Get those legs into action
Cape Town's Best Hikes
16 March 2019 by Kiera Greenwood
My idea of being active may be a long dog walk, or – at a push – a quick HIIT session at the gym, but those ideals soon changed upon my trip to Cape Town. My friends in the city were more than used to the outdoor way of life here, so an early morning Seapoint run, a midday yoga sesh and a sunset hike were just the norm to them. Eek. I knew that it was going to be tough to keep up, but I also knew that during my week in Cape Town, I wanted to maximise those experiences. What’s that age old saying, now? Go big, or go home. So I went big. My body may not have thanked me for it at the time, but boy will those memories stay with me forever. The Mother City is a hiker’s dream and below I’ll show you just how to bring it to life.
I didn’t have the best of luck with the weather during the initial part of my time in Cape Town, this really is a city that revels in the warmth of the sunlight, so overcast skies, low clouds and bucketing rain don’t quite show it off at its best. However, one late morning, when the clouds had dissipated, we decided to grab life by horns and bloody well climb something – anything – before it was too late again (NB: I’m not going to complain about the rain too much, South Africa is always in water shortage crisis and I’m not that selfish, the city definitely needed watering). Setting off at around 10.30am, we decided to take the quick 45 minute hike to the top of Lion’s Head. Oh, and don’t be fooled by this late start-time, I'd already done a 5km run along the oceanfront and had breakfast in colourful Bo Kaap by this point – Cape Town is definitely for the early risers.
This is where I should probably stress that no matter how cloudy it may seem, it is essential, ESSENTIAL, to slather yourself in suncream pre hike. I am a walking, talking patchy burn for not taking heed of such advise sooner, so please learn from my mistakes. The hike itself was pretty amazing. We may have missed that blessed Golden Hour due to the weather, but walking through and then above the clouds was insane. Ok, so the city bowl views were pretty limited, but this hike gave us marshmallow-like vistas that would be very hard to replicate. The pictures say it all. For those less experienced hikers, Lion’s Head is not to be feared. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it easy – many water breaks and general catch-your-breath-stops are needed along the way, but this is one that you can take at your own pace and there are two options on how to get yourself up, so you don’t have to use the ladders and chains if you don’t wish to. Hike numero uno: tick.
Table Mountain’s India Venster
Now this is the ultimate hike. One for the bucket-list. One for those who want to conquer Table Mountain at its teeth clenching best. Say hello to India Venster. As the sign says: this is not an easy route down. But take it from someone who’s been there done that, it’s not an easy route up either. It is however, really, really fun. So fun in fact, that I made the climb yesterday morning and I’m still beaming now. I mean, this route is notoriously the hardest way up the mammoth of a mountain and I ruddy well completed it and in good time too. We started the climb at 7am in the soft light of sunrise and were at the top soaking in the views whilst chomping on a banana by 9am.
A quick google post-hike has taught me that you should never make this hike alone and it is not to be done by those who don’t have a moderate level of fitness. Both of which I can vouch for. I was lucky enough to be staying with my best friend who is living in Cape Town for a few months, so made the climb with a group of people that very much knew what they were doing. The vague signs and the odd yellow footprint that mark the route up are most definitely not clear enough for you to know what your doing straight off and this isn’t a route that you’d want to get lost on. It’s a near vertical climb. Yep, really. But that’s all part of the fun. I may have resembled a tomato the whole way up and the persistent droplets of sweat making a feature on my forehead may not have made for my best look, but there’s a real sense of achievement when scrambling over the rocks like a little mountain goat. Or a lanky one in my case. Long legs did come in handy on this one though. Chains and staple steps helped along part of the climb, but there were also many a part where you are quite literally rock climbing. A head for heights is mandatory. As well as a local guide if you’re not lucky enough to be visiting somebody in the know like I was.
Ok, so this one is definitely more obscure than the last two. I mean, when our uber pulled into a remote car park just off of the busy N1 highway I really thought that he’d made a wrong turn. We’d just emerged from the Huguenot Tunnel, a route that had taken us from the grey skies of Cape Town to sun-kissed Paarl – the Cape’s weather is weirdly fickle – and the highway showed no signs of stopping. Only about an hour’s drive from the inner-city buzz of the city bowl, we were still surrounded by the signature mountains that define this region, but hiking trails weren’t exactly jumping out from the dramatic scenery. Trusting my friends’ know-how, I tentatively waved off the uber and followed the group to a gate guarded by rangers – this is a permit-holders only kind of hike to stop the route getting overcrowded and at just R50 each, it’s well worth the money.
Exiting the car park and taking to a dirt track, it feels weird and unlikely that you could ever leave the rush of the highway behind you, but you do, and very quickly too. The scenery swiftly melts into indigenous riverine forest and after a little over two hours of traversing a rocky riverbank, you’ll arrive at your oasis: the Krom River Waterfall. We went this long without passing a soul but upon sight of the pretty cascade we came across plenty of fellow hikers, all braving the pool’s cold waters just to say that they’d been there done that. And the best way to make the plunge? Jumping off the surrounding rock face, duh. Well that’s what I was convinced to do anyway. I may have shrieked (a lot), but it’s a sure fire way to force yourself in for swim.
We took a picnic lunch and made a full day of it, dipping in and out of the water along the way back – you start and finish at the same point – to stave off the effects of the afternoon heat. At about 7km long, you’re able to do this trip in five hours, but if you have the time to spare, setting off early will allow for a full day’s worth of fun. Oh and we chose to travel by uber to save the hassle of hiring a car, but this is the perfect hike for anyone who’s self-driving the Garden Route. My last top tip? Don’t forget your cozzie!