The Table Mountain National Park encompasses a rugged stretch of Cape peninsula.
Since the 20th century, the Table Mountain area has been known for the mountain itself, with its unnaturally flat top seemingly carved out intentionally. European settlers were most certainly fascinated with this curiosity, but this is just the surface of the many wonders that this area has to offer. A whole UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national park have been established around the mountain, and it is in these surroundings that its biodiversity is kept and protected.
The national park was officially proclaimed in 1998 after an attempt was launched to safeguard all the rare and endangered species discovered here. South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea, is one of many plant species that are found here in this beautiful concentration of 'fynbos' - a whole plant group that, in itself, is only found in the Cape. The animal gem of the park remains the rare and endangered Table Mountain ghost frog, found nowhere else in the world but within this 221 square kilometer stretch of land which it is named after.
Other life, although not endemic to this area alone, is just as precious, with rare species like the Cape grysbok, bontebok and most notably the revered African penguin, which nests on the beach borders of the park as the only penguins to be found in all of Africa and the northernmost penguin colony. All these species form part of this thriving environment full of natural wonders to explore. The park truly brings to life the essence of the Cape, preserving and displaying parts of Africa that haven’t changed in centuries.
The mountain has so much more to offer than its legendary flat top. For example, the Table Mountain National Park is also famous for its 900 different species of fynbos. Additionally, visitors has the opportunity to view a range of animals including penguins and Southern Right Whales (June - November), several antelope, baboons, snakes, tortoises, insects and birds.
There are endless views to chase in the Table Mountain National Park. There are several hiking trails and mountains to climb which include Silvermine, Lion’s Head and Table Mountain. However, you can sidestep the exercise by taking the aerial cableway up Table Mountain. The beaches also provide many beautiful views – especially sunsets in Noordhoek, Kommetjie and Scarborough.
As of 2011, Table Mountain is one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature. In Cape Town, you will feel privileged to be seeing this landmark daily, from wherever you are in the city. Additionally, it is not only beautiful to admire, but also to explore, and hiking up the mountain and spending some time at the top is are unmissable experiences.
A quick transfer flight from OR Tambo will take visitors directly to Cape Town. The Table Mountain National Park is situated a mere half-hour drive (25km) from this airport, via the N2. Once you have arrived in Cape Town, you will be transferred to the park via a private, air-conditioned vehicle by an expert guide.
Table Mountain National Park is located centrally to the bustling city and can be reached from a multitude of places. There are several entrances to the various destinations that form part of the Table Mountain National Park, which are all accessible by car. It is therefore the perfect destination to combine with other destinations on the western coast.
Cape Town has wet and cool winters, and warm and dry summers. Therefore it is best to visit during the summer, as it will allow for more of the outdoor activities that the Table Mountain National Park has to offer. The average temperature in Cape Town is 17 degrees. However, it will mostly it be warmer than 21 degrees and allow you the opportunity to engage in whichever activities you wish to.
Even during the winter, Cape Town never reaches dramatic low points in temperatures, and if you should visit during the winter period you will probably still be able to enjoy the glory of the Table Mountain National Park. It is just not as guaranteed as during the summer months. The gorgeous Cape Town sunsets often look even more beautiful when the weather is a bit cloudy or overcast.
The history of Table Mountain dates back 30 000 years to the Stone Age. It is older than many other famous landmarks around the world. Around 2 000 years ago, the Khoisan inhabited the area around Table Mountain and named it “Hoerikwaggo”. The word “Hoerikwaggo” translates to ‘Mountain in the Sea’. The first European who was recorded to climb to the top of the mountain was in 1503. This honor belongs to Admiral Antonio de Saldanha, a Portuguese navigator who docked his ship in Table Bay. He summited Table Mountain via the Platteklip Gorge, which is still a popular hiking route today. He carved a cross into Lion’s Head that is still visible today.
During the British occupation of the Cape, three blockhouses were built on Table Mountain, one of which is still in good condition. In the late 1800’s several dams were built in the national park to supply water to the city of Cape Town. These dams are no longer used for that purpose, but are still accessible to hikers or people seeking to cool down. The aerial cableway has been up and running since 1926, and was upgraded in 1997. The Table Mountain National Park was founded in 1998 and has since been the most visited national park in South Africa, with 4.2 million visits recorded annually. In 2011, after a long campaign, it was announced that Table Mountain was one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’.
You won’t find the Big Five in Table Mountain National Park, but that doesn’t mean that the park is not rich with fauna and flora. The national park is home to several antelope species which have adapted to the fynbos, like klipspringer, grysbok, common duiker, grey rhebok and steenbok. Your best chances at catching a glimpse of these species would be early in the morning. In the Cape of Good Hope section of the Table Mountain National Park, you will find larger antelope like eland, red hartebeest and bontebok. Other mammals that live in the reserve include zebras, several species of mongoose, the Cape fox, otters and, of course, many baboons.
As a large part of the Table Mountain National Park is in the ocean, it is also home to an abundance of marine life. The penguins on Boulders Beach are distinctive, but there are also whales to be on the lookout for, especially Southern right whales and humpback whales. It is also common to see the Cape fur seal in the Table Mountain National Park. Other more common sea creatures include dolphins (bottlenose, common and dusky), great white sharks, yellow tail and Cape salmon. While you visit the national park, there is a good chance that you will also see a host of bird species, from woodpeckers to birds of prey. Always be aware of the possibility of running into one of the 22 snake species.
The Table Mountain National Park can be divided into three sections: The Table Mountain Section, The Silvermine-Tokai section and the Cape Point section. The entire area covers 221 square kilometers (85 square miles). The Table Mountain group of rock formations is 520 million years old. It comprises of three different formations. The Graafwater formation is a layer of 25m-65m of sandstone and mudstone in red and purple hues. The Peninsula formations consist of light grey, pebble-like sandstone. This layer is 700m thick and forms the bulk of Table Mountain. The last formation is the Pakhuis formation, which is found on the top of Table Mountain.
The most common vegetation type in the Table Mountain National Park is fynbos. Fynbos is an ancient vegetation type and dates back 50 million years. There are four different types of fynbos in the Table Mountain National Park: Proteas, Ericas, Restios and Geophytes. Fynbos needs to burn at least once every 15 years, and that is probably the reason it thrives in this area, as there are fires in the national park quite often. Other types of vegetation include the Renosterveld (Rhinoceros field) and the Afromontane forest. Renosterveld encompasses the grass-like shrubs found on the slopes of the mountain, and it is extremely endangered. The Afromontane forest is less prevalent and is dependent on frequent rainfall.
Whether you like to be adventurous and climb mountains, experience a nice view from the comfort of your vehicle, breathe in the ocean air or have up-close encounters with animals, the Table Mountain National Park will satisfy your needs. There are a variety of hiking trails and even overnight trails, in all three sections that make up the Table Mountain National Park. This activity is highly recommended, as it allows you to truly take in the beauty of the national park. For people who prefer to keep the heart rate down, a cool dip in the one of the dams is a great way to relax. Mountain biking is a very popular activity and various trails have also been established in the national park.
At the seaside, there are activities like fishing, diving and scuba diving, surfing and kite-boarding and, of course, penguin encounters. Another way to take in the Mother City is by paragliding from Signal Hill or Lion’s Head, usually with a landing spot in Camps Bay. Many locals utilize the Table Mountain National Park by taking walks in the forest or horse riding through the park. There really is something for everyone, even if you are just keen to take it easy as you can also braai and enjoy picnics in the Table Mountain National Park.
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