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Three great Cape Town hikes

Three great Cape Town hikes

The trails criss-cross the Cape Peninsula’s mountainous spine, taking walkers through exquisite fynbos and indigenous forest, to dramatic rocky viewpoints, and along easy coastal tracks to beaches, rock pools and whale-watching viewpoints.

Much of the Peninsula is protected as part of the Table Mountain National Park, one of the Cape Floral Region hotspots, with more than 2 200 floral species, 90-plus of them endemic. Fynbos species – proteas, ericas, restios and bulbs – are the dominant vegetation, and it all becomes even more spectacular in October when they are all in flower. Time to take out your boots and get out there.

Corridor Ravine

Cape Town hikes
This little-used trail is adventurer-photographer Shaen Adey’s favourite hike on Table Mountain. It’s varied, and also has one of the more gradual ascents, taking you to the end of the Pipe Track, through a lovely shady section of indigenous forest, before contouring beneath the dramatic orange cliffs on its way to the Back Table.

The easiest approach for this Cape Town hike is from the trailhead on Theresa Avenue (opposite Sea Star Rocks Hotel) in Camp’s Bay. Follow the concrete road up the hill through magnificent stands of tree pincushions (Leucospermum conocarpodendron subsp conocarpodendron, a subspecies largely confined to the Twelve Apostles at that height) alive with brightly coloured sunbirds, long-tailed Cape Sugarbirds and Red-winged Starlings, to where it joins the Pipe Track. (Alternatively park at Kloof Nek and walk along the Pipe Track. This will add half an hour each way to your route.)

The concrete road ends at towering stone pines, from where you continue up a rocky path that leads past the ruins of a stone break pressure tank and a signpost indicating the route up Woody Ravine. A series of steep man-made steps alongside the now-exposed pipe takes you around Cairn Buttress up into Slangolie Ravine. High above the path (and inaccessible) is an outlet from a disused tunnel through the mountain. Opened in 1891 and named after Sir John Woodhead, then mayor of Cape Town, it fed water from the top of Table Mountain, via the Pipe Track, to the Molteno Reservoir in the city.

Scramble over the stream bed and up through a steep but lovely section of indigenous forest. Once out of the forest, the trail hugs sheer sandstone cliffs as it follows a shale band past Slangolie Cave (just above the path and a good stop for a break) and around Slangolie Buttress, with stunning views along the Twelve Apostles. The path then takes a direct line up Corridor Ravine. It’s steep and a bit loose at the top, but will only take half an hour. This section burnt in October 2017, resulting in a mass flowering of watsonia the following year, which should be good for a few more years to come.

Corridor ravine

Corridor Ravine Kasteelspoort view of Lion’s head at sunset.

Turn left at the top and follow the Twelve Apostles Path, which is flanked by restios and, in spring, striking green and yellow cone bushes. Just before you summit the next ridge (Slangolie Buttress) you’ll see a faint path on the left. This leads to Tranquillity Cracks, a maze of deep, cool cracks in which yellowwoods reach for the sky, and the perfect spot for a picnic.

A short, steep but easy scramble takes you down to the head of Slangolie Ravine. It’s easy-going from here, past the top of Woody Ravine to the navigation beacon on the top of Postern Buttress, look out for shy klipspringers, and delicate blue disas (Disa graminifolia) and other orchids. Turn left to a spectacular viewpoint from where you can check out the ruins of the old aerial cableway once used to ferry materials for the construction of the Woodhead and Hely-Hutchinson reservoirs.

The path to the viewpoint is the old railway route that carried the materials across to the dams.  From here it’s an hour’s walk down Kasteelspoort. This is a lovely descent in the late afternoon when the sun sinks into the Atlantic, and Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles turn a burnt orange. The fynbos is gorgeous, with lots of white-flowering confetti bush (Coleonema album), also known as aasbossie, since it was used by fishermen to wipe their hands clean of bait (aas). You’ll also see China flowers (Adenandra uniflora), a type of buchu so called because its delicate flowers appear to be made of porcelain.

Halfway down the ravine, the flat Breakfast Rock – site of the middle station of the old cableway – is a good place to watch the sunset. But if you’re still walking in the light look out for pungent plants such as wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus), wild sage (Salvia africana) and everlasting daisies (Helichrysum spp) on the way down.

Allow four hours for the eight-kilometre round trip and, if you walk this Cape Town hike in summer, look out for the red disas (Disa uniflora) that bloom in the stream. If you like disas, also check out the little wetland about 100 metres beyond the navigation beacon (in the direction of the main table) before heading down. I’ve seen wonderful orchids there, including spring-flowering golden disas (Disa cornuta) and, in summer, yellow disas (Disa tenuifolia).

Silvermine Amphitheatre Circuit

Cape Town hikes
The Silvermine section of Table Mountain National Park is a wonderful mountain venue for a Cape Town hike or dog walk, with trails to suit all levels of fitness. The two-hour, six-kilometre, moderate Amphitheatre Circuit (not to be confused with the trail of the same name in the Kalk Bay mountains) is one of the most rewarding hikes on the Peninsula, offering a good workout, splendid views and wonderful flowers, including a large number of endemic species. Detouring towards Elephant’s Eye Cave, you’ll see mass displays of pink Constantiaberg heath (Erica abietina subsp constantiana) that make this a great option if you have an extra hour.

