Table Mountain’s flat top is as synonymous with South Africa as Nelson Mandela or Bishop Tutu. The icon is a tourist magnet, attracting visitors from all over the world. More than 24 million people have been transported to the summit since the cable way opened in 1929.
While the mountain excites visitors to our city, it’s what gives us Captonians our “chill” reputation. We’re defined by the weight of the mountain pressing down on us. I don’t mean literally, we’re not flat like those cardboard cut-outs of actors you see at the cinema. It’s more that living with a view on an awe-inspiring mountain has an effect on our collective psyche. We slow down to drink in the beauty*.
Riding in the cable car is fun, but you can queue for over an hour in season. Plus, you’ll see so much more if hike the slopes – 2200 plant species for example, some of which are endemic and found nowhere else in the world. If you’re in good health and the weather is fine, strap on a pair of comfy boots and grab a camera. Nothing tops an exhilarating ascent on foot for a kick to the endorphins.
Here’s a quick review of our three favourite tracks.
India Venster is a popular but challenging route to the summit that begins 50m to the right of the lower cable car station. This one is for the experienced hiker. Don’t attempt if you’ve only ever walked to the shops for a packet of cigarettes. You’ll live to regret your bravado, or maybe you won’t.
Fitness Level: Tough to Difficult
Hiking Time: 2–4 hours (up). You can take the cable car back down.
Technical Challenges: Some scrambling up rocks and mild climbing.
Views: Spectacular, obviously.
Lion’s Head is a short hike for the moderately fit. The path is so well-maintained you can even hike it on bright nights. In fact, it’s a Cape Town tradition to hike Lion’s Head during full moon. Grab your torch and windbreaker. Watching the sun sink into the sea while the giant yellow moon rises over the city is a sight you’ll remember forever.
Fitness Level: Moderate
Hiking Time: 1 – 2 hours (up and down)
Technical Challenges: None, unless you’re acrophobic in which case a couple of the ladders to the summit might turn your stomach. Add a thrill by scrambling up and down the chains.
Views: The view from the top is the visual equivalent of surround sound. Sea, city, mountain. You name it, you can see it.
The Pipe Track
The Pipe Track is a path constructed to service a pipeline running below The Twelve Apostles. The pipeline was built in the 19th century to carry water from Disa Gorge to the Molteno Reservoir in Oranjezicht. The hike follows a contour path along the Atlantic seaboard side of Table Mountain.
Fitness Level: Your granny can do it to Slangolie. All the way to Corridor requires a moderate level of fitness.
Hiking time: 4 and a half hours return, if you go all the way. However, you can turn around anytime as the way in is also the way out.
Technical Challenges: The track is very exposed to the afternoon sun in summer. Hike either in the A.M. in summer, or better yet, on a gorgeous winter’s day when the proteas are in bloom.
No matter you level of fitness or bravery, always be safe. Read the safety guide on San Park’s website before you set foot on the mountain.
Factoid 1: Table Mountain is more than 600 million years old. Respect!
Factoid 2: in 2012, Table Mountain was named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Our most famous Archbishop Desmond Tutu made this video he was so proud.
* We also drink wine.
Post by Rachel Zadok @rachelzadok
Desmond Mpilo Tutu, CH (born 7 October 1931) is a South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid. (Wikipedia). My first memory of Bishop Tutu was of sitting at my grandmother’s table at breakfast in the 1980s. My grandmother, a counsellor of recovering alcoholics and abused woman, was eating a boiled egg with rye toast while reading the newspaper. I was nine or ten years old.
“Tsk,” she said, shaking the paper in irritation. “Bishop Tutu is a really evil man.”
At the time, I did not know who Bishop Tutu was, or even what a bishop was. In my imagination, I pictured a devilish ballet dancer, tatty red tulle, matching red eyes and horns. I was just a kid. Apartheid was not yet part of my consciousness. Little did I know that the man she was talking about would become one of the men I admire most. A man of integrity and passion, whose moral compass is always set to true North.
Fast forward a decade. My grandmother still eats a boiled egg and rye toast for breakfast, but her views have changed. She is a recovering racist: proof that anyone, of any age, is capable of change. Bishop Tutu is her hero and she quotes him often during telephonic counselling sessions.
I don’t remember her favourite Bishop Tutu quotes, like I said, she quoted him often, but I imagine these three are amongst them:
“Resentment and anger are bad for your blood pressure and your digestion.”
