1M Visitors a Year ... But Table Mountain Still Has a Secret

1M Visitors a Year ... But Table Mountain Still Has a Secret

A tourist abseils down a side of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

SourceThierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty

Why you should care

This gem hidden in plain sight is called Tranquility Cracks for a reason.

Less than two miles (as the Verreaux’s eagle flies) from the most expensive real estate in Africa, at the end of a wind-hewn sandstone crevice, lies a silent world of vaults, apses and transepts where gnarled yellowwood trees arch skyward. They’re vying for their share of what meager sunlight makes it into the sylvan cathedral that is the Tranquility Cracks.

The Cracks used to be “one of Table Mountain’s best-kept secrets,” wrote recently deceased Cape Town hiking guru Mike Lundy in Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula, until a 1987 article “let the cat out of the bag.” Still, every time I’ve hiked the four-hour up-and-down loop, with its incredible ocean views and astounding botanical diversity, I’ve had the Cracks entirely to myself. Which is quite something, considering the spot is surrounded by a city of 4 million.

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Source Nick Dall for OZY

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Source Nick Dall for OZY

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Source Nick Dall for OZY

More than a million visitors take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain every year and tens of thousands more hike up one of three routes (Skeleton Gorge, Kasteelspoort and Platteklip Gorge, which, according to veteran cartographer Peter Slingsby, is “probably the worst way up the mountain”), when really they would be better off opting for more deserted alternatives on the mountain’s 137-square-mile expanse — the Tranquility Cracks being just one of the many options.

The hike, which starts in the ubertrendy beachfront suburb of Bakoven, is best done in the morning when the Twelve Apostles peaks are in shade. Whatever time you choose to hike, Slingsby stresses, wear proper boots, bring foul-weather gear (even if the sun is shining), and take both a proper map and a guidebook. A couple of people — often foreigners — die every year from underestimating the 3,000-foot “straight-sided slab of rock” that is Table Mountain.

After a gentle uphill climb, you’ll turn right onto a near-contour path that follows a historic pipeline and passes a beautifully constructed stone pumphouse. Be sure to heed the “Dangerous Ascent” signs (Slangolie Ravine is one of the most notorious on the mountain, warns Slingsby) and follow the path that continues on the other side of the ravine. After a while you’ll pass an impressive rock ledge (water break!) before rounding the bend into Corridor Ravine, “one of the gentlest slopes up Table Mountain,” writes Lundy. When you reach the top half an hour later, you’ll be able to see all the way to Muizenberg Beach on the opposite side of the city!

After a gentle uphill, you’ll turn right onto a near-contour path that follows a historic pipeline and passes a beautifully constructed stone pumphouse.

The Tranquility Cracks are now less than 10 minutes away, but finding them is the trick. Get your guidebook out and take it slow. If you’ve been attentive, you’ll soon find the crack in the outcrop that is the portal to the Cracks. Here — and here only — I recommend deviating slightly from Lundy’s instructions by clambering onto the top of the outcrop to enjoy the incredible views of Camps Bay and Lion’s Head. Back down again, squeeze your way into the crevice and spend as much time as you like savoring the silent serenity of the Cracks’ many nooks and crannies.

For the return trip, Lundy advises continuing north along the Twelve Apostles (passing the “Dangerous Descent” signs at the top of Slangolie Ravine) and going down via (clearly signposted) Woody Ravine. But if it’s misty or you’re at all unsure, retrace your steps and go back via Corridor Ravine.

Either way, you’ll get back to the trailhead revitalized, wobbly-kneed and deserving of a drink at one of the trendy cocktail bars on the strip at Camps Bay. The snooty waiters will simply have to tolerate your muddy boots.

Go There: TRANQUILITY CRACKS

  • Location: Google can get you to the trailhead at Theresa Avenue, but don’t rely on your smartphone to guide you to the Cracks! Instead, take a copy of Lundy’s book and Slingsby’s Table Mountain map.
  • Safety first: Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to get back. Hike in a group and bring plenty of food, water, warm clothing and a headlamp. Save the emergency number (021 480 7700) to your (fully charged!) phone.
  • Pro tip: If you’re really lucky you may get to see a Brocken Specter from one of the buttresses — a natural phenomenon where your own shadow forms on clouds or mist, surrounded by a rainbowlike halo.
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Source Source Nick Dall for OZY

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