Even though Cape Town starts at sea level, its altitude rapidly climbs to the majestic plateau of Table Mountain. The central business district (CBD) for the city, in fact, lies in the city bowl, a massive circular sloping region. If you enjoy mountains, though, Cape Town has many more surprises in store for you. In this post I would like to take you on a tour of three “bergs” (the Afrikaans word for mountains) that can help orient you as you navigate the city. We will start with Table Mountain (also known as Tafelberg), move to the east to visit Simonsberg, and then return to the outskirts of Cape Town to visit Tygerberg.
It might be tempting to think of Table Mountain as a single entity, but in fact it is part of a large complex. The city bowl is shaped to the east south-east (left in the picture above) by Devil’s Peak and to the north-west by Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. Suburbs like Green Point and Sea Point lie wrapped around Signal Hill. While these sights should be familiar to anyone who visits Cape Town, the complex also extends quite far to the south, extending through a series of small peaks called the Twelve Apostles.
My photo at the top of this post was taken from a boat in the harbor between Mouille Point and Blouberg. One of my favorite snaps from this boat ride focused on just Devil’s Peak and the Table:
As part of my job, I spent a fair amount of time at the University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences. Happily, the campus is perched very close to Devil’s Peak. The mountain is approximately a kilometer in height, just a shade lower than Table Mountain. This is the view I get to see in the morning as I arrive at Anzio Road on the M4 (looking at Devil’s Peak from the northeast):
This close up, Devil’s Peak hides Table Mountain! It provides yet another face if you are hiking on the lower slopes of Table Mountain:
It can be easier to get a perspective of the height of these peaks from a little further away. During a recent performance by the Stadskoor Tygerberg, I snapped a photo of Devil’s peak from Bishops Diocesan College, approximately a kilometer from the base.
Off to the east, a taller peak (1399 meters) rises in the distance. For those of us who live in the northeastern suburbs of the city, Simonsberg is a very handy point of reference; that’s east! The mountain is part of the “Cape Fold” mountains, just like Table Mountain, but it is somewhat isolated from the others. It is named after Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape Colony and the founder of the city of Stellenbosch. It has a distinctive shape that helps it as a landmark:
When I travel to Stellenbosch, I can see the mountain from a much closer vantage. Soon after I arrived in the city, a friend took me to the Delaire Graff Wine Farm, and the view of the mountain from the South was truly spectacular!
When I visited Paarl, I drove up to the Taal Monument, and the view of Simonsberg from the northeast almost made it seem a different mountain.
The final “berg” I want to showcase is on a rather different scale. Tygerberg is a district of Cape Town where I work and for which my choir is named. It is also a range of hills. While they are nowhere near the height of the mountains we have visited so far (topping out at 400 meters or so), their proximity to the northern part of the city amplifies their size. When I was first planning my move to this area, I grew excited, thinking that a wildlife reserve would be right on my doorstep. The name is rather more prosaic. The early settlers of the area noticed that the hillsides become very spotty with darker and lighter vegetation, and they called them Tygerberg, mistakenly thinking tigers have spots.
On the first week after my move to South Africa, my friend Gerard took me to Kanonberg, which is a more northerly hill in the series. A photo from its crest shows the extent to which the southernmost Tygerberg hill is encrusted with residential areas:
Perhaps they are not as grand as the other two “bergs,” but my commute takes me around the Tygerberg hills every day, and I admire the view. I hope to enjoy the Nature Reserve one of these days. You can be sure I will tell the tale here on the blog!