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”
And these three are mine:
“History, like beauty, depends largely on the beholder, so when you read that, for example, David Livingstone discovered the Victoria Falls, you might be forgiven for thinking that there was nobody around the Falls until Livingstone arrived on the scene.”
“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of human rights”
“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”
Factoid: Bishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Prize of Peace in 1984 for his leading role in the movement to resolve the problems of Apartheid. Two years later, he became the first black African Archbishop in history, when he was elected as Archbishop of Cape Town.
Do you have a favourite quote from Bishop Tutu? Share them with us on our Facebook page.
Post by Rachel Zadok @rachelzadok
Nobody likes a dry koeksister! That phrase may sound like a sassy admonishment along the lines of “Yo Mama”, but it is, in fact, a uniquely South African bit of cooking advice.
If you’ve never delighted in biting into the crisp exterior of a koeksister, saliva glands erupting as your mouth fills with a syrup, you’re probably not eligible for a South African passport.
The koeksister – pronouced cook-sister – is a jaw-achingly sweet South African confection with a calorie count so high your hips grow an inch if you just breath in the vicinity of a tray of them. And, for some unfathomable reason, they are made in batches that require a tray. Even though another piece of sage advice warns you not to eat more than a single koeksister in a sitting, lest you crystallise the blood in your veins or strip the enamel from your teeth.
The origins of these plaited deep-fried syrup-soaked dough cakes are a little murky, with the descendants of the Dutch settlers and the Cape Malay staking a claim. Generous historians give credence to both claims, accrediting an oval fried spicy dumpling to the Cape Malay, and the crisp syrupy plait to the Afrikaner. All South Africans no matter their origin, however, have koeksister memories. Mine was stuffing my gob at my Afrikaans auntie’s laden table at her garden parties until it felt as though my teeth would fall out.
Sugary, syrupy, gooey, sweet and very, very sticky, the koeksister is not for health conscious calorie counting Capetonian banting community (banting is a uniquely South African diet a bit like Paleo). Unless you make Living Spot’s Paleo Cape Malay Koeksisters, in which case you feel free to stuff your face and still keep all your teeth. The rest of us will keep sneaking a koeksister with our moer koffie when no one is looking.
Factoid: When Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, he visited the widow of Apartheid architect HF Verwoed in Oranje, where they shared a plate of koeksisters.
The discovery of gold in stone ruins north of the Limpopo River in the 1890s attracted prospectors to the Limpopo River valley. The legend of Mapungubwe was told around their campfires and, for many years, treasure hunters dreamed of plundering her riches. But it was only in 1932 that those dreams became a reality for a party of farmers when they stumbled across an exposed grave and a skeletal arm laden with bracelets and beads.
So begins the story of how Mapungubwe was uncovered and later covered up.
Subsequent excavations revealed a court sheltered in a natural amphitheater at the bottom of the hill and an elite graveyard with a spectacular view of the region at the top. Twenty-three graves were excavated from this hilltop site. The bodies in three of these graves were buried in the upright seated position associated with royalty, with a variety of gold and copper items, exotic glass beads, ivory and other prestigious objects. Among the treasures were beadworks from Egypt and India, and porcelain from the Chinese Sung dynasty (960 – 1279). These indicated that the inhabitants of Mapungubwe had trade networks with the East hundreds of years before Marco Polo or Columbus set sail.
Most spectacular among the finds is a gold foil rhinoceros moulded over what was likely a soft core of sculpted wood. Found in pieces in a royal grave, the 800 year old rhino – measuring 11 cm across and made from 24 carat gold – is the first three-dimensional artwork of its kind.
The discovery of Mapungubwe overturned the belief that civilisation had arrived on the shores of Africa in the ships of European colonisers. While Europe was in the throes of the Dark Ages, Southern Africa was in the midst of an age of enlightenment, technological skill and artistic endeavour.
This history did not fit into the views of the time and, later, the South African government’s, and it was suppressed until South Africa was reborn as a democracy in 1994. Today, Mapungubwe’s Golden Rhinoceros is a defining symbol of pre-colonial civilisation in South Africa. It signifies a glorious past that continues to astonish us almost one thousand years later.
The Golden Rhino can be seen at the Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria.
Factoid: The first recorded mention of Mapungubwe was on the 8th of April 1933 when The Illustrated London News ran an article about “a remarkable discovery in the Transvaal: a grave of unknown origin, containing much gold-work, found on the summit of [a] natural rock stronghold in a wild region”.
