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NNo matter where you go in Cape Town, nature is all around you, from the chain of mountains down the peninsula that includes the iconic Table Mountain, to the ocean that surrounds the city.
Gazing towards Antarctica as you stand on the high cliffs of Cape Point in Table Mountain National Park, buffeted by the cleanest air you’ve ever inhaled, it is easy to believe you are at the southernmost tip of Africa.
It is an emotional and visual illusion – the southernmost tip of Africa lies a few hundred kilometres away to the south-east. You are simply standing on the long finger that is the Cape Peninsula.
Linked by the Peninsular Mountain Chain, it leads to the instantly recognisable Table Mountain, flanked by Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, the 3 of them cradling the City Bowl. Interwoven between the sandstone massif of Table Mountain and Cape Point is the sprawl of Cape Town itself. Yet both these natural icons – and substantial chunks of wild land in between – form part of the Table Mountain National Park.
This must surely be the world's most biodiverse and dramatically beautiful national park set entirely within a metropolitan area. An ambitious project, it has been a wild success.
Most of the park is free to the public, with only 4 sections where entrance fees are payable.
One is at Boulders Beach, a sheltered cove between Cape Point and Simon’s Town. Here you can see thousands of charming, endangered African penguins that have made their home in this suburban area, or you can even choose to swim with them in the comparatively warm waters of False Bay.
You’ll also pay a modest fee to enter the Silvermine section, which is great for its variety of walks, and at Cape Point, about a 40-minute drive from the city centre. Along this remarkable peninsula with its hidden bays and 2 lighthouses, you'll find Cape mountain zebra, bontebok, steenbok, eland and many bold baboons. Also look out for the smaller creatures like otters, lizards, snakes, tortoises and insects, all adapted to live in this hotspot of biodiversity.
Between June and November, you’ll be perfectly placed to see southern right whales on their annual break from the icy Antarctic.
You’ll also pay a modest entrance fee for the cool, lush Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, where you can picnic or pause awhile to admire and photograph some of the 9 000 or so species of fynbos, which comprises one of the world’s 6 floral kingdoms all on its own. Fynbos is endemic to South Africa’s Western Cape province, which is the reason for the declaration of the Cape Floral Kingdom World Heritage Site, of which Table Mountain National Park forms a part.
The most dramatic of the fynbos species are the proteas, including South Africa’s national flower, the king protea (Protea cynaroides).
TTravel tips & Planning info
Best time to visit
The park is attractive most of the year, with a short period in the hot, dry summer (December to February) when little is in flower. June to August is the wettest, windiest season, so bring rain gear if that is when you visit.
Around the area
For a deeper understanding of the Table Mountain National Park’s ecology, visit the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
What will it cost
Entrance is free at all except 4 sites; check their latest rates on the listed websites.
What to pack
There are excellent field guidebooks on Table Mountain National Park, usually on sale in shops at Cape Point, Kirstenbosch and Boulders Beach. A hat and sunscreen are recommended year-round.
Where to stay
Apart from staying in Cape Town, there are some special options within the national park. Cape Point offers family cottages and a guest house. On Table Mountain itself are two superb options, and in Tokai Forest, you could stay in a restored forester’s cottage.