This one’s a great introduction to hiking in the mountains behind Cape Town, is easy, but nevertheless makes for a delightful morning or afternoon’s outing, with much more than expected in the way of views, flora and fauna. Your total walking time there and back won’t be much more than 2.5 – 3 hours along excellent tracks, but with all there is to see, it will take at least twice that long to do it justice. Before you go, download a free Kirstenbosch map from www.themaps.co.za – worth it, as it’s a large place. Remember to take plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen – and don’t forget the camera! Also take some cash or a credit card for any purchases at Kirstenbosch.
Getting there: if coming south from the city, the easiest way is to turn right up Rhodes Drive at the intersection with Paradise Rd. This will take you past the main entrance to Kirstenbosch – keep going, turning right at the t-junction just afterwards. Just over 1km further on, turn into a gate/parking area on the right, opposite the intersection with Hohenhort Ave. There’s ample parking, and as this area’s popular with walkers, it’s best to make an early start. You’ll notice a kiosk next to the entry gate – this is normally used by a security guard, there for the protection of your vehicle and possessions. He may ask you for a contribution towards the cost of his services and maintenance of the car park – it’s worth it.
The start of the walk is through the gate next to the kiosk, on the right just past the information sign/panel. The formed track heads up the gentle incline, across an open area which used to be a pine plantation, but is now vigorously regenerating native bush. Where the track meets a vehicle track, turn right – this peters out into a walking track, which drops down into a forested gully, crosses a stream, and continues up the gully on the true left side.
From here you’ll be in forest – a cool blessing on a hot day. Continue up this track, which eventually emerges onto a forestry road, and carries up the gully on the opposite side, but this time on the true right. About 200m further on you’ll pop out onto another forestry road, next to some giant gum trees. I’ve seldom seen larger gum trees than these, even in Australia, and they’re worth more than a passing glance. At this point just check your bearings, as this spot is where three forestry roads meet, two from the left and one from the right. It’s also the spot you’ll need to get to on the return walk. Straight across the intersection you should be able to see some stone steps going uphill – this is the track.
From here it gets a bit steeper, but still in bush. After another 200m or so, the track emerges onto a flat area, next to an old concrete water tank. The track continues up some more steps to the right of this. The scenery changes a bit, and from here on there will be some gorgeous views emerging as you climb higher, with the vegetation changing from forest to fynbos/low scrub.
Look up at the impressive cliffs and bluffs above you – note the fascinating rock formations. The track continues relentlessly up Spilhaus Ravine in a zig-zag fashion, eventually levelling off as it arrives at another track junction. Keep right – from here it roughly follows the contour line into Cecilia Ravine, where it drops steeply to Cecilia waterfall – a lovely cool spot for a rest and a drink. The waterfall is nothing too spectacular, especially during dry periods, but is still an interesting feature worth a look. I don’t recommend drinking the water, unless you have sterilising tablets or a filter.
From the waterfall the track climbs out of the ravine and around a corner, up a bit more, after which a magnificent view opens up over the vast plains, covered in suburbs and buildings as far as the eye can see, to the distant Drakenstein Mountains to the north.
You can also see both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans from this point, as well as the dam which supplies Kirstenbosch’s irrigation water.
From here, the vegetation is mostly made up of fynbos (fine/delicate bush), most of which grows no higher than knee/waist height, and the larger shrubs, such as proteas, are seldom higher than head height. The track now starts descending, and continues to do so until it meets up with the Contour Path. Turn right, and then almost immediately left, at a signpost and info panel. Take a mental note of where you are, as you’ll need to find your way back here for the return trip. Continue down the track until it meets up with a vehicle track. From here there are a couple of options for getting to the gardens – best to consult the map. The one which goes right around the dam is the longer of the two.
Kirstenbosch is a botaniser’s delight, with hundreds of well known, and not so well known, fynbos species on display. Of real interest is the grove of cycads, the window display (see photo), the art gallery, the specialist bookshop and the tearooms. There’s also a restaurant and souvenir shop. The tearooms serve excellent muffins, scones and light meals, which are not expensive. Also take some time to have a rest on one of the many well-maintained lawns, to take in the awesome surroundings and views up Table Mountain. Whatever you do, don’t rush – enjoy the beauty as long as you can. In fact, if you have the time, why not allow a whole day for this outing?
Finally, the walk back to the car beckons – find your way back to the signpost on the Contour Path, turn left, and follow it back about 1km to the giant gum trees. From here, retrace your steps back to the car park, and a well-earned shower and cold beer by the pool…
- Be prepared! Take clothing and provisions for all weather possibilities – the weather can change in a matter of hours.
- Take a good map (essential) – recommend Slingsby’s Table Mountain, which is accurate, and very detailed. There are a number of unmarked side-tracks off the main track, and a good map will help you avoid these. The map is available from Cape Union Mart, or from most good booksellers.
- Reasonable fitness recommended – 2 to 3 hours total walking required (from the car park return), with a total altitude gain of approx 400m.
- Suitable for children from 7 years and over.
- In South Africa it’s customary to tip your waiter when paying for meals. The generally accepted amount is 10% of the bill total.
- Tell someone where you’re going, and what time to expect you back. Take a cell phone – there’s coverage on the entire walk.
- Safety – you’ll have heard many stories about South Africa’s crime, etc. A lot of this is media hype, and in general, hiking is safe and enjoyable. However, use common sense – leave valuable jewelry at home, and don’t hike alone. Don’t leave valuables or bags lying on the car seats, and lock vehicles!