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Table Mountain: South Africa’s Most Defining Natural Landmark

Posted by on 8 July 2010

It’s the height of World Cup fever and with South Africa being the host nation this year, it’s only fitting that I write a blog post about this beautiful country where the sea and mountains meet the blue, blue sky.

In much the same way that the Alps are associated with Switzerland, the Grand Canyon with the USA, and the Amazon River with Brazil, Table Mountain has got to be South Africa’s most defining natural landmark. So naturally, when I went to Cape Town in 2009 (has it really been a year already?!), Table Mountain was right up there in my list of must-visit places, just second to Cape Point.

Remember this photo that I took at Victoria & Alfred Waterfront?

That’s the iconic mountain right up there in the background, so named because of its flat, table-like top.

The fastest way to get to the top of Table Mountain is by cable car. I was told it’s also possible to hike up the mountain; just make sure go with a guide because people have been known to have disappeared without any trace when they ventured out on their own.


The cable car is pretty cool because it rotates as it traverses the 1,085-metre height, giving everyone a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. And exactly because of this rotating motion, it’s not possible for people to hold on to the windows or the walls, which can feel quite unnerving if you have issues with heights. (Which brings to mind: if you have issues with heights, why even go up at all?)

It was winter when we went there and the temperature at the top was 9° Celcius. The wind was an entirely different matter — its chill struck me all the way to my bone marrow. At least, that’s how it felt to me!


It was also quite windy that day so it was a challenge getting a clear view of the sea and valley. I had to be quick and take my shots in between the thick layers of clouds that floated by, one after another.


On one side, you get remarkable views of the cliffs in its stratified glory, with the ocean waves crashing at its feet…

view of the ocean and cliffs from Table Mountain

And on another side, you get an unforgettable sweeping view of the city of Cape Town.


While at the top, I kept a modest distance from the edges of the mountain, just to be on the safe side. In contrast, my husband, the calculated risk-taker, had the guts to perch on top of an uneven rock and answer some text messages on his phone while waiting for me. (I kept taking photographs, you see, so there was always an interesting shot to delay me along the way.)


From the top of Table Mountain, I managed to zoom in on the World Cup stadium which was still under construction at that time. I used my el-cheapo-but-can-still-do Nikkor 18-135mm lens. The blur is partly because of the distance, partly because of the clouds.


Paths on top of Table Mountain — some two kilometres in total — are clearly marked. It is highly advised to stay on them while navigating the summit, for safety reasons.


There’s a cafe right on top if you fancy a cuppa but we were too cheap in a hurry, so we didn’t go. I did go to the loo, a decision which I regretted immensely due to the almost unbearable stench inside. My advice to you: empty your bladder before going up, if you can.


Souvenirs are a must in any tourist hotspot and Table Mountain is no exception. Why, they even sell pre-packed dassie droppings in there! The dassie stuffed toys are de rigeur… but why anyone would want to buy dassie droppings is simply beyond my comprehension. [NB: A dassie is a small squirrel-like animal that belongs to the rat family, which are frequently found roaming around Table Mountain.]


As though to compensate for the absence of dassies that day, these birds were plentiful all around. They reminded me of crows, except that they weren’t noisy and they had bright orange feathers at the tip of their wings.


We went down Table Mountain the same way we went up, i.e. by cable car. For one very brief moment though, I was very, very tempted to go down by abseiling down the mountain. But only for a fleeting moment, I tell you. I had the perfect excuse to not do it — it cost 595 Rands (≈USD78 or RM250) per person to go down that way ;)


Just before exiting into the cable car, there’s a brass model of the Table Mountain, which is an excellent way of recapping your walk on the top of the iconic peak.


One day, I hope to go back to Cape Town and go up Table Mountain on foot and muster up enough courage to go down by abseiling. Until then, I’ll have these photos to remind me of my brief encounter with South Africa’s most famous mountain.

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