It's a jungle out there: hiking Table Mountain's lush eastern slopes – 28 February 2015

Table Mountain’s typical shrubby vegetation and bare rock faces does not hint at its lush eastern and southern sides. Afro-montane forest carpets the lower slopes on those sides, extending up ravines. ‘Forest’ is misleading, as it resembles equatorial jungle, complete with vines trailing down from the canopy, branches draped with beard-like lichen and boulders covered in moss. Several Table Mountain hikes offer jungle settings at some stretches, providing contrast to the surroundings and mood. If you like jungle, and you find the gloom and closeness mysterious and intriguing rather than claustrophobic, oppressive or monotonous, then hiking Table Mountain from the south or east will enhance the experience. People respond to landscapes in different ways, so if jungles hold no attraction to you, don’t bother with routes like Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine. A few Table Mountain hikes up the western slopes of the mountain – up the 12 Apostles – lead through pockets of jungle, ideal for those wanting only a taster of that environment.

Table Mountain’s forests are a subtype of Afro-montane known as the Western Cape Afro-temperate, containing several endemic species. Talus forests also occur on the mountain, a low forest type characterized by its occurrence on or around scree. Table Mountain’s forests, or jungle, is far less specie-rich than its typical shrubland, and they don’t allow distant views, but they possess unique beauty and atmosphere in stark contrast to the rocky, shrubby slopes of the mountain.

Table Mountain hiking leads through diverse landscapes, shaped by the climate and terrain. While there’s much to savour in the mountain’s sun-drenched, fragrant shrub-clad slopes, punctuated with wind-sculpted outcrops and offering distant views, the gloom and silence of the forest showcases Table Mountain in unexpected ways, filling out its layered character.