Upper Cableway Station Audio Guide: Tabletop Walking Tour
Welcome to the top of Table Mountain
Welcome to the top of Table Mountain!
You should be standing outside the Upper Cable Way station. If you’re facing away from the station, in front of you is a low stone block. Can you see it? It has a small sign saying ‘Welcome to Table Mountain National Park. Don’t worry about it for now; I’m just making sure that you’re in the right place.
This is the TableTop Tour. It’s the second of two free audio guides provided by the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company. The tour leads you around the top of Table Mountain, pointing out the best lookouts and explaining the views. It also introduces you to some of Cape Town’s favourite storytellers, along with the Cableway’s team.
Before we get started, let me explain how this works. Once you’ve downloaded a tour, the VoiceMap app works offline, and includes an offline map. VoiceMap uses your location to play commentary automatically, so you can just put your phone away now and relax. I'll tell you where to go, and you only need to look at the map on your phone if you’re unsure of where to go next.
Okay, let’s get started now. Walk around the stone block with the sign, to the right.
[2 SECOND SILENCE]
Look up ahead. Can you see the tall info sign up ahead, at the top of a few steps? It has a green section at the top. That’s where I’ll meet you next, so make your way over to it.
First Lookout: The City Bowl
NARRATOR: Now go past the signboard, and take the path going to the left.
As you walk, look around. Do you see the plants with fleshy, spiky leaves? If it's winter, they might each be topped with a single bright red flower. Those are Aloes, and they're indigenous to South Africa.
There's a lookout point on your left. Let’s stop there for a while, to take in the view. Go on over to the edge, and look at the city below.
[5 SECOND PAUSE]
From here, you have a spectacular view of what we call the City Bowl, because of the way the city is tucked protectively between the sea and the mountains. The tall pointy peak on your left is Lion's Head. And from below, that's exactly what it looks like. There's even a row of trees that look like the lion's eyebrows. The hill that extends out of it, like the lion's body, is called Signal Hill. It's a great place to watch the sunset. Together, they form the western edge of the City Bowl.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now look beyond Signal Hill, into the ocean. Can you see the island, floating in the distance? That’s Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years imprisoned, along with many other political prisoners.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now let your eyes wander all the way across the city. That tall peak to the far right is Devil's Peak. You'll hear more about it soon.
For now, I'll leave you to soak up the sights. When you're ready to move on, just get back on the path and keep following it along the edge of the cliff.
Bronze Trail Marker: Klipspringer Walk
NARRATOR: There's a bronze plaque on a stone column just ahead. Go over to it and stop to take a closer look. It’s a map showing the various walking trails.
[3 SECOND PAUSE]
Are you there yet? Have a look at all the trails winding across the mountain top. We're going to follow the Klipspringer Walk, all around the edge of the mountain. Along the way, you'll see the city from every angle, until we end back near the cable car station – just to give you an idea of the ground we're covering. You're welcome to stop for pictures, or to go over to the lookout points.
Before we get going again, I have a few important things to tell you. The wind sometimes picks up without warning. If that happens, we have to get you down from the mountain, because the Cableway will be closing. A siren will go off, and if you hear that, go back to the station immediately. It’s also very important that you stick to the paved rock path. Just listen out for my directions and you'll easily stay on track.
Okay, let's keep moving. Go straight past the map, and carry on along the path.
Second Lookout Natural Wonder
NARRATOR: Now, can you see the lookout on your left? It’s a platform of wooden slats, with a railing around it. Go over to it and stop for another magnificent city view.
As you’ve almost certainly noticed, Table Mountain is a haven for all kinds of flora and fauna, and is of major historical significance. It's also the global icon of the city. It finally got the recognition it deserved when it was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011. Collette van Aswegen is the Cableway's Marketing Manager, and she got to experience the buzz first hand! The New Seven Wonders of Nature initiative aimed to create awareness of the incredible variety and beauty of nature, and was determined entirely by public vote.
