A Secret Way to the Top of Table Mountain

Table Mountain is possibly the number one destination for travelers visiting Cape Town, South Africa. The prominent landmark consisting of approx. 500 million year old rocks, forms a dramatic backdrop to the city.

Most people take the aerial cableway to the top of Table Mountain, which offers spectacular views of jagged rocks, bare vegetation, and the city below. Once you reach the viewpoint, plan to spend an hour walking around to see as far out as Cape of Good Hope in the south, Devil’s Peak in the east, and Lion’s Head to the west. Buy tickets in advance, though also note that the aerial cableway is closed when there’s adverse weather, high winds or needs maintenance. On busy summer days, the lines can be very long and the visit may take an entire day, if not a better part of it.

Sunset is the best time to be on top of Table Mountain and local residents can get tickets for half off.

When I was in Cape Town in late December, I was stuck in traffic to get to the entrance of the park, it took about an hour in the line to get to the cable car (with advance tickets), and 2 hours to get back down. There was one restaurant on top, but I couldn’t get anything to eat or drink, because the lines took forever.

Another way to explore Table Mountain is by hiking, and the Platteklip Gorge trail is the most direct and popular trail up the mountain. It normally takes 2 hours each way. Some areas can be slippery and steep. In summer, this may be strenuous as the sun is quite strong and there aren’t many trees. You must carry lots of water, walking poles, some granola bars, hat and sunscreen.

The best way to see Table Mountain is a private wine safari. I met with my Durbanville Hills Table Mountain Wine Safari Guide, Henri Bruce, at the SANParks Table Mountain office, and we rode in his open safari jeep straight past the lines, unlocking barriers marked as no private entry, and driving through the winding rugged paths through the mountain. On the scenic drive, Henri pointed out the different shrubs and flowers indigenous to the mountain, and shared interesting stories of his many hikes. We stopped to take photos of sparkling fynbos trees and vibrant protea flowers, as well as False Bay, and the beaches dotting Cape Town below us.

Once we reached Devil’s Peak, we got off the vehicle and went for a walk around the block house and historic cannons. Meanwhile, Henri set up a picnic table with different kinds of cheese, fresh fruits, and cold cuts, accompanied by a selection of Durbanville Hills wines.

We spent about 3 hours wine tasting, talking about travel, and enjoying the infinite scenery, while an occasional hiker or two would walk past, perhaps a little jealous of how relaxed we were, while they still had the afternoon sun ahead. It also gets quite windy midday on top of the mountain, so make sure to bring a jacket.

After a beautiful day, Henri dropped us at the Cape Grace Hotel for a wine tasting at the bar, and a scrumptious dinner at Signal restaurant.

The experience can be booked through the concierge desk at Cape Grace Hotel, a charming family-owned boutique hotel located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, or directly through Durbanville Hills.

Ten percent of all proceeds are donated to South African National Parks (SANParks) for the conservation and general upkeep of South Africa’s national parks.

Where to Sustainably See Wildlife in South Africa

Seeing wildlife in South Africa may be on top of your bucket list, or just one of the things in your itinerary. During my recent visit, I felt there were more places to see wildlife in South Africa, than anywhere else in the world. The reason being there are not just one or two national parks, there are countless reserves, safaris, game ranches, sanctuaries, farms, and more.

Perhaps you aren’t aware that many travelers go to South Africa for hunting and poaching as well. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that allows private ownership of wild animals, so game ranching is a big industry. A simple google search will show you how many companies offer “trophy hunting” packages where you can select an animal to kill and bring back home. Many of them will claim that you are helping “conserve wildlife” by hunting the animals outside the parks that would otherwise harm agricultural land (which is usually not true). One such website offers an all-inclusive package of 1 x Impala, 1 x Blesbuck, 1 x Zebra, 1 x Redhartebeest, 1 x Warthog for only $5,000! Others, offer killing elephants, lions, leopards, hippos, and crocodiles. Sadly, majority of these hunters come from the US.

From Ash Adventure’s website

What I know is most of these animals are not really wild. They are the ones you have pet at so called “sanctuaries” that offer wildlife encounters (touching a lion, feeding a cub, walking with cheetahs, etc), even volunteer vacations taking care of animals. Therefore, the animals are attuned to humans. When they are released in a restricted area with a hunter, they don’t run away, and end up being killed rather easily.

So, if you want to see the Big 5, the best thing to do is see them in their natural habitats, which is mainly at Kruger National Park in South Africa, though there are a few other national parks where you can spot wildlife too.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money going on a safari, or perhaps are traveling with young kids who won’t appreciate being in the wild, there are other options to see wildlife in South Africa sustainably.

African penguins at Boulder Beach, South Africa

Penguins at Boulder Beach

Watch African penguins at Boulder Beach near Simon’s Town, about an hour south of Cape Town. This beachfront penguin colony resides in the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area. You can kayak around the beach or watch them breed, swim, and moult from wheelchair friendly boardwalks. When I was there in late December, I saw lots of babies! Admission: $5 adults; $3 kids

White lion at Panthera Africa

Big Cats at Panthera Africa

See white lions, Bengal tigers, leopards, cheetahs, caracals and more at this sanctuary. Panthera Africa rescues captive bred big cats from private homes, circuses, game ranches and other places. The nonprofit’s mission is to allow the cats to spend the rest of their lives abuse free. They have plenty of space to roam, playtime and food. But unlike other “cat sanctuaries,” you can only visit Panthera for couple of hours a day, and won’t have any physical contact with the animals. Admission: $14 adults; $10 kids

African Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Here too you can see rescued orphaned elephants that are mostly sent on to private reserves to live out their lives. Advance reservations are needed for a guided visit where you will be briefly allowed to touch and feed an African elephant. The Knysna Elephant Park is a good place to learn about elephants, but if you want to see them in their natural habitat, go to Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape. Admission: $23 adults; $12 kids; Free for under 5

Lunchtime in Monkeyland

Monkeys at Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary

Monkeyland is possibly the worlds first free roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary, located in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. You will get up close with lemurs, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins and gibbons. You walk through a jungle-like setting through a thick canopy of trees and a hanging bridge, while the monkeys go about doing their daily business, oblivious to humans. The best part is seeing all different species of monkeys come together over the dinner table! Please do not touch the monkeys. Admission: $19 adults; $10 kids; Get a discount when booking two or more sanctuaries.

Exotic Birds at Birds of Eden Free Flight Sanctuary

This is most beautiful bird sanctuary I have visited anywhere in the world! You can easily spend an entire day walking through 2 hectares of trails with different habitats. Birds of Eden is home to over 3,500 birds of over 220 species, with the main focus being African birds. Most of these are rescued caged birds that have only lived in small spaces and some are very friendly with humans. However, they go through a rehabilitation program where they relearn to fly, build flight muscles, and socialize with other birds. Admission: $19 adults; $10 kids; Get a discount when booking two or more sanctuaries.

Victims of lion bone trading displayed at Panthera

Please keep in mind that when you are visiting a fake sanctuary, petting a wild animal, purchasing animal products (such as zebra skin, tiger bones or ivory jewelry), or keeping wild animals as pets, you are directly and indirectly involved in the exploitation of wildlife.

To learn more about volunteering with animals in South Africa and big cat conservation, watch my interview with Panthera.