Cape Town, commonly called the Mother City of South Africa, is completely dominated by Table Mountain. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, this impressive bulwark that rises from the plains and the ocean is covered by hundreds of hiking trails. I was keen to hike it. This was my first time to Cape Town and all my friends, including those who live in Cape Town, recommended I only go hiking with a guide for safety reasons. Internet research on hiking Table Mountain made me question my own fitness – something I’ve never questioned before, to be honest. So, I decided to hike the smaller, but equally impressive Lion’s Head mountain first.
Using Airbnb Experiences I booked a 3 hour hike experience with Keith for Lion’s Head, on a Monday.
Keith, a 66 year young local picked me up in his small car from the centre of town at 8.45am and by 9am we were parked, ready to walk up Lion’s Head. Only, the fates had something different planned.
Change of plans
Due to a rockfall, the track up Lion’s Head was closed. With Table Mountain peering down on us we talked about alternate hikes. I explained that I really wanted to hike up Table Mountain ultimately and Lion’s Head was a self-imposed “test” to see if I was up to it. Living in Singapore, I do lot of walking and go to the gym a few times a week, but because it is Singapore, my walking doesn’t involve large monoliths where chains and scrambling are sometimes required to reach your destination.
Keith reassured me that if I was keen, he’d happily take me up the mountain. Due to time constraints, we settled on Platteklip Gorge – the easiest and fastest way up the mountain.
I say easy because it doesn’t require any chains, ladders or aforementioned scrambling over rocks. It does, however, require one foot in front of the other up a large rock staircase, and sometimes the “stairs” are quite big! The hiking trail takes you from the road up through a ravine on the side of Table Mountain that faces the city.
See the list at the end of this post for what you need to hike Table Mountain.
We drove past the lower Cable Car Station where lines were forming for a 6-minute lift to the top and parked in a car park opposite the Platteklip Gorge trailhead. The trail is about a kilometer past the cable car station. We agreed to catch the cable car down, so this meant walking a kilometer or so back to the car at the end.
Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses – check. Each carrying water and a muesli bar in our backpacks we set off. Keith insisted on leading the way. It was a very well-marked path and very well-frequented. Once you start on it – you can’t lose your way.
In fact, shortly after we started Keith mentioned that I didn’t really need him on this hike for that exact reason.
By now, we had stopped several times as Keith pointed out different plants. They were beautiful yes, but I’d visited Kirstenbosch two days before (see separate post here) and was here to hike a mountain. Plus, the sun was already pretty warm. We moseyed on, or should I say up, we moseyed up – but I now see the wisdom in taking those first steps in a slower fashion.
Keith knew what he was about. Always we continued upwards. And Keith – bless his soul – talked the whole way. He reckoned talking made it easier to climb. I wouldn’t know – I was too busy listening. Before too long I found myself stopping to photograph flowers just so I could stop walking up for a moment.
The great thing about stopping for a moment is the view. The views over Cape Town are magnificent. And the higher you go, the more stunning it becomes. Lion’s Head doesn’t look quite so fierce from Table Mountain.
I’m glad I had a guide
It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach the top. Admittedly, my stops became more frequent near the top; I have low blood pressure and I did not like the idea of being light-headed at the top of a steep trail. But here’s the good news – the next day I suffered no sore bits at all!
As we hiked up Keith talked about the snakes that can cause trouble, and the appropriate remedies for each. And this is where the value of a registered guide for hiking Table Mountain or any hiking trail around Cape Town became apparent. As a registered guide Keith knows how to administer first aid with what he has around him. He knows the different snakes and plants. The ones that are poisonous and the ones that are not.
At the top
At the top we sat for moment to enjoy an energy bar and drink in the views over Cape Town, Devil’s Peak and out to Robben Island and beyond. With the climb over, the wind was noticeable again and my sweatshirt went back on. Though there were clouds in the sky, the clouds and fog that frequent the top of Table Mountain (named “the tablecloth”) were thankfully absent.
