The Cape Doctor is the local name for the strong south-eastern wind – also known as the South-Easter – that blows from False Bay and funnels through to Cape Town and Blouberg during the hot summer months. It is said to clear all pollution in the city and across the Cape Flats, offering an amazing clear sky and view of the Mother City.
The wind picks up moisture from False Bay and pushes it up against the flanks of Table Mountain, creating clouds (and rain) along the eastern slope. This phenomenon is locally known as ‘the Table cloth’: the top of Table Mountain is enveloped in a huge cloud, dripping over the mountainside.
Considering the number of years during which I lived in Cape Town plus numerous visits since, it is surprising that I have only ever been on top of Table Mountain on three previous occasions and then only once was a bright and beautiful day when you could see for miles. The thing you have to remember about this particular mountain is that it often gets covered in cloud (the ‘Tablecloth’) blown in from the Atlantic by a wind known to locals as the ‘Cape Doctor‘, especially in the summer months. And if it is windy then the cable car does not operate – so don’t rely on it to get you back down.
If you intend to visit the Mother City and want to go up the iconic mountain then my advice is that you keep your eye on the weather forecasts and get up there as soon as you can. Don’t wait for tomorrow because tomorrow may be raining or windy and if you do get up then make sure you allow sufficient time to explore as there is a surprisingly large area up there.
Many things have changed on the top since the 1980s – but not the 360° views of Cape Town, the ocean and the neighbouring peaks. There is now a large self-serve restaurant and deli and an ice-cream shop and walled, paved courtyards and pathways which makes it a much safer pleasure to walk around taking in the views and there is even a route suitable for wheelchair users. You can of course still wander off on hiking trails and indeed there is the Hoerikwaggo Trail (Hoerikwaggo meaning ‘Mountains of the sea’ in the original Khoekhoe language), a five day trek for serious hikers linking Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope.
As neither my husband nor I are in the flush of youth we took the cable car up and down. (I once attempted climbing to the top via Skeleton Gorge on my first visit to Cape Town back in 1973, but I was thwarted by the weather closing in suddenly and having to retreat below the clouds. I did come away with a rather splendid spider bite though, so have an everlasting reminder on my forearm.) The recommended route for the walk hike up is via Platteklip Gorge to the Upper Cable Station which, at 3 km, is not long but it is fairly strenuous and can take between one and three hours to complete.
The weather was perfect, the bluest of African skies and not a breath of wind. It seemed as though everyone else had the same idea though and we ended up parking half way down the mountain slope so we were quite breathless before we’d even reached the lower cable station. When stepping out at the top I felt very emotional seeing the wonderful panorama spread beneath my feet. I was home.
There simply aren’t words apt enough to describe the stunning vistas. South to Hout Bay and Kommetjie along the spine of the Table range all the way down to Cape Point you can even see the curvature of the earth.
North you have the Lions Head and Signal Hill looking like a slumbering dragon on the shores of Table Bay, with the Cape Town Stadium, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and Robben Island in the distance. (header photo)
There are three signposted walks and several viewpoints from which you can view Clifton and Sea Point, the Cape Flats and the Cape Peninsula.
The Table Mountain National Park is also a World Heritage Site. There is a lot of Fynbos vegetation on the mountain, with over 1 460 different species of plants and populations of Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), commonly known as Dassies, are plentiful on the mountain.
You may also see porcupines, mongooses, girdled lizards, agamas, snakes and butterflies. Several indigenous bird species can be seen, including Redwinged Starlings, Cape Verreaux’s Eagles, Rock Kestrels and Sunbirds.
A couple of hours later and armed with hundreds of photos we reluctantly went back down and I drove over to the R27, the west coast road, through the western suburbs of Milnerton (a former home) and north towards Tableview, Sunset Beach, Bloubergstrand (blue mountain) and Melkbosstrand (milkwood trees) to take that infamous photo of Table Mountain across Table Bay.
I was not surprised at how much this area has changed over the years with so many new housing developments, but so unattractive in my opinion, just dreary looking little boxes and some pretty ugly high-rises. But with exceptional views.
This is a place where I spent a lot of time dune walking with my first-born in my arms and usually trying to get out of the wind which whips the sand across your legs with painful accuracy. Not today though. Scarcely a breeze.
Sitting, hugging my knees on that powder-soft white sand I stared at Cape Town, snuggled at the head of Table Bay, with its incredible back-drop, and remembered the happy days I had spent there.
Eventually we returned to Constantia and spent another couple of hours in Kirstenbosch before driving down to Hout Bay to dine at the Mariners Wharf – this time more Kingklip, chips and tartare sauce followed by Cape Brandy tart and ice cream for him and a Fruit Pavlova with berries, raspberry coulis and granadilla sauce for me. A bottle of sparkling Nederburg Cuvee Brut accompanied to celebrate our last night in Cape Town. Total cost £34
Have you been on top of Table Mountain? Or another mountain which stirs the soul?