COLLETTE: Being on the organising committee was very nail-biting, but also very exciting. I'm very proud to say that I was part of the team. It all started in 2008, when there was a call for members of the public to nominate natural sites. Four South African sites were nominated as contenders for the prestigious title of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. These included Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain, Kruger National Park and the Vredefort Crater. Table Mountain made it through to the final short-list of 28 sites in July 2009, and over the next two years there was an intense campaign to get as much support as possible. And then, on the 11th of November 2011, Table Mountain was named one of the official New Seven Wonders of nature. The mountain certainly deserves the title: it's one of the oldest mountains on the planet; six times older than the Himalayas. It's also part of The Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site, which you'll hear more about soon. Table Mountain is the only terrestrial feature on our planet to have a constellation of stars, Mons Mensae – Latin for “the table mountain”), named after it.
NARRATOR: Now, let’s get back on the path, and carry on walking.
NARRATOR: Veer right now, away from the sea. Then take the first path to the left, to carry on walking away from the cableway station.
To the Third Lookout
NARRATOR: Here, on your left, is another lookout with an incredible view. Head out to it: we're going to meet a legendary Dutch pirate and somebody else – somebody much more sinister.
Third Lookout: Van Hunks
NARRATOR: Stop here, while I tell you the tale of Van Hunks.
There's a gnarly old legend about the early days at the Cape, and the so-called tablecloth of clouds that sometimes covers the mountain. Its central character is Jan van Hunks, a grizzly old pirate who used to come up here to smoke his pipe. On a day like any other, Van Hunks found a stranger in his favourite spot, smoking his own pipe. The stranger challenged him to a pipe-smoking contest with potent, rum-soaked tobacco. Van Hunks gladly took up the challenge, and for days the two men smoked pipe after pipe, until a thick cloud began to billow over the mountain. Eventually the enigmatic stranger couldn’t take it anymore. He admitted defeat, but just before he left, he revealed that he was, in fact, the devil.
To this day, when the clouds that Capetonians call “the tablecloth” envelop Table Mountain, people say that Van Hunks and the Devil are at it again. And this is also how Devil's Peak is said to have got its name.
The 19th century poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti even used this story in one of his poems. But the poem was set in the Netherlands, so – as sorry as it makes me to say it – this legend probably has nothing to do with the Cape. It's far more likely that Devil's Peak got its name from 15th century Portuguese explorers, who called the area Cabo di Diab, which means Devil's Cape. The name was probably just transferred to the mountain that flanks it.
Now go back to the path and continue walking.
NARRATOR: Keep going straight up the little hill. As you walk, you’ll see the Atlantic disappearing into the haze on your left. From here, it stretches all the way up the west coast of Africa and eventually reaches Europe. The first European explorers to arrive at the Cape would have emerged from this very same haze. Justin Fox, a South African author, is fascinated by the maritime history of this coast. I’ll hand over to him in a minute, and he’ll tell you a bit about that.
West Coast View: Maritime History
NARRATOR: Straight ahead, you'll see a web of intersecting paths. Just keep going straight, past the stone block. Here’s Justin.
JUSTIN: On any given day, Table Bay will be dotted with vessels at anchor, mostly cargo and container ships waiting to enter Cape Town harbour. You can probably see a number of ships right now. Cape Town has always had an intimate relationship with the Atlantic. It’s not for nothing that the city is also known as The Tavern of the Seas, a meeting place of two oceans and famous port of call for ships from around the globe. The first European explorer to round the Cape was the Portuguese Bartholomew Dias in 1488. He opened the door for Vasco da Gama, who discovered the sea route to Asia. Vessels of every shape and size followed, first Portuguese, but soon Dutch, French and English, all plying and squabbling over this rich trade route. Cape Town was seen as a perfect halfway stop and ideal for a refreshment station. It was first settled by the Dutch in 1652, then conquered by the English a century and a half later. Given its strategic importance, this anchorage had to be defended. The shores of Table Bay and Robben Island were repeatedly fortified, never more so than during the Napoleonic and World Wars, when fears of attack by French, and later Germans and Japanese, were at the forefront of military planning. Today, all is peaceful at the southern tip of Africa, except when a winter gale brews up and the Cape of Storms lives up to its fearsome reputation. At such times the combination of an angry Atlantic and rocky shoreline can inflict as much damage on shipping as any of Napoleon’s square-rigged three deckers.
NARRATOR: Carry on following the pathway.
Crowds Thin Out
NARRATOR: Carry on following the pathway. You'll notice that the crowds have disappeared now and the stone path has become more rugged. Here, at this quieter, more peaceful part of the mountain, the natural beauty and expansive wilderness of this mountain reserve comes into focus. Local author Tony Lourens has written a number of books on hiking, climbing, and the area in general. He spoke to us about what it’s like to have such a large wilderness on your doorstep.
