Any research on Table Mountain hiking will introduce you to the Twelve Apostles. Why? Because they form part of Table Mountain. Let us take a closer look at how they fit into the bigger picture of Table Mountain hiking.
The Twelve Apostles is a chain of seaboard peaks extending behind the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain. An aerial view of Table Mountain reveals it to resemble a molar tooth. The crown represents the ‘Table’ (the famous flat-topped summit), and the one root represents the Twelve Apostles. To give you an idea of the scale, the Table, or summit plateau, measures about 3km across, while the Apostles extend about 6km to the back of the summit plateau. Put another way, the Table comprises only about 10% of the Table Mountain massif.
The Twelve Apostles is a misnomer. Each peak or buttress supposedly represents an Apostle, but a careful and informed count reveals 18 ‘apostles’. To obtain the best view of the individual peaks and buttresses, head to Camps Bay beach or take a drive from Camps Bay to Llandudno. Best at sunset. Known as De Geuvelberge (Gable Mountains) and Kasteelberge (Castle Mountains) by the Dutch during the 17th and 18th centuries, they got their present name in 1820, shortly after the British occupation of the Cape.
Now that you have a better idea about how the Apostles fit into the scheme of Table Mountain hiking, let us zoom in to route options available. Some of the best Table Mountain hikes are located on the Apostles. There is no shortage of choice or diversity. About 15 routes lead up the Apostles, some straightforward, others challenging and far off the beaten track. The easiest (and therefore most popular) is Kasteelspoort. It involves minimal scrambling and narrow ledges, so suitable for families and those with an aversion to heights.
If you enjoy being off the beaten track, but you do not have a great head for heights, routes like Porcupine Ravine, Llandudno Ravine and Woody Ravine will delight. For those with a head for heights and a sense of adventure, Blind Gully, Woody Buttress, Kasteels Buttress and Hout Bay Corner are all superb options.
The best thing about the Twelve Apostles is that you can readily get off the beaten track. If you are averse to meeting too many other hikers along the way, or you appreciate peace and solitude and communion with nature, then Apostle routes are the way to go. The southern Apostles is the remotest and most inaccessible part of Table Mountain and offers lots of wilderness and nature for the wild of heart. All Apostle routes offer sea views across almost pristine slope, so you don not really see or hear the city. The mountain falls away into the ocean, giving a real sense of what the landscape looked like before colonization.
Bear in mind the sea views alluded to above when researching different Table Mountain hikes. The mountain covers a huge area and as such offers different views depending on which side you ascend. A well-known route like Skeleton Gorge offers jungle setting and inland views on the ascent. Another perennial favourite, India Venster, offers city views along the first three-quarters of the route and then sea views to the top (the changing views being one of its attributes). Different people prefer different views. For example, if you come from an arid area or you have grown up on the coast, jungle setting might appeal to you more. Conversely, if you have lived much of your life in a landlocked county or state, you will appreciate an Apostle route more.
The Apostles’ summits are all lower than Table Mountain’s famous tabletop summit. The highest Apostles (which happens to be the closest to the Table) is only about 150 meters lower than the summit plateau. On average, the Apostles lie at a height of around 750 meters, so roughly three-quarters the height of Table Mountain. The further down (south) you go along the Apostles, the greater the distance from the Table and the upper cable station. This means that reaching the summit plateau of the Apostles is not anywhere near the summit proper of Table Mountain.
Take a popular Apostle route like Kasteelspoort. It takes about 1.5 hours to get up the route, i.e. to the Apostles plateau, then another 2 hours to get to the upper cable station, located on the Table. In terms of elevation gain, you gain about 60% of the overall height up Kasteelspoort and the remainder on the leg across to the Table. At Hike Table Mountain, we follow most Apostle routes through to the summit of Table Mountain. Hout Bay Corner and Llandudno Ravine are exceptions, as they top out distant from the Table and would involve a long, undulating hike across the entire length of the Apostles to gain the upper plateau.
As explained earlier, the Twelve Apostles are considered part of Table Mountain. They form part of the Back Table: an expansive and undulating plateau located below and behind the famous Table. The Back Table offers many hidden topographical gems like caves, natural rock labyrinths and secluded peaks offering sensational views. There is also the historic reservoirs, built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which tells the fascinating story of the city’s struggle to augment its water supply.
For me personally, the best thing about the Apostles is the solitude. There are places along this dissected bastion of Table Mountain where few people ever set foot. The absence of the city and suburbia further accentuates the sense of remoteness. If you love nature, the Apostles will meet you on every level.