Around Table Mountain | 75Km

Flowers on Table Mountain.

Cape Town

The City was developed around the refreshment station established at the foot of Table Mountain by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. Among the city's numerous historic treasures are the pentagonal Castle (built between 1666 and 1679) and the Cultural History Museum, erected in 1679 as slave quarters, and subsequently serving as government offices and a supreme court. The nearby Company's Gardenáwas established in 1652 to supply passing ships of the Dutch East India Company with fresh produce, and between 1692 and 1783 it was developed into a world-famous botanical garden. This is a must see on South African holidays.

Along the oak-lined Government Avenue stand the South African National Gallery, the South African Museum and Bertram House, an early-19th-century red brick Georgian house with an outstanding collection of English furniture. The Old Town House (1755) on Greenmarket Square houses a world-renowned collection of paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters. Koopmans De Wet House, with its neoclassical fašade, has a fine collection of old Cape furniture, Chinese and Japanese ceramics and Dutch delftware.

Not far away, in the area formerly known as the Malay Quarter, the Bo-Kaap Museum portrays the richness of Cape Malay culture, while the District Six Museum chronicles the forced removal of 60 000 people from District Six to the Cape Flats from 1966 to 1982.

Table Mountain

...together with Lion's Head and Signal Hill to the west, and Devil's Peak to the east, is one of the best-known natural landmarks in the world. It is home to a rich diversity of fynbos flora, and among its 1 470 plant species are proteas, ericas, reeds, the exquisite red disa (Disa uniflora) and a profusion of other flowering plants. Declared a national monument in 1957, Table Mountain 2 forms part of the Cape Peninsula National Park, which was proclaimed in May 1998.

The park stretches from Signal Hill to Cape Point, and is expected to cover about 30 000 ha once sections of state land and privately owned property have been incorporated. The mountain can be ascended along several walking routes, but this is best done with a guide if you are unfamiliar with the routes. The mountain's highest point, Maclear's Beacon, towers 1 086 m above the Mother City.

Cable Way

More than 13 million people on their South African holidays have made the journey to the top of Table Mountain by cable car 2, since the cable way was officially opened in October 1929. In October 1997, a major upgrade was completed, and two large cable cars, each capable of carrying 65 people at a time, now make the five-minute journey to the summit. During the trip, the car floor rotates through 360 degrees, providing passengers with a superb view of the city. The summit offers spectacular views of the city, the sweep of Table Bay, Robben Island and the Table Mountain chain.

Lion's Head

Rising steeply to a height of 669 m immediately to the northwest of Kloof Nek, Lion's Head is an erosional relic of sandstone underlain by more resistant granite. The soil derived from the weathered granite is favoured by the silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum), a member of the protea family. The largest remaining natural population of this species can be seen on the southeastern slopes of Lion's Head.

The name of the conical peak is thought to come from its resemblance to the head of a lion - with Signal Hill forming the rump. Lion's Head offers an ideal vantage point; in 1673, a signalling post was set up on its summit, and watchers would fire a small cannon to notify the Castle of any approaching ships.

Signal Hill

...originally named Leeuwenbil (Lion's Rump) by the early Dutch settlers, but after the second British occupation of the Cape in 1806, it replaced Lion's Head as a signalling station and became known as Signal Hill. Every day except Sunday, in a city tradition dating back to 1902, the Noon Gun is fired from the Lion Battery, established on the northeastern slopes of Signal Hill in 1891. Between Lion's Head and Signal Hill is one of several Muslim kramats, or shrines, which form the 'circle of Islam' around the Cape Peninsula.

According to a 275-year-old Malay prophecy, those living within the circle will be safe from fire, famine, plague, earthquakes and tidal waves. From the parking area at the end of Signal Hill, there are fine vistas over Cape Town, Table Bay, Green Point and the city's northern suburbs.

Camps Bay

Camps Bay is a favourite with locals and visitors on their South African holidays. Kloof Road winds down into the Glen and passes the Round House (once the hunting lodge of British Governor Lord Charles Somerset) before reaching the fashionable suburb of Camps Bay, with its palm-lined beach, tidal pool and lively atmosphere. The Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain's ravines and buttresses form an impressive backdrop.

Hout Bay

...with its picturesque harbour setting guarded by The Sentinel, is a charming seaside village. Centred around the hull of a 1940s trawler at the harbour front, Mariner's Wharf has a fish market, seafood bistro, restaurant, wine shop and several curio shops. At the World of Birds, the largest bird park in Africa, visitors can get close-up views of over 3 000 birds of 450 indigenous and exotic species, as well as a variety of small mammals.

Set on 4 ha of land in the Hout Bay valley, the park has over 100 landscaped walk-through aviaries. Popular excursions from Hout Bay include a launch cruise to Duiker Island, home to a Cape fur seal colony, and a sunset cruise to Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Covering 528 ha of natural and landscaped gardens, Kirstenbosch ranks among the world's most famous botanical gardens and has over 4 500 plant species. The cultivated garden covers 36 ha, and among its attractions are the Fragrance Garden, Cycad Amphitheatre, the Dell - with its massive tree ferns - Colonel Bird's Bath and the Fynbos Walk. The Conservatory houses a fascinating collection of plants from seven of southern Africa's arid regions in natural settings around an enormous baobab tree, which forms the focal point of the Conservatory.

There are also collections of ferns, alpine flora and bulbs. The Summer Sunset Concerts held in the late afternoon on Sundays between December and March are an extremely popular annual event on weekends and South African holidays.

Rhodes Memorial

This imposing memorial to Cecil John Rhodes (mining magnate and former prime minister of the Cape Colony), was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and is based on the Greek temple at Segesta, Sicily. The equestrian sculpture by GF Watts portrays 'Physical Energy'; behind it, eight bronze lions guard the steps leading up to the colonnaded temple, with its bust of Rhodes.

University of Cape Town

Built on the lower slopes of Devil's Peak, the University of Cape Town has its origins in the South African College, which was founded in 1829. After the college was granted university status in 1928, it was decided to relocate from the top end of the Company's Garden to the present site on Rhodes' Estate. Dominating the university grounds is Jameson Hall, with its classical portico, while the original dressed-sandstone buildings are spread out below.

Mostert's Mill

...a distinctive landmark on the route to and from Cape Town's southern suburbs, was one of several private mills built in the 18th century for grinding wheat. In Holland, such mills were known as bovenkruiper, or 'overshot' mills. The date 1796 on one of the beams suggests that the windmill was probably built by Dirk Gysbert van Reenen, who owned the farm Welgelegen at the time. The mill later came into Sybrand Mostert's possession, a son-in-law of Van Reenen, and became known as Mostert's Mill.

Groote Schuur Hospital

This large, well-known hospital was officially opened in 1938, six years after the foundation stone was laid. Groote Schuur Hospital became world famous on 3 December 1967, when a medical team led by Dr Chris Barnard performed the world's first heart transplant on a critically ill patient, Louis Waskansky. The story of this medical breakthrough, and subsequent heart transplants, is told in the hospital's Transplant Museum. Groote Schuur serves as the medical school of the nearby University of Cape Town.

By Willie and Sandra Olivier.

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