TONY: To live in Cape Town surrounded by the ever-present Table Mountain is an unspeakable privilege. It gives us a certain freedom. There are not many cities in the world where you can escape the daily humdrum routine and within 20 minutes be amongst the high crags or exploring deep ravines. Or sharing a cup of tea with a friend on a rocky ledge, dangling your toes high above the city below. The climbing and hiking on Table Mountain is unique and varied, and amongst the best you can experience anywhere in the world.
NARRATOR: It takes a lot of work from a dedicated team to keep Table Mountain pristine, and preserve its natural splendour for generations to come. I spoke to Wahida Parker, the Cableway's Managing Director, who helps make Table Mountain an award-winning social and environmental project.
WAHIDA: In everything we do, we keep these three things top of mind. There’s the social responsibility, our environmental responsibility, and our financial responsibility.
We are very proud that we assist historically disadvantaged communities, NGO’s, and community organisations, through discounted tickets.
Internally, we have an academy of learning called Siyafundisa, through which we help our employees further their studies, improve their skills, and climb up the corporate ladder.
From an environmental point of view, we focus our energy on water, waste, and energy management. In total we recycle more than 50% of our waste.
The energy that is generated by the descent of the cable car is also reused, by being fed back into our electrical grid.
NARRATOR: In fact, these environmental efforts are so successful that the cableway is 100% carbon neutral.
WAHIDA: When we look at our economic responsibility, we continue to grow our sourcing of local products, and that number is now sitting at 95% of our products being procured from local communities.
These initiatives will ensure that whatever we sell in our retail stores are locally produced.
For all of these efforts, we’ve been named the overall winner of the 2011 Umvelo Award for responsible tourism. In 2015, we were awarded Diamond Heritage status for the work we’ve done for the environment. I am very proud to be a part of this team. And I, through my team, will ensure that we continue to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Downslope to Devil’s Peak
NARRATOR: Take the path to the left now, to walk down the slope towards the pointed mountain in the distance.
NARRATOR: Now stop and look out over the mountain before you. From here, you’ll have a good view of Devil's Peak. Geologist John Rogers is an expert on its composition.
JOHN: Devil’s Peak is a good place to begin to understand the geology of the Cape Peninsula. First, we need to comprehend the age of Planet Earth, which is over four and a half billion years old. If you look at the lower half of Devil’s Peak, below the road, you'll see tightly folded, deep-marine siltstones. These are the oldest rocks in the Cape Peninsula, but they're only about 560 million years old – that's just 12 percent of the age of our planet. Keep your eyes open when you take a drive around the Cape and you'll see more of this siltstone, some of which has been folded vertically, like the pages of a book. This is the result of the opening and then closing of the ancient Adamastor Ocean, which has long since vanished. Now look to the right of Devil’s Peak, at the gap between it and Table Mountain. This is known as the Saddle. It's a world-famous contact between the older Malmesbury Group rock and the younger Cape Granite. About 490 million years ago, the uplift and erosion of this granite and the folded siltstones enabled a river-system to deposit sandstones and mudstones at the base of the Table Mountain Group.
NARRATOR: Now backtrack until you reach the main path we’ve just turned off. Then continue to follow it as it curves away from the sea.
Table Mountain National Park
NARRATOR: Keep following the path, with the gorge on the left. If you look on the left of the path, you’ll see an ankle-height plaque. This is the boundary of the Table Mountain National Park. Lesley-Ann Mayer is the Park Manager. She’s seen many changes over the years.
LESLEY-ANN: I recently moved from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town and I am very excited about working at the Table Mountain National Park.
In my capacity as Park Manager I deal with everything from conservation management and alien species, to tourism and heritage. I've always loved mountains and use every opportunity to spend time up there to enjoy the many special places and experiences it has to offer. Before 1998, when Table Mountain was finally declared a national park, there had been very little concern for the ecology. But since then, after years of careful protection and management, the health of the whole mountain range has definitely improved. We've seen the return of a range of animals, from birds and insects to larger creatures like the rooikat.
Platteklip Gorge Hiking
NARRATOR: The sheer cliff to your left is Platteklip Gorge. Stop here, but don’t go towards the edge! It's quite a drop. Remember Tony Lourens, who spoke to you earlier about living and hiking here? He knows that safety needs to come first when you're exploring the mountain.
