimming. Their proximity to
the city centre sees a diverse selection of sun-seeking locals arriving in
vehicles from shiny Mercedes to shared minibus taxis. Fourth
beach is an excellent spot for a sunset picnic; facing west it is sheltered
from the Cape’s infamous southeasterly wind and also has a prime view of the
sun setting over the Atlantic.
white-sand beach at neighbouring Camps
Bay, beneath the Twelve Apostles, has strong surf and lifeguards during summer. The affluent
suburb’s beachfront cafes and bars are the hangouts of choice for the city’s
beautiful people, who sip their cocktails as a golden sunset spreads across the
south, the Cape Peninsula’s beaches get quieter as you head towards the Cape of
Good Hope. Horse or pony
riding on the broad, sandy 8km-long Noordhoek Beach and into the nearby
wetlands and mountains makes for a windblown, cobweb-banishing day out.
Across the peninsula from the suburb of Noordhoek, False Bay arcs away to the
east, bookended by distant Cape Hangklip. The bay’s water is about 6C warmer
than on the peninsula’s western side due to currents from the Indian Ocean, and
the area’s beaches and rock pools attract both swimmers and surfers. The
beachfront suburb of Muizenberg, with its colourful row of Victorian bathing
chalets, gently shelving beach and safe conditions is a great place to learn
how to surf. “The waves are really soft and gentle and the currents and tides
aren’t too hectic,” said Gary Kleynhans, a former South African surf champion
and the owner of Gary’s Surf School, the oldest in the country. “Intermediate to advanced
surfers go to Long Beach, Kommetjie and Noordhoek on the Atlantic side of the
peninsula. Kalk Bay is also advanced, but it’s beautiful and round like a baby
kayaking and kite surfing
The Cape Peninsula also offers some surprising sights for sea kayakers. The Boardroom Adventure Centre,
conveniently located at the gateway to the peninsula in Hout Bay, offers
paddles to the large Cape fur seal colony on Duiker Island and along the rugged
coastline to local landmark Chapman’s Peak.
Overlooking the warm waters of False Bay, Paddlers runs trips to the Cape of
Good Hope, perhaps spotting whales and dolphins en route, and takes visitors to
the colony of 2,800 waddling African penguins at Boulders Beach For kite
surfing, meanwhile, cross town to the suburb of Bloubergstrand (“blue mountain
beach” in Afrikaans), where seasoned instructor Phil Baker offers lessons and
equipment hire with Table Mountain and Robben Island views through his company Windswept.
Sandboarding is the closest many locals get to snowboarding There is more
chance of generating static than feeling the wind in your hair, but if you wax
your board thoroughly, whizzing down dunes is an exhilarating novelty. Mechanized
lifts are a long way off, but you can try sandboarding at the town of Fish Hoek
on the Cape Peninsula through Gary’s
Surf School, or on the towering white-sand slopes in the Atlantis
Dunefields, 40 minutes drive up the west coast from central Cape Town. Downhill Adventures, which runs sandboarding
day trips to Atlantis, offers packages including skydiving, quad biking and surfing.
The numerous mountains offer many options to serious climbers, but anyone with
an adrenaline craving can take the Abseil
Africa challenge. The self-described “dope on a rope” is one of the world’s highest commercial
abseils – a 112m rappel from the top of Table Mountain with the city far below.
Another route down the mountain, closer to the ground but equally hair-raising,
is mountain biking along dirt tracks and private roads to neighbouring Devil’s
Peak. Downhill Adventures provides
a specialist biking guide for the two-wheel scramble, making the ride suitable for
all levels of fitness and ability.
who colour the skies around Lion’s Head, the most dependable local launch site,
are as characteristic of Cape Town as the summer wind. To join these weekend gods
and get an eagle’s view of the city, try a flight with Cape Town Tandem Paragliding’s experienced
instructors. “The big plus is the amazing location – all these unique mountains
like Table Mountain are plonked in the middle of the city,” said owner Manu
Wegmershaus. Passengers are required to do little more than take a few steps at
launch – and enjoy the views as they glide towards Camps Bay, where a cocktail
on the beach awaits.