Did you know that Table Mountain in the stunningly beautiful Cape Town, South Africa, has been voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature?
Or that the mountain was formed more than 500 million years ago? For comparison,
- The Ural is 250 – 300 million years old,
- East Andes 280 – 570 million years old, and
- Himalaya is only 50 – 70 million years old.
Everything about Table Mountain is magnificent. Not just the views from the Table Top, its age, and shape, but also the way it watches over Cape Town and the way the weather changes only on its top but not at its feet.
Located on the Cape Peninsula, on the outskirts of Cape Town – the oldest city in South Africa – it guards the Mother City with its impressive 1,085 m (the Maclear’s Beacon).
The mountain stretches from Devil’s Peak (975 m) in the east to Lion’s Head (640 m) in the west.
In 1998, Nelson Mandela proclaimed Table Mountain a National Park.
Whether or not you’re going to Cape Town if you’re ready to learn more astonishing facts about Table Mountain, South Africa, as well as how and when to visit for the best views, read on.
How the Phenomenal Table Mountain Was Formed
No boring data, I promise. Just the most curious facts about the mountain and how it was formed.
Table Mountain, South Africa might as well be one of the oldest mountains on Earth.
The base of the mountain is solid granite, which manages to support its weight. The top of the mountain is composed of sandstone. Fortunately, it isn’t as heavy as granite, which allows the base to carry its “burden”. And it’s a lot of weight, as Table Mountain rises 1,085 meters above sea level at its highest point!
Ice layers during an ice age flattened the surface. This gave the mountain its distinguishable Table Top, resembling a dining table. Years ago, Table Mountain stood at sea level so the waves washed, flattened, and reshaped its cliffs.
Despite its old age, the Table Mountain continues to grow even today.
In 1488, the Portuguese Bartolomeu Dias and his crew were the first Europeans to sail around Cape Point. They were also the first to lay eyes on Table Mountain from a 200 km distance.
The first registered climber of the Table Top was António de Saldanha in 1503. He was also the first European to set anchor in Table Bay.
Fascinating Plants and Animals You Can Find on Table Mountain
The reason Table Mountain was chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature can be easily explained by the diversity of plants found here. The Cape Floral Kingdom might be the smallest of the world’s six plant kingdoms, but it’s the richest one with over 8,500 species. And many of them don’t grow anywhere else on the planet!
Numerous protea flower species, including South Africa’s national flower the King Protea, blossom in late February and March. Fynbos (literary fine leaf) and ericas can also be seen everywhere around Table Mountain.
Another interesting plant is the so-called climber’s friend – a low shrub with vicious prickles but extremely strong roots, growing in impossible places such as rocks, giving the climbers a place to grab and support themselves on their way to the Table Top.
The rabbit-looking dassie is the animal, which will surprise you and even make you laugh with its peculiar looks. It is the unofficial mascot of Table Mountain. Despite its resemblance with bunnies, it’s actually a hoofed mammal and a relative of the elephant.
Although there is a large number of these South African animals on Table Mountain, we didn’t encounter one during our visit. That’s the problem with wildlife, there’s no guarantee you’ll meet your mammal ;-)
Until the beginning of the 19th century, lions also roamed the slopes of Table Mountain. Unfortunately, the last one was shot in 1802. The last spotting of leopards was back in 1920, so no chance of seeing one today either.
The Best Time to Visit Table Mountain, South Africa
It’s almost always possible to hike to the top of Table Mountain. But if you don’t wish to do that, as the trail is quite exhausting, your only option is the cable car. It has been taking visitors to the Table Top since 1929.
Unfortunately, the weather on the Table Top is unpredictable. Strong winds often cause the cable car to be suspended. That’s why the moment you arrive in the Mother City, plan your Cape Town itinerary so that the first attraction you visit is Table Mountain.
It’s best to go to Table Mountain as early as possible in the morning. Later in the afternoons and in the evenings, the chances the so-called table cloth will form increase.
Tip: get your Cable Car ticket in advance and skip the line. Moreover, you’ll get a ride in the hop-on-hop-off bus and a city walk included.
