Walking in Cape Town
Many visitors want to explore nature on higher ground as soon as they arrive in Cape Town and with Lion’s Head and Table Mountain beckoning, many do get to experience the local flora and fauna on foot. However, the entire peninsula can be enjoyed by avid walkers. From Blouberg Beach, with its picture perfect views from its sandy shores, to the more adventurous guided Hoerikwaggo Trails along the spine of Table Mountain, visitors have an expanse of ground to cover. Those interested in lengthier walks can opt for hikes covering one or five days, where they'll experience pristine fynbos and unsurpassed views.
Three of the most popular walks that may be undertaken without a guide, include Lion’s Head, the Pipe Track and Platteklip Gorge.
Lion's Head is a favourite on a night of a full moon when people head to the top at sunset to watch the moon rise (pack your head torch). The Pipe Track is a less strenuous walk, leaving from the foot of Table Mountain Road and taking you along a contour path above the spectacular Atlantic bays of Clifton and Camps Bay, with views right along the Twelve Apostles and as far as Llandudno. Platteklip Gorge is best done early before it gets too hot, and takes you straight up the front face of Table Mountain. Once on top, you can head left towards Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden or right to the cable station and restaurant before taking the cable car down.
There are many options to choose from when walking in and around Cape Town and even Capetonians will have a few suggestions when recommending which ones you should consider, especially if you have kids in tow or don’t have time to do the longer trails. They’ll tell you that Silvermine dam has a wonderful boardwalk which is perfect for kids (wheelchair friendly too), and has a few braai spots if you fancy a traditional barbeque along the way. From there, the trail to Elephant’s Eye cave affords magnificent views of the vineyards and beyond, and the path that takes you up to a viewsite overlooking Noordhoek beach and the rest of the peninsula is a relatively short, easy walk for everyone to enjoy. A longer option is the beautiful route from Silvermine across to Kalk Bay, ending with sea views and possibly the promise of an ice cream at the end! This is best done in a group with a car parked at either end. Alternatively, the seaside walk from Muizenberg to St James is a favourite among locals, with families then spending the day at the beach and taking the train back to Muizenberg.
Newlands Forest remains a favourite on hot days, as most of the paths are shaded by trees. The local river is also a great place to stop off to cool feet along the way. The self-guided Littlewort trail introduces children to the ecology of an Afromontane forest in Newlands. For more information, contact Table Mountain National Park in Westlake on +27 (0)21 701 8692. A great option for families is the walk from Constantia Nek to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, often ending in with a brunch in Kirstenbosch.
Another option for walkers to sink their boots into is the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Many people opt to drive through the reserve but planning a day walk offers a new experience. The circular Gifkommetjie trail incorporates a walk along Stony Ridge, overlooking the sea, and then drops down to finish with a walk around the coast and up to the car park. Some visitors are lucky enough to spot a few Eland on this route. If you're looking for a more leisurely option, the Cape of Good Hope overnight trail is a 34km circular route with a stay at one of the Rooikrans cottages where you can enjoy the absolute peace of the reserve once day trippers have left.
Inner city and township walks:
Guided walking tours bring the city's rich history to life and visitors have some creative options to choose from, including retracing Mandela’s footsteps to freedom, or experiencing the life of a slave in the city. The city’s nomination as a World Design Capital in 2014 means that its creative heartbeat is building rapidly so if your interest is in fashion, craft, art, design or architecture, there’s always plenty to tickle your fancy (see www.capetown.travel). Or take a walk down vibey Long Street with its Victorian facades, modern boutiques, restaurants and antique shops.
Discover the Company's Garden, which started in 1652 when the Cape was a refreshment station for Spice Route sailors on their way to India. Find out about the Camissa or ‘Sweet Waters’ that come down from the mountain and the new and exciting project to expose these waterways once again, wander the colourful streets of Bo-Kaap and taste a local dish or two, re-live memories of District Six, or explore the Iziko National Arts Gallery and Museum complex at the top of the Garden.
But walking tours are not just for the inner city: head out and experience life in our vibrant townships while enjoying local music and traditional food. Take a guided tour through Gugulethu, then catch a taxi through Nyanga, visit popular Mzoli’s Place for a meal and music, or consult the bones with a sangoma, a traditional healer. The walk from the Migrant Labour Museum in Lwandle, near Somerset West, takes you to one of the original hostels, a crèche, shops, homes, a tavern and finally, the arts and crafts centre.
Walks in outer Cape Town and the winelands:
Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West has wonderful walks for all ages with the reward of enjoying tea and scones at the restaurant afterwards. Alternatively, a drive beyond Gordon’s Bay, or up Sir Lowry’s Pass, will take you to the Wagon Wheel trail, Steenbras Gorge, the Boland Trail and the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. Explore Durbanville Nature Reserve, find a spot and spend your time watching some of the 130 species of birds on the walking trails in Tygerberg Nature Reserve, or walk to the bird hides at Rondevlei Bird Sanctuary near Grassy Park.
Wellington Wine Walk is lovely to undertake with a local guide who will take you across farms and through wineries, olive orchards and indigenous fynbos, with stopovers at guest houses and farms along the way. Tours are customised and you can complete a half-day or four day hikes. Another slackpacking trail to try is the Darling Stagger, a two-and-a-half-day, fully catered trail that includes wine and olive tasting, a fish braai and a bike ride over 7km. Flower lovers enjoy 13km of the trail over the gentle hills of the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve.
Out of town, popular walking trails include the Greyton to McGregror trail (Boesmanskloof Trail, with permits from Cape Nature), a 15km hike between the two characterful Cape villages that’s usually done with a stopover at Die Galg, which is at the end of the trail and 14km outside McGregor. The highlight is the spectacular waterfall with deep, cool pools along the way.
Five-day coastal hikes:
A bit further up the coast, the five-day Oyster Catcher Trail takes in the pristine coastline near Mossel Bay traverses 48km of beach and cliff with stopovers at lovely guest houses after a day’s hike.
Even further up the coast, the five-day Whale Trail ending at De Hoop Nature Reserve, and the Otter Trail in the Tsitsikamma forest, are by far the most popular, with booking required way ahead of schedule. The 55km Whale Trail ends at Koppie Alleen with a combination of coastal and mountain walking, and the opportunity to sight whales in season. The trail requires a moderate fitness level, with the added bonus of having your backpack transported between each of the five stops. By comparison, the Otter Trail is a challenging 42.5km trail that begins at Storm’s River Mouth and ends at Natures Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park, taking you across cliff tops and rivers.
Slackpacking: A Guide to South Africa’s Top Leisure Trails (2007) by Fiona McIntosh. Fiona has personally walked every one of the trails she writes about and has picked the best of the best.
Mike Lundy's Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula (2006) and Easy Walks in the Cape Peninsula (2008), both by Mike Lundy. Author of eight books on hiking, Mike Lundy’s updated editions of these popular books are excellent references.
Tips for walkers:
• For safety, follow mountain rules and always walk in groups of three or more or book a guide
• Take a hat and enough water, food and sunscreen
• Wear good shoes and carry something warm in case the weather changes
• Save this number to your mobile: Table Mountain National Park Emergencies 086 106 417 or 112.
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