The Twelve Apostles

Oct 25, 2011

When viewed from above, the Table Mountain massif resembles a molar (tooth) in shape, the flat-topped summit – also referred to as the Table – forming the crown and the Suburban buttresses and Twelve Apostles the two roots respectively. No discussion about Table Mountain walks and hikes can be complete without reference to the Twelve Apostles. Bastion to the crenellated and castellated Table Mountain proper, this string of peaks extends south from the Table, covering a distance of about 6 km and comprising 18 peaks in total.

So what qualifies as an ‘Apostle’?

A peak alone; or a peak with a buttress? Or just a buttress? It can all get quite confusing when you take examples like Blinkwater Peak, a distinct peak without its own buttress; and Porcupine Buttress, a distinct buttress without its own peak. Which is eligible to be called an Apostle? Not wanting to perpetuate that particular raging debate, let’s just settle on South African National Parks’ non-definitive list of Apostles (from north to south), who chose buttresses to define an Apostle: Porcupine Buttress, Jubilee Buttress, Barrier Buttress, Valken Buttress, Kasteels Buttress, Postern Buttress, Woody Buttress, Spring Buttress, Slangolie Buttress, Corridor Buttress, Kleinkop Buttress, Grootkop Buttress (more a peak than a buttress), Separation Buttress, Grove Buttress and Llandudno Corner (a ridge).

Back in the day when the Cape was still Dutch (pre-1795), the Apostles were known as the Kasteelbergen (Castle Mountains) and Gewelbergen (Gable Mountains). Only two peaks / buttresses bear the names of actual apostles: Judas Peak at the southernmost tip, and St Paul, the most imposing of all the Apostles, now known by the prosaic name of Corridor Buttress. Some of the buttresses’ names suggests their resemblance to a castle, like Kasteels Buttress and Postern Buttress (‘postern’ meaning the lesser or back entrance to a castle). The most popular hiking route up the Apostles is called Kasteelspoort (Castle’s Portal), flanked by the above two buttresses.

How high are the 12 Apostles?

While not quite as high as the Table (averages 1060m), the Twelve Apostles, averaging around 750m, are in some ways more impressive. Dissected by ravines and gullies, and featured with crags, spires and ridges, they present a mouth-watering prospect to the hiker and climber. Not surprising that more than 26 hiking routes have been opened on the Apostles over the years, although only about 10 of them are done on a regular basis nowadays. A few more sees the odd intrepid hiker; the rest are never done and only a few lone, moss-covered cairns bear testimony to their existence.

Needless then to say that the Twelve Apostles offers some of the best hiking on Table Mountain. Routes can be combined to make a hike harder or easier, longer or shorter – and all of them offer sea views. Often, the boom of surf drifts up from far below, an unusual sound to hear when you’re climbing a mountain and therefore very special. The area also offers interesting titbits in the way of history: there used to be a small settlement on the summit, complete with its own little cable car and locomotive, erected during the construction of the reservoirs in the 1890s; and no less than two tunnels lead through the mountain. Then there’s the geology, featuring caves, pinnacles, wind-sculpted rocks and august crags – even a subterranean stream.

Whatever your particular interests, the Twelve Apostles never disappoints. Join Hike Table Mountain on an exploration of these majestic peaks.