If you’d like to hike Table Mountain during your stay in Cape Town but are unsure about the best time to do so, then this may help.
Locals joke that Cape Town experiences all four seasons in one day – and possibly before lunch – but there are well-defined seasons in Cape Town and the surrounding south-western Cape, an area that includes the Winelands and Whale Coast.
It’s tempting to label the seasons in the conventional western way – spring, summer, autumn and winter – although down here in the southern hemisphere it is the opposite of what you might be used to if you’re reading this in London or New York. January and February are mid-summer in Cape Town; June and July are the depths of winter.
But Cape Town’s climate can be divided in a much simpler way – and with names that perhaps better suit the African context.
Cape Town has a wet season – mid-May to mid-October – and a dry season – late October to early May. It is wettest and coldest from June to August and hottest and driest between December and the end of March. The complete opposite, incidentally, to the rest of Southern Africa: the Kruger, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia all have dry winters and wet summers.
There are of course anomalies through the year: rain on Christmas Day (to which I can attest) or oven-hot winds in winter – the infamous ‘berg wind’ – the mountain wind. But the general climatic rules hold true, and if we use the more familiar four seasons with which to divide the year, then we have a good idea about the best time to hike Table Mountain or indeed visit Cape Town.
Generally hot, dry & windy weather; usually great for hiking but expect heat, a lot of sunshine & many other people on the more popular trails. Start as early as you can – it is light by 06:00 – & carry plenty of water. Very windy summer days create thick, wet cloud on the mountains, especially on Table Mountain’s famous Table Top. Strong wind also forces the cable car to suspend operations –prepare for a Plan B. Surprisingly good for fynbos flowers – especially orchids.
The strong summer winds have died down & winter’s rain is still making its way to Cape Town. Together with warm to mild temperatures, these factors combine to make autumn one of the best times to hike Table Mountain, especially on the more popular trails which are so busy in summer. It’s a relatively quiet time of year for fynbos flowers but there is always something out, including several bizarre-looking members of the amaryllis family.
Expect cool to mild temperatures with rain in the form of ill-tempered cold fronts coming off the Atlantic Ocean, delivering two or three days of stormy weather & even snow on the high ground out of town. But there are also long periods of superb weather – warm, dry, sunny & windless – that last for days & days. Table Mountain’s streams & waterfalls are all in full flow, many plants are in flower & fynbos birds are breeding. Winter has fantastic weather for hiking provided you get lucky with your timing.
Stand by for a bit of everything: hot days, cold days, a bit of wind, maybe some rain. But with 60% of fynbos in flower, Table Mountain is at its most handsome in spring & the best time of year to see what all the floral fuss is about. It is an especially good time of year for post-fire areas of fynbos where you’ll see what miraculously happens to a burnt, sandy wasteland after a dose of winter rain. Spring is also a great time for bird watching – migrant species are arriving – & it is whale season, making it possible to spot whales while you are hiking a mountain trail.