South Africans love a good honk on a vuvuzela, as football fans from all over the globe discovered in 2010 when we hosted the World Cup. The unique sound they make – like the mating call of Nguni cattle – can be heard miles from any stadium on match day. However, you can’t blow your vuvuzela all the time, no matter how much you might want to. So, we’ve come up with five ways to use your vuvuzela without waking up the neighbours.
- Vuvuzelas make great funnels. The length and tapering width of a vuvuzela makes it the perfect funnel for both liquids and fine dry goods like rice or flour. Keep one in your kitchen, and another one in the boot of your car in case you run out of petrol.
- A vuvuzela can be the ultimate romantic gesture. Show your partner you love her as much as you love the beautiful game. Present her with a vuvuzela filled with long-stemmed roses. This will signal that you take your relationship seriously enough to want to share your interests, while telling her that you appreciate her needs too.
- Do you wish you had a kitchen garden to rival a celebrity chef’s, but live in a tiny apartment with no garden? Fill vuvuzelas with potting soil and plant a different herb in each one. Their roots will love the length of the vuvuzela and your herbs will flourish. Hang the vuvuzelas on the wall outside your kitchen or on your balcony and voila: a vuvuzela kitchen garden. Tip: throw in a marble before filling it to stop the soil falling out the bottom.
- Vuvuzelas are handy for DIY projects too. Make a beautiful festive table using vuvuzelas for the legs, or a bookshelf using them as struts to hold up the shelves.
- Create a bright and colourful chandelier using vuvuzelas. The trumpet shape creates the perfect shade for a bulb while the durable plastic stem acts as a safe conduit for the electric wires.
Factoid: Blowing on a vuvuzela produces a long B flat note. #SouthAfricanCulture
Bobotie, pronounce bow-booa-tea, is a uniquely South African culinary experience of spiced minced meat with a savoury egg custard topping (say what?). Bobotie is especially favoured in the Cape, and it’s DNA can be traced the Indonesian dish Bobotok, which is sometimes made with bee larvae (and you thought South Africans were strange).
The theory goes that colonists from the Dutch East India Company probably brought it to the Cape, where it was adopted by the Cape Malay. The Cape Malay, not keen on the bland Dutch version, threw in whatever spices they could lay their hands on and served it with a spicy sambal.
Back in the day, and by the day we mean the 17th century, bobotie was most likely made with a mixture of mutton and pork (probably because sheep and pigs were easier to bring over by ship than cows). Modern cooks can use any minced meat (lamb, beef, or pork) though beef is most popular. Hipsters can use ostrich. There’s even a veggie version made with lentils. Back in the day, the meat was flavoured with ginger, marjoram and lemon rind. Nowadays, we chuck in curry powder and add sultanas and raisins for sweetness.
South Africans have much to thank the Cape Malay for. Not least of which is the unique fusion of sweet, savoury , curry and custard that we fondly call bobotie.
Factoid: The first bobotie recipe ever published appeared in 1609 in a Dutch cookbook. #SouthAfricanCulture
In 1966, we began our journey to becoming South Africa’s leading jewellery experience. As we enter our fiftieth year in business, we’ve paused to reflect on our role in the South African jewellery industry and the contribution we’ve made to our beautiful country.
Innovation is key to Afrogem’s ethos. We were the first company to open our factory to the public so that our clients could see just what goes in to creating the jewellery in our showroom. We’ve remained at the top of our game with a luxurious fabrication tour that educates and informs.
We’ve grown into the company we are today by reaching for the sky, but we’ve ensured our feet remain firmly rooted in our history. Every artisan we employ, from our goldsmiths to our polishers, can trace their lineage to the skilled Malay gold- and silversmiths that came to the peninsula in the sixteenth century. They established a community below Signal Hill and the colourful and thriving district of Bo-Kaap remains famous for its creativity and passion to this day.
Any celebration of our uniquely South African history would not be complete without a look at what makes our country unlike any other. Over the next weeks, we’ll be sharing a few of our favourite things, from our food to our heroes, with you. We hope you’ll join us in saluting that which makes our nation distinctive, quirky, special and truly South African.
Who Is Afrogem
We’re an innovative South African jeweller and manufacturer with over 50 years experience. We specialise in Tanzanite, Diamond and Gemstone Jewellery.