Table Mountain is by no means South Africa’s only mountainous draw card – with ranges like the Drakensberg, the Cederberg, the Magaliesberg and a whole list of other ’bergs to choose from, we’d probably have been able to keep Sir Hilary happy for quite some time. And slap-bang in the middle of Cape Town is the majestic Lion’s Head, keeping a stately watch over the city …
Lion’s Head lies between Table Mountain and Signal Hill, the latter of which it combines with to form a sphinx-like shape – hence its name, originally bestowed by the 17th century Dutch settlers, who called the rearing head-like peak Leeuwen Kop and the gentle slope of Signal Hill Leeuwen Staart (Lion’s tail). For inexplicable reasons, the 17th century British dubbed the mountain Sugar Loaf. We’re glad it didn’t stick.
Rising up 669 metres above sea level, Lion’s Head offers some spectacular panoramic views. From its summit you can cast your eyes over the Cape Town city bowl, Table Bay, the Atlantic seaboard (including dazzling Camps Bay and Clifton) and, on a clear day, right out to Robben Island.
Of course, if it’s a view you want, it’s a bit of walking you’ll need to do – there’s no swift cableway ride to the top I’m afraid. However, therein lies half the fun. Hiking up Lion’s Head can take anywhere between one and three hours, depending on whether you’re a brisk power-hiker or more of a stop-and-enjoy-nature meanderer.
The somewhat steep walk winds its way around the Head until you reach a collection of chains, there to aid your scramble up the remaining rocky faces to the top. Of course, if you’re not feeling very Indiana Jones you can always take the slightly longer path which continues its wend up to the summit.
Speaking of rocky faces … the mountain’s lower slopes are composed of Cape Granite and other Precambrian foundations, while its upper slopes are formed from Table Mountain sandstone. Indigenous fynbos (shrub-like plants native to the Western Cape) covers the landscape, which supports a variety of small animals.
Hiking in general is all very well, but for something a little out of the ordinary you can’t miss out on the full moon walks. Pack a picnic basket and set off up the mountain in the late afternoon, then enjoy the fruits of your labour while dining atop the summit and watching not only a spectacular sunset from across one ocean, but also the moon rising over another behind you.
It’s a little occult, a lot romantic, and a thoroughly unique experience. Just remember to pack flashlights and tread carefully on the way back down. Alternatively, you can join a group walk, which (for an almost negligible fee) offers safety in numbers and the benefit of walking with experienced hikers.
Or you could get really adventurous – Lion’s Head is a favourite launching site for paragliders. A quick hike up the mountain, an incredible bird’s-eye-view soar above Cape Town, and a soft landing on beautiful Camps Bay beach for post-flight sundowners … not much can top that. Newbies can book a tandem flight with an instructor.
So go on, take a walk on the Lion side …
Lion’s Head forms part of the Table Mountain National Park, which means that although it is surrounded by city and suburbs on all sides, building on the higher ground is not permitted, thus preserving the range’s beauty for everybody. It also means tread lightly – don’t litter, be mindful of smoking, and respect the mountain.
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