Jan Smuts Trail (7 km - 980m ascent - 40m descent)

Table Mountain and Cape Town - you can't think of one without the other. The flat-topped massif dominates the city and is a magnet for visiting tourists, most of whom reach its top by aerial cable-car. We had another idea - to take a taxi to the eastern flank of the mountain and Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens and climb to the top on the Smuts Pad, a route named for the Afrikaaner general and statesman, Jan Smuts. He apparently liked to hike on the mountain and used this trail regularly.

It was our first day after arriving and nothing cures jet-lag like a good hard walk, so, despite the rain chasing pedestrians down the street and the counsel of our hostel clerk that today was not a good day to be out, we jumped into the Uber taxi for the 13km trip from beneath the north face of the mountain to Kirstenbosch on its eastern flank. It was a good move, as Kirstenbosch was cloudy but dry, with mists wrapping themselves around the ramparts of Table Mountain. Apparently, the weather here can be very localised.

The eastern flank of Table Mountain shrouded with mist

Kirstenbosch Gardens are world-renowned, so we could not just charge up the mountain. Instead we paid our entrance fees and wandered around its superb setting, beneath remnant forest, past brilliant plantings of proteas in bloom, ancient leathery-leaved cycads and giant horsetails.

The rich flora of the fynbos was on display in a superbly landscaped setting across the slopes, dominated by the mist-shrouded eastern walls of the mountain.

The flowers and birds of Kirstenbosch

A somewhat irate boomslang

In the gardens of Kirstenbosch

Then, after a cup of hot chocolate for energy, we set off on the climb. The route took us quickly up and out of the gardens and into the natural vegetation - a dense and shady forest. Beneath its canopy, we climbed steadily up the well-formed path, served with series of log steps. We were heading towards Skeleton Gorge, the access point between the rugged line of cliffs.

We were soon inside the gorge, climbing the steep, stepped path alongside the babbling waters of Skeleton Stream, as they tumbled down from the tops in a series of cascades and falls. In the narrowing confines of the gorge, with its thick vegetation, humidity quickly reached saturating levels ...... as did our shirts from the unevaporated perspiration.

Climbing Skeleton Gorge .......

... with its ladders ....

.... and waterfalls

The gorge narrowed and a series of wooden ladders took us past a dark cleft of cascading water. Above the ladders, the path vanished and the route up became the stony bed of the stream. Water cascaded down as we rock-hopped up until finally we could break out and follow a new path that zig-zagged ever upwards. Eventually, it cleared the tree cover to give superb views out through the rock-framed cleft of the gorge to the urbanised plains below.

View back through the gap of Skeleton Gorge

On top of the mountain

Another short climb brought us to a track junction - time for a quick snack, before leaving the main route and following the Smuts Pad up the thick low shrubbery of the Table Mountain fynbos. Scattered flowering shrubs of white and yellow lit up the scrub and framed views out over the plains as far as the sea at False Bay.

Views across the Table Mountain fynbos

The climbing became less steep, as we sidled our way along this rocky track, and crossed a small mountain stream to begin the assault of the table itself. The air was cool and occasional breaks of sunlight warmed us. It was a pleasant relief, after the humidity of Skeleton Gorge, as the open landscape gave sweeping views of the shrub-covered mountain and beyond.

After a couple of false ridges, we hauled ourselves up through a narrow crack to reach the large stone cairn of Maclears Beacon - at 1086m the high point of Table Mountain.

On top of Maclears Beacon

Looking down on Cape Town harbour

Route across the table top wetlands

From here it was all flat - at least that is the way it appeared as we looked across to the distant shape of the cable-car station. However, someone forgot to iron the cloth on the table and the route undulated and meandered its way across the eroded sandstone. Occasional sections of boardwalk made crossing these high bogs, with their croaking frogs, a bit easier.

Platteklip Gorge

The wind on the tops turned chilly and we layered up, as we pushed on to Platteklip Gorge, a narrow cleft that splits the table top into two sections. It is also the northern access point to Table Mountain.

The fog rolls in

Dassie in the mists

Heading through the mists to the cable station


Mists roll across the western flank of Table Mountain

As we arrived, whisps of cloud began to swirl up through the gaps from the western seaward side and soon we found ourselves in a thick mist which hung around until walk's end at the Top Cable Station and restaurant. The grand views from the western side of the mountain looked likely to elude us for a while as cloud continued to push through. However, as we were sipping on a hot coffee, a small break opened up the vista of mist-shrouded ramparts of the Apostles with the slaty waters of the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

Watched by a dassie (aka rock hyrax)

The northern flank of Table Mountain (through the cable car window)

It was a good way to finish a great walk and the fair Nello and I felt very content as we boarded the cable-car for a quick ride down the northern flank and back home to our hostel for a relaxing celebratory beer. Table Mountain deserves every bit of praise it gets.

A short walk in Cape Town

With a day up our sleeve, we decided to wander through the streets of Cape Town - concentrating mainly on historic buildings, courtesy of a Free City tour that focussed on the transition from Apartheid to Freedom (and beyond to the largely race-based economic gaps that exists between people today). It was heavy going, so a relaxing stroll through the colourful streets of Bo-Kaap seemed the best way to leave Cape Town on a less depressing note.

A walk in The Company's Gardens

Buskers in a Cape Town street

Parliament House

The presidential palace

The colourful houses of Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap and Table Mountain