Hiking: 10 fantastic trails in the Western Cape

WESTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA

Justin Hawthorne

I love mountains. So naturally it is the place I go to feel good. To just walk, allowing my mind to run wild like a klipspringer moving over rocky mountain peaks.

My idea of a good day on the mountain is the longer the better. I’m not heading there to get off quickly. Lengthy pathways, numerous distractions, and a flask of hot brew that requires at least 3 sittings. I want to see the mountain, smell the mountain, listen to the mountain, feel the mountain, taste the mountain…I want to truly understand the mountain.

To achieve this:

  • walk slowly – you’ll allow your eyes to wander. Take breaks, and when you do, sit.
  • takes deep breaths – fill your lungs with crisp, pure mountaintop air. Let your fingers run through the leaves of vegetation you’re passing – some will release their aroma.
  • hike silently at times – just listening to the sounds of nature, be it the birds, water, wind or frogs. Don’t hike with earphones – you’re keeping nature at bay.
  • feel the textures on the mountain – from gripping rock while scrambling, to feeling the surfaces of leaves and bark. Don’t damage anything however, and never pick flowers in a conservation area.
  • scoop up a handful of fresh, cold mountain water – all natures goodness at your fingertips.

Try to connect. One step at a time.

The Table Cloth smothers Table Mountain at sunset

The Table Cloth smothers Table Mountain at sunset

Hoerikwaggo Trail, Table Mountain National Park

The ultimate way to understand the uniqueness of the Table Mountain National Park is by hiking between 4 to 7 days, from Cape Town city bowl to the Cape of Good Hope. This long journey allows you to see the finer details of the amazing biodiversity that the Cape Floral Region holds. The perfect duration is a 6 day trek, clocking over 100 km of gorgeous mountainous and coastal terrain, where you’ll overnight in comfy tented camps and cottages.

I do this (or sections of the trail) often as a pro mountain guide, in all seasons, all weather conditions and thus have seen the many faces that each section holds. No two days are the same. It’s the perfect multi-day trek in Cape Town for those seeking a week long  adventure, those who desperately need a break from their regular cycle, and visitors to Cape Town who want to experience something different.

Harkerville Coast Hiking Trail, Garden Route National Park

The Garden Route offers such splendid coastal hiking opportunities. The Harkerville Coast Hiking Trail is no different. It’s a fantastic, but tough, 2-day hiking trail with a brilliant balance between lush forest tracks, rugged coastline, steep climbs, mountain fynbos & that pristine wilderness feel.

You’ll stay over in a fairly rustic dorm style mountain hut, set back from the coast. The fireplace on a rainy day will work the magic as you listen to rain falling on the corrugated roofing, fire crackling as your kettle boils above the grid for another cup of moerkoffie.

You’ll walk a wonderful path through indigenous Afromontane forest, passing Hard Pear trees the size of which is hard to describe. Later, you will suddenly pop of of the forest and be looking down over the mighty Indian Ocean. The coastal hiking is tough going: steep boardwalk descents, boulder-strewn shoreline, chains and a steep out-climb up to the overnight hut.

The second day starts with lovely easy hiking through pristine fynbos, and then a return to the rocky shore for a few hours of challenging, but breathtakingly beautiful hiking. A sharp ascent leads you back to lush forest and a pleasant return to the forest station where it all began 25 km’s earlier.

Maltese Cross, Cederberg

For a relatively easy-moderate half day hike in the beautiful Cederberg Wilderness, head for the iconic Maltese Cross. This free-standing rock formation, resembling somewhat the short-armed Cross of Malta, is something truly special to see with your own eyes. The trail is on rocky Cape Mountain terrain, through beautiful fynbos.

For a comprehensive route guide of the Maltese Cross check out my previous blog about this enjoyable hike.

Maltese Cross Hike, Cederberg

Standing beneath the Maltese Cross

Bushbuck Trail, Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve

A wonderful forest hike awaits just outside Swellendam in the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve. The trail is perfect introduction to the beauty of the Afromontane forests you’ll find in the region, with bird hides nestled among the tall trees where you can stop off an catch a glimpse of the bird life present in the forest.

Try this half day hike in late winter or spring when the streams are flowing, earth damp and mosses vibrant green! Take a flask of hot tea to sip alongside one of the rivers while listening to frogs croaking and birdsong.

The experiment plot of Redwood Trees along the Bushbuck Trail

The experiment plot of Redwood Trees along the Bushbuck Trail

 

Vista Trail, Mont Rochelle

This is the perfect early morning hike in the Winelands region, located just above the Franschhoek Valley. The views (as the trail name suggests) are wonderful: the vistas over Franschhoek, all the way to Cape Town are lovely. If it is good visibility you’ll spot Table Mountain & Lion’s Head.

