Table Mountain Hike: Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravines

Cecilia Forest
Cecilia Forest

One of my many treks to the top of Table Mountain starts at Cecilia Forest which forms a beautiful part of Constantia. The Forest is named after Cecil John Rhodes who owned the land at one point in time. Large commercial plantations once occupied this area and are evident at the start of the hike. There is a convenient parking lot with a friendly security guard to watch out for your vehicle as you mission your way up to peace of mind.

The first viewpoint is the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens on the contour path that hugs the mountain side. This 528 Ha piece of South African heritage is acclaimed as one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. Evidence of Stone Age man, this site provided food and water to people for millenniums. It has also been a place of conflict and neglect. However in 1913 Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden was established.

View of Kirstenbosch
View of Kirstenbosch

From the slopes above the gardens, you will follow the signage through Afromontane forests that form much of the ascent of skeleton gorge and nursery ravine. These well-watered ravines are home to the oldest and largest trees on the mountain. They survived incessant tree-felling by colonists in the 1600 and 1700s. Behold the beautiful canopies and rock features to climb among. You may even hear the tranquil flow of streams cascading down the mountain side. Exposed cape granite under the “skeleton waterfall” is a story of underground magma cooling and forming this geology and is a refreshing spot to dunk your head.

Skeleton Rock Scrambling
Skeleton Rock Scrambling

The climb will burn your legs but the beauty of the canopy, views of the city and the white beach sand at the summit of Skeleton Gorge shines a path to heaven on earth. Hely Hutchinson and Woodhead, two of five dams built on Table Mountain are welcoming refreshment. Take a sneaky swim in one of these reservoirs and it will revive your energy to explore the surrounds of what is a small piece of heaven under the table cloth cloud.

Hely-Hutchinson Dam
Hely-Hutchinson Dam
Woodhead Dam
Woodhead Dam

The weather can change from one side of the mountain to the other. I have climbed up in the sunshine, summited in an airy blanket of cloud and down in pouring rain. Take some dry clothes whether it is for the swim or the temperamental weather. Your car ride home will also be that much more comfortable for you to reflect on the journey you just conquered.

The descent is best enjoyed via Nursery Ravine. Although your legs may feel like jelly, watch your step. The changes in vegetation and far stretching views will leave to breathless…again. The South African national flower, the King Protea can be seen along most of this trail and flowers for most the year. Views of the palatial homes of Constantia over the plains of informal settlements to False Bay leave a stark contrast of the inequality gap in South Africa and a gratitude for being part of the privileged few to enjoy free time to explore the beauty of the mountain that towers over the mother city.

King Protea
King Protea

The Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine trails are my favorite accesses to the table top. The fastest route is Platteklip Gorge, a short drive from the Cable Station, however for the true nature, beauty and tranquility of Table Mountain, nothing beats this hike.

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