On Safari : The Spectacular Cape

On Safari : The Spectacular Cape

Sunset at the Waterfront. Table Mountain in the background.
Table Mountain is cheeky. It’s one of the main reasons tourists come to Cape Town, but it only lets itself be seen about half the time.

The mountain was truly spectacular for me this morning. I’ve been to Cape Town about a dozen times, but I had yet to take the funicular up the mountain. Mostly this was because I’d always tightly scheduled my time, here, and I knew scheduling in the mountain was iffy.

The main website for the cableway starts on the right top first page with the announcement about whether the mountain is “open” or “closed.” And even that is somewhat misleading, because the tram runs even when the mountain is wrapped in cloud, which is about half the time.

Easy trails once on top.

The mountain closes when the winds get too steep. In fact there’s a very, very loud “hooter” at the top that screams out when the winds are coming in, giving everyone a very short time to get back to the tram or face either staying up top for a long time or taking the 4-hour walk down.

But these last couple days have been so spectacularly clear and wonderful warm in Cape Town, and every morning I’d sit eating my breakfast staring at a perfectly clear mountain top, that I knew it was time.

I got a parking place only about a half kilometer from the tram entrance. That’s not bad, because whenever the mountain is out and especially in the morning every tour guide and tour bus in Cape Town heads for the mountain. It doesn’t matter you were headed to see the penguins or buy trinkets at Market Square or learn about history on a stroll through the Company’s Garden – all that in due course, ma’am. If the mountain’s out, go for it!

Getting ready to lie down on "Belly Rock." Slightly angled up so you can look over the edge 3000' down!

So it’s crowded, and I was in the beginning of the crowds which shortly after I arrive around 945a had stretched to a waiting line of about 45 minutes. Two cable cars each carrying 65 people go up and down constantly, a journey of just a couple minutes.

Once a top it’s amazing. And not just the views, but the unusual ecosystem found here includes some remarkable fynbos, reeds, orchids and of course, proteas. The best time for the flowering bouquets is August and September. But I was here in the worst time, February, and it was still beautiful.

The mountain’s geology is equally fascinating dating back 600-800 million years. It’s a unique type of unusually dense sandstone. There are wonderful park trails with good signage and you can spend the day up there or an hour. In an hour you can get the entire panoramic view of both the east into False Bay and towards the Indian Ocean, and west into Table Bay and the Atlantic. On truly clear days you can see Cape Point.

Managing the crowds is becoming difficult. My guide actually caught one Korean chipping off a piece of rock, which of course isn’t allowed. The guide explained that Koreans who worship the “Five Great Massifs” of which Table Mountain is one come with concealed rock hammers to chip away a piece and take it home.

And there little old British ladies, I was also told, who nip away the protea buds! Or steal the orchid seeds!

And there are macho Australians who illegally jump off with unlicensed paragliders!

I felt like Polijimmy.

Our trip’s first stay is on the Waterfront. I really don’t think there’s a better place to stay these days in Cape Town, unless you’d like a good BnB or have more time for a condo or villa along the coast. But for a traditional hotel stay, it’s really the Waterfront. The aged Mt. Nelson is too far away from the action.

Everything is at the Waterfront and don’t be discouraged by its touristy aspect, after all that’s why you’re here, right?! All the adventure touring from whale watching to shark diving to sunset cruising starts from here, the famous aquarium is here, although many of the good sightseeing attractions are a few minutes away in the city.

But 80% of Cape Town’s finest restaurants are here, entertainment is here, and of course all the good shops are here. The management encourages minstrels, new bands and juggling troops, pantomimers and all sorts of performance artists to just set up shop willy nilly.
So along with the amazing aroma of freshly fried calamari you’ll hear creative music at every turn.

My choice of hotel is the Victoria & Alfred, simply because of its location smack dab at the beginning of everything at the Waterfront. Table Bay is too staid for my taste and basically reminds me of an old folks home.

But if my pocket’s full and budget doesn’t matter, I go to the Cape Grace, absolutely one of the most stellar hotels in the world, and only five minutes further away from the action than the V&A. And if my pocket’s tight and hotel ambience is really secondary to anything else, then it’s the Portswood, a truly fine value only minutes away by a well marked walkway.

What a wonderful way to begin an African trip!