One of South Africa’s newest national parks, a jewel, international tourism icon and Natural World Heritage site is the Table Mountain National Park, situated at the south-western tip of Africa. It encompasses the incredibly scenic Cape Peninsula stretching from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the south. This narrow finger of land has beautiful bays, beaches and valleys, picturesque little villages and harbours and is surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, with cold waters in the west and the warmer waters of False Bay on the eastern Peninsula.
The Table Mountain National Park is recognised globally for its extraordinarily rich, diverse and unique fauna and flora. With such a rich bio-diversity, this area makes up one of the six Floral Kingdoms of the world and although it is the smallest, it boost with over 8500 species of plants.
A national monument and the most prominent landmark in the Table Mountain National Park and in South Africa, is the impressive Table Mountain, towering 1086m above sea level and often visible 200km out to sea.
The mountain was created about 350 million years ago as part of the Cape System. It started as a thick deposit of silt eroded off the African mainland and into the sea, the weight of this load eventually became too great and the sea bed collapsed to form a trough under the silt, as this silt subsided, it was caught in a vise-like pressure from the sides of this trough, which tended to close inward. The upper levels of the silt were forced above the surface of the ocean and this was the birth of this Cape System.
Erosion steadily removed the upper layers of the Cape System and Table Mountain with its two companions: Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, as well as the Twelve Apostles range, which makes a backbone for the Cape Peninsula, were left isolated and assumed their present shapes as the consequence of continuing erosion.
The southeasterly wind, also known as the “Cape Doctor”, which blows throughout the summer months, is the great servant of Table Mountain. It lays the tablecloth, a real crowning glory, which is one of the great natural spectacles of the earth. The wind also blows away most pests and keeps the mountain top reasonably moist until the rainy season comes in winter.
There was a plan once, during the great age of steam, to build a railway to the top of Table Mountain. But, fortunately this idea with its attendant risk of forest fires, was forgotten and eventually superseded by the cableway, which opened its doors to the public on 4 October 1929. This cableway has been upgraded three times and the last time was in 1997 when a state of the art cableway came into operation. A team of Swiss engineers from Garaventa arrived in Cape Town to install two Swiss-designed circular cable cars. The ultra-modern gondolas are made from aluminum and boast a colourful upbeat logo and the slogan, “Table Mountain Rotair”. They have rotating floors offering 360º views and are the largest cable cars in the world, and have only been used once before at Mount Titlis in Switzerland. Each car accommodates 65 passengers and weighs approximately 10 ton when fully loaded. The passenger capacity has been increased from 230 people / hour to 600 people / hour. Another unique feature of the cars is that four ton of water can be taken up the mountain in special tanks in the base of each car, easing the pressure on the water resources in the mountain’s reservoirs. The cars travel from the lower station, at an altitude of 366m and reach the upper station at an altitude of 1 073m, visa versa, in about 4 ½ minutes.
There are various hiking routes that one can take up or down Table Mountain and on the summit a pathway system has been created, so that there is minimum disturbance to the fynbos (vegetation). There are toilets, restaurant, cafeteria and a gift shop on the top of Table Mountain. There is also a post office where out going mail is franked “Table Mountain”.