• Bitten by the whale watching bug Bitten by the whale watching bug We don’t realise how lucky we are in South Africa, and in particular the Western Cape, to have the mightiest of the marine mammals visit our coastline between every year ...
  • The Whale Trail The Whale Trail The Whale Trail is not a new trail, having been around since about 2002, but it has become extremely popular. It is truly a unique experience, perhaps comparable with ...
  • 10 Pamper-Perfect Spas in South Africa 10 Pamper-Perfect Spas in South Africa Combine your trip to South Africa with a relaxing, revitalising visit to a health spa and experience Africa at it's finest. Our favourite 10 Pamper-Perfect Spas in South Africa are ...
  • Locals share their favourite getaways Locals share their favourite getaways We ask 30 local South Africans to share their favourite holiday destinations and getaways with us. From the more popular destinations like Knysna and the Kruger Park to ...
  • The Oude Skip hike The Oude Skip hike The Oude Skip walk shares portions of its hike with the larger Karbonkelberg Traverse, which is roughly seven hours of hard walk from Hout Bay harbour to Llandudno ...
  • 10 Amazing Game Lodges 10 Amazing Game Lodges South Africa is world renowned for her game reserves and wildlife. The lodges which allow us to experience these in luxury are no less awe inspiring. Our favourites are ...
  • 101 Things to Do with Kids in Cape Town 101 Things to Do with Kids in Cape Town As much as your kids will tell you they can’t wait for the school holidays, the words "I’m bored" inevitably cross their lips. Our "101 things to do with kids in Cape Town" will ...
  • "World's most beautiful Cities" "World's most beautiful Cities" Open space makes Cape Town special. Renowned English sea navigator Sir Francis Drake once referred to Cape Town as the fairest cape in the world. The city houses the ...

Find Accommodation in South Africa
Subscribe to our Feed
Posted on: Friday, 16 November 2012
South African Hiking Trails

The Darwin Trail – Retrace Darwin’s Visit To The Cape

Send to Kindle
Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

I know little about Charles Darwin other than that his theory of evolution got me into serious hot water in the school playground where, at age eleven, I spoke out in support of the principle of evolution without much understanding of what it was all about.

Needless to say, I earned myself something of a reputation. And speaking out about something I felt was inherently true, in the face of several religious hypotheses, gave the young me a real sense of accomplishment. In a way I owe Darwin a thank you for a lesson in confidence.

His book On the Origin of Species, although accepted by the scientific community as early as the 1870s, still causes conflict between science and personal beliefs – be they religious or not – today. Now, given the chance, I am not sure that I would be quite so outspoken – there is an inherent absence of the spiritual within the scope of natural selection.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain

But then he was coming at a marvellous and daring new theory entirely from a scientific perspective. Today his theory might look very different. Whatever your thoughts on Darwin, he is one of the world’s greatest scientists.

What you may not know is that he stopped off in Cape Town whilst on his voyage aboard The Beagle to South America. And that in 2009, to celebrate the bicentennial of his visit, a map that plots the route he followed (with a number of stops that he may have visited if he arrived here today) was released, known as the Darwin Trail.

This is the first time his journey has been marked out and reclaimed as part of our South Africa heritage. Describing Cape Town as ‘a great inn, on the great highway to the east’ he was to stop longer at Simon’s Bay than any of the 13 ports, other than the Galapagos Islands, at which he docked on his return voyage to England from South America.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Kirstenbosch Gardens

The map is alive with exerpts from what must have been Darwin’s diary account of his voyage. He set in at Simon’s Town but found: ‘there being nothing worth seeing here, I procured a gig and set out for the Cape Town…’.

He was to travel through Wynberg, Claremont, Observatory and Sea Point on his way. Wynberg he called ‘a grand wall of mountains that gives the scene a degree of uncommon beauty’. Chelsea Village would have been very similar – minus the cars – filled with 19th century cottages and oak trees.

Whilst today he would most certainly have revelled in the diversity of plant life on display at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, at the time of his visit he wrote that ‘there is very little of interest’ when discribing the vegetation, commenting that it was ‘very desert’.

Iziko Museum

Iziko Museum

Sea Point made a lasting impression on the scientist, however. The melting and fusion of rocks at the Sea Point Contact posed a geological question for him that the ‘ordinary theory, of granite having been injected whilst liquefied’ could not convincingly explain.

Darwin also visited Paarl and Franschhoek returning to Cape Town via Sir Lowry Cole’s pass along ‘unfrequented paths’. From the summit he was to comment on the view over False Bay, Table mountain and the Hottentot Holland valley.

Pick up a copy of the Darwin Trail map from Cape Town Tourism offices, Iziko Museums, the Science Centre or the Africa Genome Education Institute, or cycle it as part of an organised seaside ride.

Destination Info

Wanda Coustas

About 

Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

You are reading Popular Hiking Trails and Walks in South Africa Series Read more from this series of articles.