TONY: Near the edge of the cliff, there are some shrubs with tiny, but very spiky, leaves. This is the 'Climber’s Friend' bush. They have really strong, deep roots, and back in the early days, climbers used the gnarly branches of these tough shrubs as handholds to pull themselves up – hence the name. Doesn't sound very safe, does it? Whether you are climbing or hiking, safety is always your prime concern. You must always be mindful of the possible dangers that exist on the mountain. Be cautious and do not do anything that may endanger you or anyone else. Stay a safe distance from the edge of rock faces, and when possible, stay on the paths. It's also wise to avoid steep climbs, which can be very difficult to get down from. Stay with your group and make sure you have the right kit and enough food and drink for your planned trip. Of course, one must also remember that a mountain is never without any risk at all. A mountain gives us enormous pleasure, but it can also take. But it is this uncertainty that makes our experiences all the richer.
NARRATOR: Let's get away from the edge then. Carry on along the path, and follow it as it curves away from the gorge to the right.
NARRATOR: Continue along the path as it veers back towards where we started our walk. The path gets more rugged, and there are a number of paths to walk on. Just keep going towards the Cableway station and you’ll be fine. Look to your left as you go. Can you see the pointy mountain in the far distance, jutting out into the sea? That's Chapman's Peak. The famous Cape Point is just beyond it. Cape Point is not the southernmost tip of Africa, as many believe. That title belongs to Cape Agulhas, about 150 kilometres east of here.
NARRATOR: As you walk, look to your right, at the unusual vegetation that covers the mountain's flat top. It’s called fynbos, which means 'fine bush'. This is because so many of these plants have tiny leaves, to keep them from losing too much water during our dry summers. Jeanette Clarke is an enthusiastic mountain hiker and botanist. I spoke to her about what makes fynbos special.
JEANETTE: In the Cape, we love to tell people about how special our vegetation is. The Cape Floral Kingdom is both the smallest and richest floral kingdom in the world! There are more than 9,000 species here, and an incredible 69 percent of them don't grow anywhere else in the world. Right here, on Table Mountain, there are more species of plants than in the entire British Isles. There is always something in flower on the mountain. It’s like wandering about in a garden gone wild! In late January and early February it's the gorgeous Red Disa with its dazzling red blooms. Winter brings bulbs and other gorgeous flowers into bloom. But nothing can prepare you for the spectacle of the fynbos in spring! The most obvious feature of fynbos you can see right now are the restios. Look out for them all along the path: they're reed-like plants with green stems and gleaming, almost leaf-like bracts along the stem in shades of russet and gold. There are over 300 species in the restio family, many of them right here on Table Mountain.
NARRATOR: Carry on walking straight ahead.
Interview with a Staff Member
NARRATOR: Keep following the path. A passion for preserving and sharing the beauty of Table Mountain is something that all Capetonians share, but there are few people more passionate than the Cableway's team. Asanda Thande is one of the most inspiring people who work here, on the mountain. She's been with the Cableway since 2012.
ASANDA: I visited the mountain for the first time in 2002, when I was still at school. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the mountain was, and I never dreamt that I would ever be working here one day. In 2012, I started working here as a hygiene assistant. Two months later, I applied for a cashier position in the ticket office and I was successful. I received training and learnt many new skills. In May 2015, I applied for the permanent position of Team Leader for the Ticket Office. The interview was nerve wracking, but I got the job! No two days are the same. I welcome and enjoy all the challenges which this position presents me with, and I love meeting the visitors from all over the world. I've learnt a lot of skills, and a lot about myself too. Our team is like a family. We are there for each other and support each other.
NARRATOR: Just keep heading back towards the cableway station.
NARRATOR: The path forks up ahead. Keep left, and continue walking.
NARRATOR: Now turn left.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
We’re going to stop at the lookout point ahead. I’ll meet you there.
Fourth Lookout: The Full Extent
NARRATOR: Stop at the lookout, and take in the view.
[3 SECOND PAUSE]
Let your eyes wander up to the top of the mountains. Beyond them, on a clear day, is a seemingly endless green expanse. It gives you a good sense of just how big the Table Mountain National Park is. Lesley-Ann Mayer, who spoke to you earlier about the park, can tell you more about what you’re seeing. At this point you are looking out towards the southern tip of the park – called the Cape of Good Hope.
