Perched on the summit of the Tygerberg there is a constant stream of largely silent aeroplanes, their respective brightly coloured bodies and tails indicative of their places of origin, that fly down the west side of the berg when coming into land in Cape Town.
It gives one a sense of omnipotence to sit quietly at the viewpoint above these planes and to watch them from a distance. For a moment you can imagine how God must feel – perched on a cloud surveying earth to the accompaniment of mandolines, or is that harps?
Cynicism aside, it is rather a soulful experience to sit atop the Tygerberg and the views are pretty incredible on a clear day. From here you get a 360 degree view around Cape Town, and the vista of Table Mountain and False Bay is incredible.
On the other side the views of the mountains of Stellenbosch and Somerset West vie for attention, give or take the smog that, when there is no wind, hovers over this part of the city – a sure sign that our carbon emissions are excessive. Watching a sunset from up here, as a result, is heavenly, and the pink tipped clouds, enhanced by our daily diesel deluge, a requisite sight for every visitor (and resident) to the Mother city. For this reason the Tygerberg nature reserve is vastly underrated (the views not the smog!).
Although I can understand why. On the flipside, the 300 hectare reserve that is also once again home to bontebok is hemmed in on all sides by the hustle and bustle of the city. This range of hills to the north of the city was left largely untouched for a long time but there is a lot of development along its slopes and the suburbs of Welgemoed, Bellville ext 53, Welgedacht and Plattekloof infringe on its very borders. At times it is hard to distinguish between suburb and nature reserve.
Photograph: Views over the northern suburbs from Tygerberg Nature Reserve
That said, it is a wonderful green space, and the largest conservation area in the northern suburbs, for residents to escape to, and although small, there are some challenging walks given the sharp inclines – I would imagine training for something like the otter trail here, pack on back, tackling the Golden Mole trail that, although only 3.5 kilometres will easily tire you out if you do it a couple of times in one morning! (it is painfully obvious that I’ve never actually done any of this sort of training – this is merely a suggestion!)
And the walk up the hill will have you easily panting, even if it is part of the Tortoise trail that is barely registered as a hike it is so short. Other sign posted walks include the Duiker, the Wild Olive, Ukhetshe, Induli and Watsonia walks (you get a map upon paying your entrance fee at the Welgemoed gate). Oh, and there is a dam that looks more like a fish pond in the lower reaches of the reserve, in amongst Welgemoed.
Tygerberg is one of the only places where you’ll find the extremely endangered renosterbosveld (rhino bushveld), in this case Swartland shale renosterveld, and whilst we were there, evidence of a controlled burn, also known as an ecological burn, had left one side of the hillside charcoaled against the turquoise sky. The burning has something to do with discouraging the wild olive, which otherwise takes over here, and encouraging seed dispersement of the renosterveld.
Photographs: Left – The Tower; Right – Charcoaled Renosterveld
Perched atop the Tygerberg is a rather unsightly transmitter that most people, including the rangers of the park itself, appear to conveniently ignore. The walk up the side of the hill is dominated by its bulk but once up here, despite the noise of a generator, the views mean that you hardly notice the bulky tower at all.
On our way up, because of the controlled burning, we managed to find a couple of field mice (which I later discovered are called four-striped grass mice) in amongst the fynbos that made our slog up the hill that much more worthwhile – when you’re left in the dust of your four-year old, it takes a certain diminishment of ego to manage the climb with any dignity! Just downhill from the viewpoint is a picnic area beneath a series of pine trees, a shady spot that, after a climb up here, is a welcome respite and also has gorgeous views over the city.
Packing a picnic lunch is highly recommended as there is no sublime little tea shop under the boughs to fulfill your cullinary needs, despite the fact that by the time you’re up here, the thought of tea and a muffin is right up there with ‘boy, do I need a seat!’. But on the autumnal morning on which we made the ascent, we chose instead to munch our nuts and fruit atop the viewpoint whilst watching an eagle scour the sky for his tea.
Photographs: Left – The Picnic Spot; Right – the views over False Bay
Whilst we munched, we pondered the fact that the reserve has about 460 plant species, 12 of which are endemic to Cape Town (which means they’re found nowhere else) and three are endemic to the reserve. That’s quite amazing given the size of the reserve.
Whilst there is no series of jungle gyms, a fallen pine log served just as well, and our progeny had plenty to occupy him – hey, it’s the great outdoors, what is there that wouldn’t grab his attention!
And the walk back to the gate is more than sedate, down the tarred road that we could have taken as an alternative climb to the top but why stick to the straight and narrow, when you can take a road untried? The road takes one past the reserve’s Kristo Pienaar Environmental Education Centre, which has its own resource centre, library and herbarium and is hired out as a venue.
Tygerberg Nature Reserve opens its gates on weekdays between 9am and 4pm and on weekends from 9am until 6pm. There is an entrance fee of R10 per adult and R5 for children over 13 years of age.