Table Top trails

Imagine a Gauteng boere-meisie growing up on a smallholding with as much space as she ever wanted and enough trees to keep an adventurous tomboy treehouse building for years, and place her in the middle of Cape Town city bowl and see what happens. Well actually what happened was… not that surprising.  With a group of friends who sport numerous triathlon, mountain bike and trail running medals, Jean-Louise Wiese and her husband, Jaco, were quickly introduced to the local Cape Town backyard playground, Table Mountain.

Table Mountain Bikers ending off yet anothe rday in paradise2

How few cities are there in the world where you can step out of your back door and enter a world of single and jeep tracks, hiking trails, rock climbing, paragliding and trail running?

The best of all is the fact that everyone living in Cape Town has open access to a National Park on their doorsteps which is recognised by its scenic, historic, recreational and cultural assets and which is also labelled as a Cape Floral world heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Table Mountain forms part of the Cape Peninsula bordered by the Atlantic Seaboard in the west and the False Bay waters along the southern section and was previously known as the Cape Peninsula National Park. Since its proclamation on 29 May 1998 many trails have been cleared and established through the protected fynbos for mountain bikers’ pure enjoyment.

The Table Mountain section of the larger National Park covers Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Table Mountain proper, Devil’s Peak, the Twelve Apostles and Orange Kloof, the latter is completely protected and not open to the public. One can decide to explore the slopes of Signal Hill which offer a couple of challenging single tracks leading down into Sea Point and Bo-Kaap areas, but always be aware of hikers and runners and take note of trail restrictions for your own safety. Our favourite route is a trail that leads up from behind the Spar in Vredehoek, up to the old Blockhouse, along the Table Mountain contour path and down the trail at the large tree and bench which lead through the pine plantations and back into the city past Deer Park.  Along this route there are many historic points of interest, such as the King’s Blockhouse. It was built by the Dutch, as a defensive position after the British occupation in 1795.  The Blockhouse was retained in use as a signal station for communication between False Bay and Table Bay and declared a National Monument on 4 February 1938.

For a longer ride one can head down to Rhodes Memorial from the Blockhouse and on towards Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where restricted access would send you winding back on the trails along the eastern slopes of the mountain to add some miles on the tyres. Maps can be obtained from your local bike shop, Cape Town Tourism as well as the TMNP Visitor Centre.

When cycling through this rugged terrain you can just imagine what it must have looked like when Cape lion, leopard, spotted hyena and black backed jackal still roamed those mountain slopes until the early 1900’s. These days populations of rock hyrax, commonly known as dassies, are plentiful on the mountain ridges, together with Cape grysbok, porcupine, mongoose, girdled lizards, agamas, snakes and butterflies. But hang around the contour roads at sunset and you are likely to see caracal moving around in search for an early dinner meal or even one of the newly introduced klipspringer or the rare endemic ghost frog. We were lucky enough to spot a very relaxed caracal which trotted quite happily in front of our bikes on a humid March afternoon on the Table Mountain road. Several indigenous bird species can also be seen, including redwinged starlings, Cape Verreaux’s eagles, rock kestrels and sunbirds.

There are over 2 000 species of plants on Table Mountain which all form part of the Cape Floristic Region, with fynbos being the most dominant, and is home to more plant species than exist in the entire United Kingdom. Fynbos is a fire dependent vegetation which needs to burn every fifteen years to stimulate growth and remain healthy. The area also hosts the highest concentration of threatened species of any continental area of equivalent size in the world.

Table Mountain Bikers on the trails during a night ride2

The pine plantations which offer convenient shaded hiking and cycling trails for Cape Town residents became part of the Table Mountain National park in April 2005 after they have been managed by MTO Forestry since the early 1900’s.  As a result of conservation efforts to preserve and re-establish the fynbos vegetation on the mountains around Cape Town, it was decided that all the pine plantations would be returned to their natural state by felling all blue gums and pine trees in blocks and allowing the natural flora to regenerate. These actions were met with resistance from locals using these forests for recreational purposes, but unfortunately the fertile lower slopes where the plantations were established are also the areas of the park which host the highest proportion of endemic and threatened species. Nobody knows how long these forests will remain, but until such time the shade is a friendly reminder of the generosity of nature when you are exposed to the elements. Love the mountain and respect the beauty of the natural environment.

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