Before coming to New Zealand my stamping grounds, in tramping/hiking terms, were the mountains behind Cape Town – that’s where I cut my hiking teeth, and spent many happy hours trudging the myriad of tracks which criss-cross most of them in the company of family and friends.
The first hike I ever did was as a teenager with the YMCA Adventure Club, up Echo Valley to the Amphitheatre, where we camped a night, and spent the next morning exploring some of the many caves which dot the Silvermine Mountains between Muizenberg and Fish Hoek. To be honest, I hated it, and didn’t do any more hikes until I reached my 20’s, but once the bug bit, it bit hard! I’ve done this hike many times since, and it’s almost a must-do every time I return to Cape Town for a family visit.
Getting there: if coming from the city, the easiest way is to turn up Boyes Drive from Main Road, just before Lakeside. Boyes Drive is an attraction in itself, with awesome views over False Bay, the gorgeous beaches, and the suburbs that line the coast as far as the eye can see. Keep going until you’re almost above Kalk Bay harbour, just before the road takes a sharp downhill left turn – the start is on the right by a set of stone steps, and a green SAN Parks (Table Mountain National Park) sign. Park the car in one of the lay-byes nearby.
It’s an easy hike, and in terms of walking time should not take more than 3 – 3.5 hours, but allow a few hours more to take in the superb views, land forms and astonishing variety of flora and fauna. A camera is an absolute necessity, and opportunities to use it will take up quite a bit of the extra hours allowed for.
The vegetation is mostly made up of fynbos (fine/delicate indigenous bush), most of which grows no higher than knee/waist height, and the larger shrubs, such as proteas, are seldom higher than head height, although in the sheltered valleys there are stands of forest thriving in their own micro-climate. As a result, most of the hiking is done in exposed conditions, along sandy, gravelly tracks. A hat and sunscreen are essentials, as is ample water – the temperature can reach the high 20’s to mid 30’s during summer.
Proceed up the steps, after which the track takes a sharp right turn. About 250m further on it turns sharp left, and continues up another set of serious stone steps which will soon get the blood pumping. About 20 minutes after the start, you’ll arrive at Weary Willy’s pool, which is also a track junction to which you will return on the way back. SAN Parks have done a great job with the signposts, which are usually built from sandstone, with directions etched into a stainless steel plate built into the sandstone base. Drinking the water is not recommended, unless you have a purifier or sterilising tablets.
From here, continue along the track up Echo Valley, which opens up before you as the track ascends. Stop frequently to check out the views – it’s well worth it. Expansive views across False Bay to the east and to Simon’s Town and Cape Point to the south just get better as you climb higher.
On the way up you’ll pass Cavern Rocks on the right – a nice spot for a breather and a drink. From here on, things get really interesting. Bird life is prolific – sunbirds can be seen flittling about the proteas, and as you enter Echo Valley proper, some of the fantastic rock shapes come into view; all sculpted by the frequent and fierce south-easterly gales and rain common to the Cape Peninsula. The bluffs on each side of the valley are quite impressive, and giving them a lusty yell will result in the clear echos after which the valley was named. Fun for the kids!
About halfway up the valley you’ll reach a patch of forest where the track is boardwalked. There’s a nice rest area a short way into the bush on the left, for those needing a break. Not long after, the track emerges from the bush, and continues another 300m or so to a junction – take the right fork, and within 5 minutes you’ll emerge into the Amphitheatre – a lovely, sheltered, sandy clearing surrounded by huge rocks and low bluffs.
It’s a great spot to have lunch, either in the sun, or in a shady spot under some trees. If you have children with you, keep an eye on them, as there are some deep caves leading off the Amphitheatre – ‘nuff said.
There’s a signpost in the middle of the clearing – the way back is via the track on the eastern side, climbing out of the Amphiheatre onto Ridge Peak. More grand views, which are difficult to describe in words – you have to see them to really appreciate them.
Once on this track, keep left at any track junctions (unmarked) – it will veer gently to the north-east, before dropping down into Spes Bona valley. Watch out for flowers on this track – in spring, which is one of the best times for this hike, there will be a huge variety of wildflowers to be seen, from the disa to proteas (watch out for the king protea, protea cynaroides), pincushions and everlastings. As you drop into Spes Bona valley, there are some fascinating rock forms close to the track worth a closer look.
At the track junction, turn right, down the valley towards the sea. Again, some impressive bluffs on the valley sides and another boarwalked section of track through a stand of milkwood forest about halfway down.
There’s another rest area about halfway down the boardwalk – keep an eye out here for the Cape robin – looks similar to the NZ Robin, with similar mannerisms, but with different colouring. As with the NZ robin, they’re quite inquisitive, and will come quite close. From here, more stone steps follow, after which the track eventually emerges onto a wide gravel path – turn right, and follow this back to Weary Willy’s. About halfway there’s another track to the left – ignore this, and keep right. About 5 minutes later you’ll enter a small stand of trees, cross the stream, and emerge at the Weary Willy’s junction. Turn left, and follow the track back to the start.
After this, a good coffee and a piece of cake are a must! There are several good cafes in Kalk Bay – we chose the one at the railway station, situated in a restored railway carriage – heaps of character, a friendly proprietor, good coffee and great cake (Kalk Bay Expresso). There are also some interesting antique shops and art galleries nearby, well worth a look. If you like seafood, come back for dinner – some great seafood restaurants are available, and the food’s just awesome!
(For accommodation in the area, check out False Bay Accommodation Network)
- Be prepared! Take clothing and provisions for all weather possibilities – the weather can change in a matter of an hour from beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures, to a howling gale and cold, clammy mist.
- Take a good map (essential) – recommend Slingsby’s Silvermine, which is accurate, and very detailed. There are numerous 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 – 3 to 3.5 hours total walking required (from the car park return), with an altitude gain of 400m.
- Suitable for children from 7 years and over.
- Tell someone where you’re going, and what time to expect you back.
- 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!