Planning your “bucket list” safari to South Africa? Make sure to include a stay in Cape Town, the country’s coastal capital, where African, European, and Asian cultures meet. This city, positioned on the Cape Peninsula, is also (allegedly) where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. This dubious distinction actually goes to Cape Agulhas, which lies further along the coast to the east. But, despite this cartographical clash, Cape Town and its peninsula remain a “can’t miss” destination, not just for its cultural offerings, but for its abundance of natural attractions.
Table Mountain National Park stretches across the Cape Peninsula from city-centered Table Mountain in the north, to Cape Point in the south. A string of white sand beaches line its 40 kilometer coastline, which meanders along the Atlantic Ocean on the western side to False Bay on the eastern shore.
This 7750-hectare preserve is exceptionally biodiverse – mountain zebras, buck, baboons, ostrich and 250 species of birds all call it home. There are more plant species than in the entire U.K., (including the beautiful and otherworldly national flower, King Protea). At the southernmost point of the peninsula are three promontories: Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point, and Cape Maclear.
THINGS TO DO IN TABLE MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway: Travel by cable car to the summit of this flat-topped mountain that stands like a beacon high above the city. The five minute ascent takes 65 people along a 1200 meter route in an enclosed capsule that revolves 360 degrees offering everyone a panoramic view. (But, check the weather– it can be closed from 60-90 days a year due to strong winds. And, even on a sunny day, it will be a few degrees colder at the peak). You can also take a guided trek by foot – pick from a variety of routes involving walking, hiking, or rope work. Up top are a café, gift shop, and handy telescopes.
Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (Cape Point): At the tip of Cape Peninsula lies Cape Point, a nature reserve and Natural World Heritage Site that lies within Table Mountain National Park. A navigational landmark, (Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias rounded this tip in 1488) the first lighthouse was completed in 1859. Take the three minute ride in the “Flying Dutchman” funicular (an inclined railway) from the lower station to the upper station – more robust visitors can choose to walk. At the top, if you make the climb up the steep steps to reach the lighthouse, you may catch a glimpse of migrating whales.
Later, continue a drive down along the main road to Cape of Good Hope to snap a photo with the famous sign positioned at this rocky headland. And, stop for a bite to eat with a view at the aptly named Two Oceans Restaurant.
Boulders Penguin Colony: Penguin lovers (like me!) must make a pilgrimage to Boulders Penguin Colony located in Simon’s Town on the eastern side of the peninsula. Descend down to the waterline along the boardwalk to this sheltered cove ringed by granite boulders and observe the endangered African Penguin in its natural environment. These little tuxedo-clad chaps put on quite a show, diving in the chilly waters and nesting in the dunes. If the timing is right, you can catch a glimpse of adorable molting chicks. Afterwards, make a stop for tea at Café Penguino – next door is a gift shop with plenty of penguin-themed paraphernalia.
Lion’s Head & Signal Hill: Lion’s Head, the prominent peak just to the right of Table Mountain, has well-marked trails and is a good option when Table Mountain is covered by clouds. Signal Hill is the smaller flat-topped hill that extends from the lower slopes of Lion’s head. Both are accessed by Signal Hill Road.
A good place to stop for lunch before heading back into Cape Town is Noordhoek, a charming farm village with funky shops, quaint restaurants, and children’s playground. Make a reservation at Food Barn, which boasts a laid back, rustic atmosphere with a high quality and truly farm to table menu.
Stay tuned for my next post on Cape Town “Best Bets” — sightseeing, shopping, dining, and cultural highlights.
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