If the skies are clear on your first day in Cape Town, drop everything and head straight for Table Mountain. It’s an ecological marvel, and a powerful icon for the entire African continent. What’s more, the views from the top are unmissable – as long as the celebrated “tablecloth” of cloud stays away.
For Capetonians, Table Mountain is a backdrop and an anchor, both physically and spiritually. Close to the South African coast, it was one of the beacons that Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates fixed upon during their incarceration on Robben Island, just offshore.
The mountain’s famous plateau is part of a short upland chain that stretches from Signal Hill, just west of the city centre, to Cape Point, where a lighthouse marks the meeting of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. The obvious, and most popular, route to the top is to take the aerial cableway – a sizeable cable car that, thrillingly, gently rotates on the ascent. But if you’d rather work a little harder, you can tackle one of the hiking trails that snake their way up the cliffs.
Visit in the South African spring or summer and the fynbos vegetation, unique to the Cape, will be in full bloom. You’ll see plenty of pretty daisies and heathers in the tussocky wilderness, while proteas, sundews and watsonias add splashes of red, white and pink. Botanists have identified over 1470 plant species on the mountain – there’s more floral diversity here than in the entire United Kingdom. The wildlife scores top marks for entertainment value, too. Stars of the show are the dassies, placid creatures that look a bit like monster guinea pigs and are more than happy to pose for photos.