The fynbos at Silvermine is superb, particularly in spring and early summer, when the reserve glows with bright-yellow and green conebush proteas like the sickle-leaf conebush (Leucadendron xanthoconus). Pincushions like the well-named kreupelhout or ‘cripple wood’ (Leucospermum conocarpodendron) are widespread, while in spring and summer you’ll cross slopes covered with white Erica mammosa and yellow-white Erica lutea.

The reserve is also rich in spring orchids, particularly the oddly named ewwa-trewwa orchids (Satyrium spp), mainly found in shaded, damp soils. With its bright-yellow or orange-red flowers, Satyrium coriifolium is one of the most attractive terrestrial orchids of the Cape Floral Region. There are lots of peas too, including the Cape sweet pea (Dipogon lignosus) and the purple-pink, spring-flowering keurboom (Virgilia divaricata) also known as the Cape lilac or blossom tree.

Stop at the little info centre opposite the main gate (Gate 1) where a selection of the flowers in bloom is displayed, then drive up through the reserve to see the surrounding mountains and late-spring and early-summer flowering purple watsonia (Watsonia borbonica) on your left. For most of the year, everlastings and large, bushy ericas can be seen on the right-hand slopes.

Cape Town hikes

Park at the main car park near the dam, where there are flower-identification and trail-information boards. You can head up the main path from here, following signs to Elephant’s Eye Cave, but it’s more fun to take the narrow path from the car park signposted to The Crags. The trail climbs gradually through fynbos to the ridgeline where it swings left on the Climber’s Path along the top of the Silvermine cliffs. The route is mainly on a sandy path, with a few rocky sections, and is a little longer and more taxing than the ‘normal’ route, but the views more than compensate.

Peregrine Falcons nest in the sheer cliffs below, which are also home to some of the Cape’s best, bolted rock-climbing routes. Orange mountain dahlia (Liparia splendens) is particularly stunning along this path in spring, and you’ll also see king proteas (Protea cynaroides), pelargoniums, daisies and irises. The trail descends and crosses another jeep track (turn right here if you want to detour to Elephant’s Eye Cave) then continues up through wonderful patches of yellow-green conebushes until it rejoins the main jeep track, climbing gently up the hill through stands of proteas.

After about ten minutes on the gravel road, you’ll see a footpath to the left, indicated by a post with a yellow bootprint and the letters ‘HT’. This is the dramatic Amphitheatre Path that skirts the top of the steep slopes falling away to the dam. The undulating trail winds through colourful and aromatic fynbos, offering great views of the dam and the Ou Kaapse Weg that snakes through the gap in the mountains to the south.

It then climbs slightly onto a rocky ridge from where there are stunning views of the South Peninsula – False Bay and over to Noordhoek Beach, Kommetjie and the Atlantic Ocean. From there it’s a 20-minute loop to the dam, where the brave can have a dip before crossing over the dam wall back to the car.

Gate times for this Cape Town hike: 07h00-19h00 in summer, 08h00-18h00 in winter (May to August).
Last entry is one hour before closing time.

Elsie’s Peak

Cape Town hikes
With outstanding 360-degree vistas, gorgeous fynbos and the possibility of spotting whales and dolphins in False Bay, this easy, dog-friendly walk up the distinctive little peak between Fish Hoek and Glencairn is one of the best reward-for-effort hikes on the Peninsula. The trail is particularly outstanding in spring when the flowers are at their best. Since it’s only half an hour from the summit back to the car park, it’s an excellent sundowner walk.

You can climb the peak from Golconda Road just off the Glencairn Expressway, or from Fish Hoek. If the latter, either take the train and walk from Fish Hoek Station or park on Outspan Road and head up the Ravine Steps in the left-hand corner of the parking area.

Keep going up (the way is obvious) until a T-junction, then turn left on the sandy path that leads to a cairn with a board showing the ‘Circular Route’ to the left and ‘Elsie’s Peak’ to the right. Both ways lead to the summit but the best option is to keep left on the gradually inclining trail, which offers views over Fish Hoek Beach, Kalk Bay Harbour, Muizenberg Beach and across False Bay to Hangklip.

Elsie's peak
In spring and early summer, the yellow flowers of grey tree pincushions (kreupelhout) are magnificent. Pretty bulbs and corms, including irises like the colourful Babiana villosa (a reference to the baboons that dig up the bulbs for food) are another treat, along with striking red, rare and Endangered False Heath (Audouinia capitata), the golden spiderhead (Serruria villosa) that is a Cape Peninsula endemic, and the Wynberg spiderhead (Serruria cyanoides), which in late spring produces gorgeous pink-purple flowers surrounded by whirling green leaves.

At the next signboard turn right up a steep, rocky and uneven path signed to Elsie’s Peak. After about ten minutes, the path levels out again and you see the mast ahead. Continue past another junction (where the other half of the ‘Circular Route’ comes in from the right) and an ugly mast, then scramble up to the beacon.

Elsie’s Peak is an important navigational beacon used by sailing vessels to enter False Bay safely, from the time of the Portuguese explorers until today. The flat summit rocks are a good vantage from which to scan the ocean for boats and marine life. Sharks and seals frequent False Bay year-round, and southern right whales are often sighted in the second half of the year, particularly between September and November.

Once you’ve had tea or a sundowner and have taken in the views, either return the way you came or on the alternate route. Check out the rock crevices for another central Peninsula endemic, the hardy, single-stemmed bladder-heath (Erica halicacaba), easily recognised by its unusual gooseberry-shaped flowers.

The four-kilometre hike should take no more than two hours.

If you liked this, why not take a look at a few more great Cape Peninsula hikes: Cape Peninsula Hiking

Photos: Shaen Adey and Corinne Merry

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