LESLEY-ANN: The national park forms the mountainous backbone of Cape Town. It's a total of about 25,000 hectares of the most stunning, undeveloped land in Cape Town. To give you an idea of how big that is, a sports field is about 1 hectare. I love looking out at the park and knowing that it's going to be protected forever. Surrounding the landmass there is also a marine protected area of 1000 km2 that recognizes the special biodiversity under the sea. The many shipwrecks have formed artificial reefs and are thriving with sea life. From up here you can see southern right whales pass by in spring and summer – and of course the infamous great white sharks. It is therefore our responsibility to keep all of this in balance so that we retain the natural beauty of the Table Mountain National Park.
NARRATOR: We’re nearing the end of our walk now. Head back onto the path and keep going towards the shop building, sticking to the left. We’ll stop at one more lookout before we arrive back at the cableway.
The Circle of Saints
NARRATOR: Step out onto this last lookout, to look at the view.
[3 SECOND PAUSE]
Look over the edge. Can you see the road, winding along the base of the mountain? That’s Victoria Road. Shereen Habib has close ties to an important spiritual site located just above it.
SHEREEN: There's a path leading up 100 steps from that road, all the way up to the grave of a man named Sheikh Noorul Mubeen. This is part of a holy circle of Karaamats that are placed around the mother city. A Karaamat is the burial site or shrine of a Muslim saint – of people who have studied from the cradle to the grave. They were also spiritually empowered by God. They are said to heal humanity and perform miracles. Sheikh Noorul Mubeen was brought here from Indonesia 300 years ago by the Dutch. He was imprisoned on Robben Island, but according to local legend, he escaped and went into hiding up in those mountains. At night, he taught the local slaves about Islam, and when he died, the shrine was built to honour him. Even though he lived his entire life in exile, he always kept the spirit of Islam alive. There are more than 25 Karaamats in the peninsula, and they're arranged into a holy circle around Table Mountain which is said to protect the Cape from natural disasters. These shrines were not placed in a circle by people – it just happened that way. It fulfilled a 300 year old prophecy that there would be a Circle of Islam at the Cape.
NARRATOR: Okay, now get back on the path. Keep walking straight, over the wooden walkway ahead.
The Symbol of the Mother City
NARRATOR: We're heading back towards the top station, where our walk will end. I hope you've enjoyed taking in the sights from way up here, a kilometre above sea level. Enver Duminy, the CEO of Cape Town Tourism, believes that this mountain is more than just a geological formation; more than a masterpiece of nature. It is, he says, a symbol of the city.
ENVER: Table Mountain to me, is more than a tourism attraction with a cableway that has seen over 25 million people. I see it as a symbol of freedom, a life force, and a spiritual refuge for many. During his imprisonment on Robben Island, the late President Nelson Mandela said that he often looked across Table Bay at the silhouette of the mountain as a beacon of hope. And so do many others. It is not just a flat-top formation. It’s "Hoerikwaggo" – the Khoisan word meaning "mountain in the sea". It’s our Table Mountain, our Tafelberg, our Intabe Yetafile."
NARRATOR: Keep walking into the open area ahead.
NARRATOR: This is where our walk ends, at the Twelve Apostles Terrace. Take a seat, because we have a few more things to show you. For those must-have mementos, I suggest popping into the Shop at the Top. That’s the old stone building located just above you. Here you’ll find unique, proudly South African jewellery, clothing, confectionery and memorabilia. More than 95% of the retail products are sourced locally.
Your next stop should definitely be the self-service Table Mountain Café for some tasty local culinary offerings. Choose from the variety of hot meal options but be sure to get a slice of “melktert” (or milk tart). It's a true South African dessert – and it is delicious!
Are you keen to learn more about the Cableway and its surroundings? Join a free guided walking tour, which departs hourly from the stone slab on this terrace. Should you wish to share some of your photos taken on Table Mountain with family and friends, stop in at the WiFi Lounge. It’s in the top station building. We’d love to hear what you thought about your Cableway experience so please complete the survey form at www.tablemountain.net.
Thanks for walking with us today, and make sure you check out a few other tours – you’ll recognize some of our Cape Town storytellers. You’ll find VoiceMap in cities across the globe, too! Until our next journey, goodbye.