Views form an integral part in the satisfaction and joy derived from climbing a mountain. They serve as a fitting climax to the experience and as a reward for the resolve and effort invested in gaining the summit.
Covering an area of 58 square kilometers, Table Mountain boasts a generous summit area sprinkled with a splendid array of viewpoints. The mountain’s geographic setting (bounded by jungle, city and ocean) combined with its rich topography further endows it with viewpoints. Each has its own character, giving one the impression of being on different mountains. Many are panoramic, others dramatic, some atmospheric – but they all have one thing in common: they feed the soul.
Below follow thumbnail descriptions, in no particular order, of the 7 best viewpoints (in my humble opinion) on the Table Mountain massif – which excludes Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak, and includes the Twelve Apostles, the Lower Plateau / Back Table and the Eastern Buttresses.
- Llandudno Peak: I’m always reluctant to leave this place. Summit to the southernmost Apostle, this knoll-like little peak offers staggering views across the Twelve Apostles and Hout Bay valley. It’s a dramatic corner of the mountain, with sheer drop-offs on three sides, giving the impression of being detached from the mountain.
- Grootkop summit: Grootkop (Afrikaans for “large hill”) is a prominent Apostle about 40 minutes’ walk from Llandudno Peak. I cannot think of another point on the mountain that commands such panoramic views. Together with the solitude and silence that pervades the place, you leave here happier and calmer than before.
- Blinkwater Needle: This rock spire is located about two-thirds of the way up Blind Gully, a fairly challenging hiking route on the northernmost Apostle. Surrounded by lots of geological drama, it offers more in the way of atmosphere than panoramas. And there’s no shortage of solitude, if that’s important to you.
- Klaasens Buttress summit: located on the south-eastern extremity of the Table Mountain massif, this inconspicuous buttress offers splendid views into Orange Kloof – a pristine valley at the back of the mountain – and across to the back of the southern Apostles. Sculpted rock-formations and sheer drop-offs add to the attraction of the place.
- Fountain-Africa Ledge junction: This is the right-hand corner of the great north / front face of Table Mountain. Backed by imposing cliffs, the place offers superb views across the city and the Twelve Apostles / Atlantic Seaboard. Accessible via the India Venster route.
- Silverstream Buttress summit: Located on the far left-hand side of the Table, and set forward from the greater part of the Table, it offers grand and striking views of the entire Table. Few people venture out to this corner of the mountain, so all yours to enjoy.
- Eastern Rim: There is a rock on the edge of the eastern rim of the Table that provides unrivaled views towards the east: the Cape Flats, False Bay and the mountains around the Winelands. Only a 10 minute walk from Maclear’s Beacon, highest point on the mountain, it rarely sees people. The rock itself is wind-sculpted to form natural stools, making for a perfect lunch or tea spot. One of my favorite places on the mountain.
As an afterthought, I might mention that the views from the upper cable station are great, too, but the presence of people – and man-made structures – greatly detract. There is no atmosphere, no sense of nature, no perception of grandeur, no opportunity to experience the spirit of the mountains – all important components to a great mountain viewpoint. So despite its impressive position, I cringe to include it as one of the best viewpoints on the mountain. Besides, Fountain-Africa Ledge junction offers very much the same views – and with a more spectacular backdrop – only 130 meters (about 430 feet) lower down.
A list of the top Table Mountain viewpoints will always be a contentious issue. Different strokes for different folks. A viewpoint is to a certain extent like a point of view: subjective. People respond to different nuances in landscape. But having roamed Table Mountain corner to corner, in all weather conditions, many times over, I feel confident in my choice of viewpoints.
Not wanting to split hairs, but I think it’s important to differentiate between viewpoints and special locations. A viewpoint is a special location with views as the main attraction. A special location is a position on the mountain where the atmosphere of the place predominates, sometimes working synergistically with views to create a truly special space. All the viewpoints listed above score pretty high on the atmospheric / ambience scale. Needless to say, the viewpoints around the upper cable station score very low. Some people are more in tune with the natural environment than others and rely on a variety of sense impressions for stimulation; others purely want a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. There’s no right or wrong, but consider your own preferences when seeking out a viewpoint.
So, the verdict is out on which viewpoint ranks as the best on the mountain. My answer: there is no ‘The Best’ viewpoint. What’s considered great by one person is bound to be dismissed as mediocre by another. For what it’s worth, my personal favourite – special locations excluded – is Grootkop summit. The views are glorious and the atmosphere meditative.
Lastly, views in the presence of clouds should not be discounted. Clouds and mist have the ability to transform an average viewpoint into a dramatic one. Some of the most memorable views I’ve had hiking on Table Mountain involved mist or cloud. The scenery suddenly becomes dynamic, alive. Spires and pinnacles show up more clearly, and peaks appear higher and wilder. Sculpted boulders take on the appearance of ghostly shadows. Cloud and mist might blot out the distant landscape, but it brings to life the immediate surroundings.
Viewpoints are one of many gems you discover when hiking Table Mountain. And the best ones are often won by sweat on the brow.