With time on our side we headed east to Maclear’s Beacon – the very highest point in Cape Town. It’s about a kilometer away from the ravine of Platteklip Gorge Trail.
Hiking along the top of Table Mountain is beautiful. The flora is colourful and varied.
Our route took us along the edge of Table Mountain overlooking the city for starters. The path took us through swampy bits, over wooden boardwalks and around rocky boulders.
Keith knew the way like the back of his hand. As we walked, we talked, and I got Keith’s views on Cape Town and South Africa.
30 minutes later we reached the beacon.
Maclear’s Beacon is a large pile of rocks with amazing views. I wasn’t going to climb it, but my guide said I could (!) so I did. I could see all the way to the Cape of Good Hope.
On our hike back Keith lent me a windbreaker. It was a lifesaver against the biting Antarctic winds as we hiked back to the cable car station. Layered clothing is recommended. The weather is very changeable at the top. Blazing hot sun or cold winds and fog – you won’t know till you get there.
There are lots of walks and trails at the top of the mountain.
The hike back to the upper Cable Car Station takes in views over the “back” of the mountain including Constantia (wine country between the mountain and the ocean) and the Twelve Apostles (the rocky outcrops that range from Table Mountain to further down the coast).
The views just don’t stop. Be sure to check the photo gallery at the top of this post. And the video here. At the station there are stunning views down to Camp’s Bay. It took another 30 mins or so to reach the cable car station.
Keith lead the way up to the wifi lounge and out to a small balcony that is beside the cable car exit point. It pretty much looks down the cable car line to the Lower Cable Car Station. I wouldn’t have found that without Keith. Small things like this made hiking up Table Mountain with a guide totally worth it.
This was my first time to Cape Town; my maiden voyage up Table Mountain. I would happily hike the Platteklip Gorge Trail and walk to Maclear’s Beacon by myself now. But only because I had someone show me the way for my first time.
I bought a ticket down (registered guides travel for free on the cable car) and we got straight on to the cable car. It was 1pm on a Monday afternoon. There was no queue to go down. However, there were long queues waiting to come up!
Before leaving Singapore I nearly bought cable car tickets online to save time in the queues, but I’m glad I didn’t. The line for people who had pre-purchased tickets was just as long as the line for those waiting to buy a ticket up – and the lines on a Monday afternoon were at least 1.5 hours. I have a friend who queued for 2 hours on Saturday morning to go up; and another friend who, after seeing the 4 hour queues on Saturday afternoon gave it a miss.
You can do it
There are only two ways up Table Top Mountain. Either by foot, or by cable car. If you are of moderate to good fitness you can do Platteklip Gorge. With or without a guide. Call an Uber driver to drop you at the trailhead if you want to hike up and cable car down. You might make it up faster than me, or it might take you longer. Who cares?! Take as long as you need, the views are always there when you need a break.
Hiking Table Mountain with a guide was one of the highlights of my week in Cape Town. Read my full Cape Town experience and download the free itinerary here.
What to take for your hike up Table Mountain
- A windbreaker (or a guide who carries an extra one!)
- Favourite snack.
- Wear a cap and good walking shoes.
Trip taken October 2019.
Can you hike up Table Mountain without a guide?
Yes, if you know the way and stick to Platteklip Gorge. However, for first-timers to Cape Town, hiking up any trail, including Platteklip Gorge will be more insightful with a guide.
Where does Platteklip Gorge trail start?
About 1.5 km past the lower cable car station on Tafelberg Road. It is well-marked with a signboard. There is roadside parking available opposite. Expect to pay a few rand to the carpark 'attendant' for watching your car while you're gone. Or, you can get an Uber driver to take you there.
How long does it take to hike Platteklip Gorge?
1 to 3 hours depending on your fitness. A 50 year old woman who walks regularly and is generally fit can expect it to take around 1.5 hours. Allow more time for walking around up top. There is lots to see.
What is the highest point on Table Mountain?
Maclear's Beacon, on the Eastern Table, at 1,086 m elevation is the highest point. It is marked with a large pile of rocks and is about 1 hour return hike from the upper cable car station.