The Smuts Track – Table Mountain Walking at its Finest
Welgelegen boutique guesthouse is the ideal base for one of great Cape walks, a mountain trail that links two of Cape Town’s top attractions.
For many of our guests, getting to the top of Table Mountain is literally the high point of their Cape Town visit. The lower cable-way station is just a ten minute drive from the door of Welgelegen, so when conditions are good it’s easy to take a quick decision over breakfast and get there for the first cable-way at 08:30. The best times to go to the top are either early or late in the day, when the light is at its low-angled best.
It’s such a special experience, it really deserves more than return trip on the cable-way. On a winter day with clear blue skies, it provides superb walking. In fact it is quite feasible to walk out the door of Welgelegen and access one of the trails on the northern face of the mountain. The half-day India Venster is the perfect example of this. These trails are challenging and they require the use of fixed ladders and chains.
Even better is to make the mountain the focus of a full day outing. You can’t do better than the Smuts Track! This marked trail runs from the upper cable station all the way to Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens. A total distance of about 9km. It can be done in either direction, but we recommend to start at Kirstenbosch. That’s because it is easier to ascend than descend the steepest section, the cleft of Skeleton Gorge. It also means you can plan to arrive at the top cable-way station in the late afternoon when the sun is low over Lions Head. The cable-way is not too busy then. It’s also a safe route – the trails on the northern face have had reports of incidents.
An Uber from Welgelegen to Kirstenbosch takes 20 minutes and costs R120-150. Once inside, take an hour or more to soak up the wonderful colors and scents. Don’t miss the elegantly curving canopy walkway. Near the Braille Trail, the Smuts Track begins and rises northwards following the Skeleton Stream. Just look out for signs for Skeleton Gorge. The path gets steeper, and intersects with the Contour Path at an altitude of 300m. Here you leave the Gardens, and will see fewer people as you climb the gorge amid mossy rocks, little waterfalls and the call of forest birds. About two-thirds of the way up, there are some welcome ladders to make things easier.
It takes about an hour for the ascent, and that’s the hardest part of the trail over. Take a rest at Breakfast Rock and enjoy the views towards False Bay. A short diversion on a flat trail to the west leads to Hely-Hutchinson Reservoir and a sandy beach. Officially, no swimming is allowed, but it’s tempting on a hot day…
The next landmark on the Smuts Trail is MacClears Beacon, and while the path continues to rise, it is hugely enjoyable, a land of streams, rocks and fascinating fynbos. The beacon is a fine spot for a picnic lunch, and at a height of 1000m, the views in every direction are magnificent.
The final section to the upper cable-way station is the most enjoyable of all. It’s mostly flat, with some boardwalks on boggy sections. Hikers are immersed in wild nature, with sun-birds feeding on nectar from aloes and proteas, while overlooking one the world’s great cities. There’s plenty of time to stop and just take it all in, as the last cable-way is not until 18:00. By the time you reach the station, most visitors will be gone, and the sun will be descending towards the horizon on the Atlantic.
From the lower cable-way, Welgelegen is about an hour downhill on foot, or you might prefer to take another taxi for the short drive to a well-earned bath and aperitif.
Smuts Trail Notes:
– The weather on Table Mountain can quickly change. Check the forecast at reception before and let staff know your plans.
– Be prepared for a real hike with suitable footwear, rain gear, warm clothes, water and snacks. Make sure your phone is fully charged.
– Stay on the trails, as the mountain has steep cliffs, and it is easy to get lost in cloudy conditions.
– Ask at reception if you’d like us to arrange a guide.
– Ask the night before and our kitchen crew will prepare a tasty picnic for the trail.
– The whole Smuts Trail can be walked in 3 hours, but it’s more relaxing to allocate a full day and enjoy the Kirstenbosch Gardens, where there is an excellent restaurant.
– The trail was a favorite of the statesman and soldier Jan Smuts (1870-1950), who was born in the Cape.
– Kirstenbosch Gardens open 08h00 to 18h00 during winter (Apr-Aug), 08h00 to 19h00 in summer, and the adult entry fee is R70.
– The Table Mountain cable-way is R190 one way, with discounts for seniors, students and holders of SANParks Wild Card. In winter the first car up is 08h30, the last down is 18h00 and the café at the top closes at 17h30.
– The book Table Mountain Classics by Tony Lourens covers this and every other conceivable Table Mountain route.
Author: Hlengiwe Magagula
Image 1: Steven Santoro
Image 2: Steven Santoro
Image 3: Genevieve Ferraris
Image 4: Hlengiwe Magagula