Table Mountain (Khoikhoi: Hoerikwaggo, Afrikaans: Tafelberg) is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top. The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. Table Mountain is home to large array of fauna and flora, most of which is endemic.
The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau approximately 3 kilometres (2 mi) from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil’s Peak to the east and by Lion’s Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town. This broad sweep of mountainous heights, together with Signal Hill, forms the natural amphitheatre of the City Bowl and Table Bay harbour. The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end of the plateau and is marked by Maclear’s Beacon, a stone cairn built in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear for trigonometrical survey. It is 1,086 metres (3,563 ft) above sea level, and about 19 metres (62 ft) higher than the cable station at the western end of the plateau.
The cliffs of the main plateau are split by Platteklip Gorge (“Flat Stone Gorge”), which provides an easy and direct ascent to the summit and was the route taken by António de Saldanha on the first recorded ascent of the mountain in 1503.
The flat top of the mountain is often covered by orographic clouds, formed when a south-easterly wind is directed up the mountain’s slopes into colder air, where the moisture condenses to form the so-called “table cloth” of cloud. Legend attributes this phenomenon to a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks. When the table cloth is seen, it symbolizes the contest.
Table Mountain is at the northern end of a sandstone mountain range that forms the spine of the Cape Peninsula that terminates approximately 50 km to the south at the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Immediately to the south of Table Mountain is a rugged “plateau” at a somewhat lower elevation than the Table Mountain Plateau (at about 1000 m), called the “Back Table”. The “Back Table” extends southwards for approximately 6 km to the Constantia Nek-Hout Bay valley. The Atlantic side of the Back Table, is known as the Twelve Apostles, which extends from Kloof Nek (the saddle between Table Mountain and Lion’s Head) to Hout Bay. The eastern side of this portion of the Peninsula’s mountain chain, extending from Devil’s Peak, the eastern side of Table Mountain (Erica and Fernwood Buttresses), and the Back Table to Constantia Nek, does not have single name, as on the western side. It is better known by the names of the conservation areas on its lower slopes: Groote Schuur Estate, Newlands Forest, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cecilia Park, and Constantia Nek.
Prehistoric inhabitation of the district is well attested (see for example the article on Fish Hoek). About 2000 years ago the Khoikhoi migrated towards the Cape Peninsula from the north, displacing the San and bringing with them their herds of cattle and sheep. It was the Khoikhoi who were the dominant local tribe when the Europeans first sailed into Table Bay.
António de Saldanha was the first European to land in Table Bay. He climbed the mighty mountain in 1503 and named it Taboa do Cabo (Table of the Cape, in his native Portuguese). The great cross that the Portuguese navigator carved into the rock of Lion’s Head is still traceable.
In 1796, during the British occupation of the Cape, Major-General Sir James Craig ordered three blockhouses to be built on Table Mountain: The King’s blockhouse, Duke of York blockhouse (later renamed Queen’s blockhouse) and the Prince of Wales blockhouse. Two of these are in ruins today, but the King’s blockhouse is still in good condition. and easily accessible from the Rhodes Memorial.
Between 1896 and 1907, five dams, the Woodhead, Hely-Hutchinson, De Villiers, Alexandria and Victoria reservoirs, were opened on the Back Table to supply Cape Town’s water needs. A ropeway ascending from Camps Bay via Kasteelspoort ravine was used to ferry materials and manpower (the anchor points at the old top station can still be seen). There is a well-preserved steam locomotive from this period housed in the Waterworks Museum at the top of the mountain near the Hely-Hutchinson dam. It had been used to haul materials for the dam across the flat top of the mountain. Cape Town’s water requirements have since far outpaced the capacity of the dams and they are no longer an important part of the water supply.
Arguments for a national park on the Cape Peninsula, centred on Table Mountain, began in earnest in the mid-1930s. Following a big fire in 1986, the Cape Times started a ‘save the mountain’ campaign, and in 1989 the Cape Peninsula Protected Natural Environment (CPPNE) area was established. However, environmental management was still bedeviled by the fragmented nature of land ownership on the Peninsula. Following another big fire in 1991, Attorney General Frank Kahn was appointed to reach consensus on a plan for rationalizing management of the CPPNE. In 1995, Prof. Brian Huntley recommended that SANParks be appointed to manage the CPPNE, with an agreement signed in April 1998 to transfer around 39,500 acres to SANParks. On 29 May 1998, then-president Nelson Mandela proclaimed the Cape Peninsula National Park. The park was later renamed to the Table Mountain National Park.
Fires are common on the mountain. The most recent major fires include those of January 2006, which burned large amounts of vegetation and resulted in the death of a tourist (a charge of arson and culpable homicide was laid against a British man who was suspected of starting the blaze), and March 2015.
The Table Mountain Cableway takes passengers from the lower cable station on Tafelberg Road, about 302 m above sea level, to the plateau at the top of the mountain, at 1067 m. The upper cable station offers views overlooking Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island to the north, and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south.
Construction of the cableway was first started in 1926, and the cableway was officially opened in 1929. In 1997, the cableway was extensively upgraded, and new cars were introduced carrying 65 instead of 25 passengers. The new cars give a faster journey to the summit, and rotate through 360 degrees during the ascent or descent, giving a panoramic view over the city.
The top cable station offers viewpoints, curio shops, a restaurant and walking trails of various lengths.
In November 2011, Table Mountain was named one of the new seven wonders according to votes received, but the official result of the new natural wonders are still to be presented to the world by the New7Wonders of the World.
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