The fynbos is pretty & vibrant, especially so towards the end of winter into spring (Aug-Nov). The trail works so well for those just looking for a 2 hour trail, allowing the bulk of the day to remain open for whatever may be on the agenda: such as sampling the fine wines in the valley below!

Take a flask of coffee & a fresh croissant to enjoy with early morning views over town.

Vista Trail, Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve

Vista Trail, Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve

Table Mountain via Right Face-Arrow Face Traverse

An off the beaten track up the imposing front face of Table Mountain, this heart pounding traverse is not one to try if you’re afraid of heights! I love it as a late afternoon summer ascent, reaching the summit in time for the last cable car down.

There are a number of ascent options on the northern aspect, essentially the area below the western Table. Classics such as Kloof Corner Ridge and India Venster offer a similar feel to the overall hike, and you will tie-in to these at Fountain Ledge, but the ‘lonelier’ traverse has something special. You’ll have that good mix of steep trail walking, fun rock scrambles, and great city views as with the others, but Right Face-Arrow Face takes you through narrow cracks of rock, pulled away from the sheer walls of Africa Face, and tight-rope like walking above severe vertical drops. A dash of adrenaline with a whole lot of adventure!

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Sheer exposure along Right Face – Arrow Face Traverse

Table Mountain via Ferny Gully 

A brilliant hike up Table Mountain, with rugged and remote beauty all the way. This route is not to be underestimated however as the rocky scrambles come with severe exposure to vertical drops.

The route ascends Table Mountain via the forested eastern slopes, setting off from Newlands Forest. It’s a twist on the Hiddingh-Ascension route, which you follow up to a point and then veer directly upwards into the green gully. After the incredible variation on the southern slopes of Hiddingh Buttresses’ ‘Pulpit’ you’ll traverse back onto the main route. It’s a wild place. Go there for that.

Noordhoek Peak, Silvermine

Noordhoek Peak offers some of the finest views on the Cape Peninsula an can be hiked as a 7 km circuit where there are a number of options as to which track you follow. Doing extensions also add fresh perspectives, such as following the Silvermine River Walk, detouring to Elephants Eye Cave or walking the Skyline Panorama trail.

The brilliant views over Hout Bay, Chapman’s Peak & Noordhoek Beach makes this peak a wonderful brunch stop where you can easily lie back against a rock and watch the ocean swirl far below.

Noordhoek Peak, Silvermine

Noordhoek Peak, Silvermine

Devil’s Peak, Cape Town

Devil’s Peak has to be one of my favourite full-day hikes in Cape Town. It’s got everything! A tough ascent and with that a long descent. Fynbos and Afromontane forests. Waterfalls and rocky scrambles. Exposure on narrow ridges and high-level traverses, and above all it has incredible views.

As with most peaks, there are multiple options. I prefer the ascending via Knife Edge…and after switching from the standard routes up you’ll understand why.

Golden light on the slopes of Devil's Peak at sunrise

Golden light on the slopes of Devil’s Peak at sunrise

 

Lion’s Head, Cape Town

Being the most popular mountain peak that we have in South Africa, it draws masses of mountain users to its slopes. Weekends and public holidays, along with full moon periods, creates a congested feel – I avoid these times at all costs.

But there’s a reason why it is loved by so many, in fact there’s more than one reason. It’s relatively short in both distance and duration (for the moderately fit hiker) – approx. 1 hr up, covering about 2.5 km with 390 m vertical gain. This makes it the perfect mountain top to catch sunrise or to watch the sunset. The views are absolutely brilliant – in all directions – the challenge is where to sit down! Truly high value for low effort.

Dawn over Cape Town on a Lion's Head sunrise hike

Dawn over Cape Town on a Lion’s Head sunrise hike

*klipspringer – indigenous antelope inhabiting rocky terrain in Southern Africa.

*moerkoffie – a strong brew of coffee typically made over the coals of a fire.

Important Info

This is a personal account of a Table Mountain hike, and not intended to act as a route guide. For good mountain practice, try one or more of the following:

  • Do the hike with someone who knows the route;
  • Buy a guidebook;
  • Join a hiking club;
  • Always carry a map;
  • If in doubt, or wanting to get more out of the hike, hire an accredited mountain guide.

3 thoughts on “Hiking: 10 fantastic trails in the Western Cape

  1. Pingback: Hiking: 10 fantastic trails in the Western Cape – Justin Hawthorne – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

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