Cape Town: Brooding natural wonder

By PK Stowers

PK Stowers scales the heights of one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

Table Mountain has been voted one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Table Mountain has been voted one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Cape Town's Table Mountain is an amazing landform from whichever angle you look at it.

Reaching nearly 1090m above sea level, Table Mountain is the most recognisable site in Cape Town, the city it looms over and dominates.

Recently selected in a worldwide poll as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this flat-topped geological formation is largely constructed of sandstone, which has been gradually eroded over millions of years to form its distinctive, cracked rocky face.

Tourists can get a close-up view of these rocks during the five-minute cable car ride to the summit from Tafelberg Rd. The cable car's rotating floor ensures all visitors get a 360 degree aerial view of the mountain, neighbouring peaks, the city and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

Construction of the cableway started in 1926, and it was officially opened in 1929. In 1997, the cableway was extensively upgraded, and great capacity cars were added.

No visit to Cape Town is complete without a trip up, but due to the exposed nature of the site and the changeable local weather conditions, it isn't always possible.

In our small tour group was a woman from South Africa Tourism who had been to Cape Town five times previously, but had not once been able to go up.

In fact, our previous day's excursion had been postponed 24 hours at first due to cloud and later due to high winds.

"When I saw the cloud yesterday, I thought, 'Damn. I'm never going to make it up there," she told us, but admitted the spectacular view was worth the wait.

To the north you can see over the central city to Cape Town Stadium and to Robben Island in Table Bay. To the south there are the Twelve Apostles rock formations and down towards the Cape of Good Hope.

On the day we went up it was fine and clear, with no wind or clouds, giving us the perfect chance to explore the area's rich biodiversity.

Table Mountain's lookout offers a panoramic view of Cape Town.
Table Mountain's lookout offers a panoramic view of Cape Town.

The top of Table Mountain is (as the name suggests) relatively flat, with no trees, but an astonishing 1470 plant species in just 57sq/km. It is also home to a variety of animal life, which all depend on each other for survival in this isolated ecosystem.

Our favourite animal was the unfeasibly cute "rock dassie", which resembles a very fat, furry brown squirrel.

Luckily for the tourists, rock dassies aren't that shy - our group spotted several sunning themselves on a rock, just near the cable car.

Despite their cuddly appearance, these rock dassies are adept climbers and you can often see them scampering across the craggy precipices. Meanwhile, tourists are advised to stay within the marked trails.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Qantas Airways offers regular flights from Sydney to Johannesburg. Flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town takes just over two hours.

- NZ Herald

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