Cape Town - Having a brother who works overseas means that opportunities for sibling bonding can be few and far between. So when the opportunity arose for a short holiday we decided to grab it with both hands and be tourists in our own city for a day. It turned out to be a great decision.
Cape Town is a stunning city to explore, and being locals meant there were many attractions we had ignored for far too long. And so it came to be that on a beautiful summer’s morning we found ourselves at the foot of Table Mountain, ready for a day of adventure.
Towering proudly 1 088m over Cape Town, Table Mountain is the iconic landmark of the city. The mountain is actually a national park that boasts more than 2 000 species of plants (more than in the whole of Britain), many of which are endangered.
The area is a hiker’s paradise, with many routes of varying difficulty. Walkers can reach the top of the mountain from the city side (Platteklip Gorge is a steep three-hour hike), the Atlantic side (Kasteelspoort or Pipe Track) or the south side of the mountain (Smuts Track and Bridle Path are two of the more gradual ascents).
All of the hikes offer beautiful views, but hikers need to be aware that the weather on the mountain is famously fickle, and there are many steep cliffs and sudden drops (a frightening statistic: more people have died on Table Mountain than on Mount Everest).
Short of time, we decided to take the easier route to the top, the world-class cable car. With each car carrying 65 passengers, service is quick and the queues move along smartly. The cable car rotates a full 360 degrees during the journey, so all visitors enjoy a panoramic view of the mountain and the city.
The trip to the top wasn’t always this effortless – the cable car has been operating since 1929. To build it, employees used a temporary pulley rope system and an open box (nicknamed the soapbox) to move between the upper and lower stations. Miraculously the entire operation was accident-free, a justifiably proud record that still stands.
At the top, it is easy to see why Table Mountain is one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. We managed to pick a day when the Cape Doctor wasn’t up to its usual view-spoiling tricks, so we were able to take some great photos looking out over the 12 Apostles and across Lion’s Head and Signal Hill.
Out to sea we had a view of Robben Island, and on the far side was Devil’s Peak. Regarding the interesting name, legend has it that a Dutch pirate named Van Hunks once challenged the devil to a pipe smoking contest, which is still unresolved and therefore results in a steady stream of clouds pouring over the peak during the summer months.
I would have been more than happy to walk around and enjoy a lunch at the upper station restaurant, but little brother had other ideas. A dare was soon made to tackle the abseiling activity.
Needless to say, sibling rivalry kicked in and the challenge was accepted. Before long we were both strapped in and getting a quick introductory talk on abseiling from our guides, JP and Gilbert.
Once all the ropes and harnesses had been fitted and we were ready to go, JP gave us each a bright yellow bag (our Irish parachutes) which, he said, worked as follows: if something goes wrong, blow five deep breaths into the bag. Then hold the inflated bag above your head as you sail down and land safely at the bottom.
If you are unsure, remember to read the instructions on the label. Seeing the look of incredulity on our faces, he cleared our confusion by explaining that this was a bit of light humour to ease the nerves, and the yellow bags were actually used to transport our harnesses back to the top afterwards.
Standing at the top, with 112m of sheer cliff behind me (and the entire City Bowl spread out below), it was easy to feel weak at the knees. However, next up on the abseil were two British girls; so, for the sake of national (and male) pride, we boldly leant back and took that first terrifying step into the unknown.
Despite my brain sending me frantic messages that this was illogical and I needed to get back on to that ledge, once I’d taken a few steps the nerves gave way to a sense of enjoyment.
With JP holding my safety rope at the top, I could kick off the ledge and bounce down the cliff in giant moonwalking-like strides.
Before you reach the bottom, the cliff opens out into a giant cavern. We were left dangling in the air and slowly sliding down our ropes to solid ground.
From there, it’s a short, scenic hike back to the upper station, which gave us a chance to admire the views and congratulate ourselves on our act of extreme, daring courage.
What you need to know
Hiking: Table Mountain National Park is run by South African National Parks. See http://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/tourism/activities.php for more information.
Cable car: The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company operates between 8am and 7.30pm (weather dependent).
Tickets bought at the lower station are R215 return and R110 one-way for adults, and R105 return and R55 one way for children (slightly cheaper if bought online). Contact details: www.tablemountain.net or 021 424 8181.
Abseiling: Abseil Africa operates from the upper station. Prices are R695 per person (excluding the cable car) or R850 each for a guided walk up Platteklip Gorge and abseil.
Contact details: www.abseilafrica.co.za or 021 424 4760.