Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Devil's Peak in Cape Town, South Africa
Often described as magical and mystical, Table Mountain is Cape Town's most prominent feature and a world famous landmark. This majestic mountain is visible from almost everywhere in Cape Town and is often used as a beacon by which to find direction.
The mountain is sculpted from sandstone and rises 1086 metres at its highest point, Maclears Beacon, above the bay. Its flat summit measures nearly 3km and provides breathtaking views over the city and its beaches. The panorama stretches from Table Bay to False Bay and around the mountain to the Hout Bay Valley and Kommetjie. On a clear day one has a magnificent view across the Cape Flats to the Hottentots Holland Mountains.
Table Mountain is home to a rich fauna and flora, many species of which are endemic and survive only in the unique ecosystem which is contained on the mountain. There are approximately 1470 species of plants, including over 250 different species of daisies! Examples of endemic plants are the rare Silver Tree and the wild orchid Disa Uniflora. Animals such as baboons and porcupines live here freely, as well as furry rodents called Rock Dassies. These little creatures look like plump rabbits without ears - incredibly, their closest living relative is the elephant! The Table Mountain Ghost Frog is an example of an animal found in no other place on the world.
The exhilerating ascent of Table Mountain in the cable car is a definite must for any visitor. Even the locals are awed time and again by the 360º view of Cape Town from the cable car. The cable car was first opened in 1929 and today conveys some 600,000 people to the summit annually. On the summit there is a restaurant and a souvenir shop, from which letters bearing the Table Mountain postmark can be sent. Short walks from the cable station take visitors through the splendour of the flora of Table Mountain, punctuated by occasional sightings of dassies and framed by the surrounding azure of the Atlantic Ocean.
For those athletic and energetic types, there are some 350 recognised paths to the summit, some undemanding and suitable for children, and some extremely difficult. It is not advisable that visitors climb the mountain without an experienced guide. The mountain can be deceptive and it is strongly recommended that visitors contact the Mountain Club of South Africa on 021-4653412 before embarking on a hike or climb.
Table Mountain is flanked on the east by the legendary Devil's Peak. As the story goes Van Hunks, a pirate in the early 18th century, retired from his eventful life at sea to live on the slopes of Devil's Peak. He spent his days sitting on the mountain, smoking his pipe. One day a stranger approached him, and a smoking contest ensued which lasted for days. The smoke clouds built up and a strong wind blew them down towards the town. When Van Hunks finally won the contest, the stranger revealed himself to be the Devil (hence Devil's Peak), and the two disappeared in a puff of smoke. Legend says that the cloud of smoke they left became Table Mountain's tablecloth - the famous white cloud that spills over the mountain when the south-easter blows in summer.
Of course, the phenomenon is also supported by a meteorological explanation. The moisture-laden south-easter blows against Table Mountain from over the False Bay and rises. At a height of approximately 900 meters the winds reach the colder layers of air and thick clouds form. These clouds roll over the mountain and down towards the City Bowl. The characteristic tablecloth forms when the clouds reach the warmer, lower air layers and dissolve once more.
To the right of Table Mountain, Kloof Nek is linked to the aptly named Lion's Head. The spiral walk up Lion's Head passes through silver trees and spring flowers, and provides a 360º view of the Cape Peninsula as you go round the mountain. The walk is not terribly challenging, and is a popular family outing. At the top, you are rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view, and birds scramble for the crumbs left behind by numerous picnic baskets.
Lion's Head in turn is connected by a lion's body to the rump known as Signal Hill. Signal Hill derives its name from the time when it was used as a semaphore post for communication with ships at sea. It is from here that the noon cannon is still fired every day. After dark, the hill is a popular scene for couples who enjoy the romantic sight of the sparkle of the city lights with the backdrop of a floodlit Table Mountain.