Here’s something Cape Town Tourism fails to mention in its marketing literature: the top of Table Mountain is covered in cloud for an average of 184 days a year. Multiply by two and you have a mountain that’s clouded over every other day. My source? The Mountain – An Authoritative Guide by Dr Douglas Hey (1994). My experience? I was so startled by the figure that I checked and sure enough, five of my next ten hikes up to the Table Top were into thick candy-floss cloud. A hiking disaster? Not if you don’t mind a Plan B.
Table Mountain is not just the famous Table Top that looms over Cape Town. It is 57 square kilometres (22 square miles) in size, slightly larger than the city of Oxford, and squeezed into the shape of a wonky horseshoe. The Table Top is the top of the shoe; then there are two arms running down from north to south. The western arm is known as the 12 Apostles and looks out over Camps Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The eastern arm is where you’ll find Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and the Constantia vineyards; carry along to the very end of the eastern arm and you reach Constantia Nek and some of the very best hikes on the mountain.
Lower and more sheltered than the Table Top, the Back Table – as this area is known – is very often bathed in sunshine while the Table Top is draped in soggy cloud. The views on the Back Table are just as impressive as those from the Table Top – perhaps even more so as they are so diverse – and the fynbos vegetation is far superior. It’s a wetter and more protected part of the mountain and bursts with bio-diversity. My last five Table Mountain hikes? No fewer than three have been on the Back Table.
There are two ways up – one fairly easy, the other a bit more challenging. They both arrive at the same place on a service road (accessed only by the park authorities) which conveniently leads back to the car park at Constantia Nek. It’s the easiest way down possible. And since this area is far from the cable car (which is closed on windy, cloudy days anyway) there’s a fraction of the people compared to the Table Top. Choose a quiet Tuesday morning on the Back Table and you may not see anyone else at all.
If you’re okay with a bit of scrambling – using upper body strength to help balance and clamber your way up and over a big boulder or two – then Camel Rock, the more challenging hike, is the one to do. I did it one mild April morning with Leon Bell from London who took the photos. We had great views and wildlife sightings on the hike up, enjoyed a cup of coffee while we watched the distant Table Top being buffeted by gale-force winds and strolled downhill back to the car in the sun. The easier walk – Cecelia Ridge – wanders along contour paths and through dripping indigenous forest before taking you to the top via thick fynbos and panoramic views.
Table Mountain covered in cloud? Now that’s a good thing.