Legend says that the Dutch pirate Jan van Hunks built a house on the east side of Table Mountain near the Devil’s Peak. One evening, a stranger came out of nowhere as he was smoking outside. They started a silent competition who would smoke longer and create more smoke.
The table cloth formed for the first time. From then on, each time the clouds cover Table Mountain, Capetonians say the competition between the pirate and the devil has resumed.
But in reality, when the topography of the area forces the wind from the ocean to lift up, it meets colder air. This causes condensation and forms non-rainy clouds or thick mist.
As the mist pours over the mountain slopes, the reversed process takes place and the clouds disappear. Although it’s unlikely to rain, the clouds reduce the visibility, and hikers often get lost or confused.
The Best Activities at Table Mountain
Apart from the Cable Car, several of the best hiking trails in Cape Town will also get you to the Table Top. Multi-day treks are available as well. Don’t forget to carry enough water with you, as all the paths lie under the bright sun with no sight of a shadow all the way to the top.
In fact, countless hikers collapse on the way up as they underestimate the difficulty of the Table Mountain hike and overestimate their abilities.
While most aficionados are simply admiring the breathtaking view of Camps Bay, Clifton Beach, and Lion’s Head, others are preparing to climb down the rocks of Table Mountain. You can also see the winding trails, also rather extreme
In addition, numerous trails are specifically provided for mountain bike enthusiasts. And if that’s not extreme enough for you, you can climb the rocks to the very top.
During our visit, there was even a wedding party at the Table Top, waiting for the bride. As we were going down in the cable car, we saw the bride climbing the last few meters in her climbing gear and wedding dress!
Married life is going to be pretty extreme for the groom ;-)
But seriously, climbing Table Mountain on your wedding day has to be one of the most romantic things to do in Cape Town!
Once on top of the Table Mountain – no matter how you got there – you can follow the easy-to-walk trails around the 4 km long plateau. Despite their low difficulty level, it takes quite some time to finish the full circle. The magnificent views and the diversity of the flora leave you in such awe that you can’t pull yourself from the spot.
You just keep wanting to feel the breeze one more moment, smell the fragrance of the flowers, and take one more perfect photo before continuing to the next spot. And they’re all extremely spectacular!
The first thing you’ll see, taken you’ve come up with the cable car, is the Lion’s Head. Well, actually, the back of the head. It’s not very clear who named the hill this way, but the resemblance with a lion’s head is mostly visible to those returning from a wine-tasting tour in the Winelands.
Next is the magnificent view of the 12 Apostles Mountain, spreading all the way to Cape Point. At its feet, you’ll notice the clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the beautiful Clifton Beach and Camps Bay. And from the south slopes of the mountain starts the Constantia Wine Route.
Continue your walk, try to find some blossoming proteas and ericas, or try to spot a dassie. Then, on the north side of the Table Top, take your time to watch over Cape Town. On your right, you’ll also see Devil’s Peak, given the smoking competition has taken a pause and the table cloth has lifted.
Try to spot the main attractions of the Mother City. Down under, you can’t miss the huge 60-thousand-visitor football stadium, built for the FIFA World Cup 2010. Or Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the most visited tourist spot in the whole of South Africa.
Then there’s the empty spot, where the infamous District Six once stood.
From here, you can even see the trails and some of the brave hikers, going uphill.
Once you’re ready to come down the Table Mountain, the rotating cable car will give you one more 360° panorama of the north slope and Cape Town.
Continue to Admire Table Mountain After You’ve Climbed Down
Not everyone who visits Cape Town is lucky enough to reach the Table Top. Weather conditions or the tablecloth might prevent you from going up.
But even if you don’t manage to see Cape Town from above, you can still view Table Mountain from almost anywhere in Cape Town.
Some of the best views are from Signal Hill, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Dolphin Beach, Table View, or on board a sunset cruise.
Another great option is to find a restaurant in Cape Town with a view of Table Mountain and enjoy a great meal.
If you’re worrying that a trip to Table Mountain will ruin your bank, check what options to visit Cape Town on a budget are available.
Cape Town at sunset: life doesn’t get much better than that!
Have you been to Cape Town? Did you manage to visit Table Mountain or did the weather prevent it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments :-)