I hiked the five day 72kms Hoerikwaggo Trail from The Upper Cable Car Station on Table Mountain in Cape Town to Cape Point in September 2010. Hoerikwaggo is the indigenous Khoekhoen word for Table Mountain, meaning “mountains in the sea”. This is an amazing wild hike in the middle of urban Cape Town. Some of the hiking is very tiring but one has the luxury of having one’s luggage transported and staying in four beautiful comfortable camps. This description focuses on the hiking first and then describes the camps.
There is a gap in the trail. The area that the trail goes through is managed by Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) which is a part of South African National Parks. There is a section between Redhill and Smitswinkel Camp (about 15kms by a circular road) where the way is blocked by private land with no path and a later section where right of way for hikers is not clear. At the moment one has to travel this section by vehicle. The map shows a place designated for the fifth camp about a kilometre from the Redhill Road but it is unclear when this will be ready.
Direction of travel
The first issue that one needs to address is whether to hike from Cape Point or from the Upper Cable Car Station. The website of South African National Parks encourages people to hike from Cape Point. I don’t understand why they do that. The Upper Cable Car Station is 900m higher than the lower lighthouse at Cape Point so hiking from Cape Point results in a net height gain over the trail of that height. I normally find it easier to hike down than up. Secondly, and probably more importantly, the third day between Silvermine and Kommetjie is a tough day. To hike it in the opposite direction with two hours hiking on the beach before the 600m ascent of Chapman’s Peak, the 250m drop into the saddle and then a further 350m ascent to the shoulder of Noordhoek Peak is very tough; and unnecessary if one hikes in the other direction. So this description describes hiking from the Upper Cable Car Station to Cape Point.
Trail directions and maps
Until May 2010 TMNP required hikers to hire their trail guides if they booked accommodation in the tented camps. I suspect, for that reason, they did not issue a detailed description of the route. They have now dropped the requirement to hire a guide but continue to be tight mouthed about the route. Their view is that the route is laid out on Slingsby maps. I called Slingsby and confirmed that their latest maps for the route are:
Table Mountain Version 10.1
Silvermine and Hout Bay v3.1
Cape Point v3.1
The Hoerikwaggo Trail is clear on the Table Mountain map (although the guides took Fiona McIntosh, the author of ‘Top 12 Hiking Trails of the Western Cape’, past Woodhead Dam and the Valley of the Red Gods which is not the route on the map.) On the Silvermine and Hout Bay map the Trail is clear except for the big distance from in front of Constantiaberg through to Chapman’s Neck. There are two references to a Silvermine-Orange Kloof Trail which might be intended to be the same but I believe that that reference in front of Constantiaberg to be wrong as it makes no sense to take the lower path when the higher path is more direct (also confirmed by an ex-Hoerikwaggo guide). On the Cape Point map there are no references at all to the Hoerikwaggo Trail and a path clearly intended to be part of the Trail, from the reservoir near the Witsand Road to just before Kleinplaas Dam, is not on the map at all. That point notwithstanding I believe that the Slingsby maps are the most accurate record of the existing paths on the mountain. I met one group who were hiking the Trail using the Map Studio Table Mountain & Cape Peninsula Map 1st Edition which does not show many paths on the Trail. Based on that map this group was going to walk several kilometres further than they needed to. A map is essential because the Trail is not marked on the ground.
(The cartographer, Peter Slingsby, has read this article and has provided insight into a number of issues. TMNP specifically asked him not to mark the Hoerikwaggo Trail in the latest version of the Cape Point map because at that stage the Smitswinkel Camp had not been completed and they also said that the route had not been finalised. They were also reluctant for him to mark the full Hoerikwaggo Trail on the other maps (in my view because at that stage they were still requiring hikers to use guides) and thus earlier official TMNP trails like the False Bay Scenic Route and the Silvermine-Orange Kloof Trail remain on the maps. Peter says that TMNP believed that the lower path in front of Constantiaberg of the Silvermine-Orange Kloof Trail was safer than the higher path and thus they marked the lower path as the official one. (I concede that point although I do not consider the higher path to be unsafe and the TMNP guides clearly have the same view.) Peter Slingsby does not check every part of the ground when publishing new versions of his maps. He asked TMNP to check his Cape Point map and, despite them spending a lot of money and time creating the new path from the reservoir near the Witsand Road to just before Kleinplaas Dam, they did not tell him about it.)
Upper Cable Car Station (1067m above sea level) to Orange Kloof Camp (100m)
10kms (although I probably walked further) and 967m net height loss
13h30 to 18h00 = 4.5 hours
The Trail started with an easy 45 minute walk to Maclear’s Beacon on the Eastern Table which is the highest point on the Mountain but only 17m higher than Cable Car Station. One can start the harder way and, rather than catch the cable car, one can walk up Platteklip Gorge. You must be very keen to do that! There are beautiful views across the City and Table Bay.
The route then turns south west on to the Smuts Track (named after the late South African Prime Minister who used to walk this way) and descends about 100m in a distance of about 700m.
At this point I made a mistake and unknowingly turned off the Smuts Track and took the path heading due west past Waaikoppie towards Echo Valley. I was completely entranced. This was an exceptionally beautiful route. I was walking along a contour, mainly on a boardwalk, surrounded by magnificent flora. Quite a lot of water was flowing off the mountain under the board walk.
When I realised that I was on the wrong path I turned south west at the next junction, near St Michael, and went over the ridge and descended a further 150m overlooking Hely-Hutchinson and Woodhead Dams with distant views of Hout Bay beyond. This was another exceptionally attractive path.
There was one place where I needed to hold on to a chain to cross a rock on the path.
I crossed the Woodhead Dam wall and picked up the jeep track, meeting the Trail again near the Overseer’s Cottage and the tap (important on a hot dry day).
From there it was a steep descent of about 500m over about 2.5kms distance to Constantia Neck. Some hikers will find this descent will hurt their knees.
The views were now of the Cape Town Southern Suburbs and False Bay.
It was then an easy one kilometre walk through Orange Kloof to the camp.
The day was blue with a steady wind. The wind was cold on top of Table Mountain and as I descended from the Overseer’s Cottage in the shade. There had been heavy rain in two of the previous four days so there was a lot of ground water on the path and in streams. The paths were in a good condition (except for a few hundred metres before Constantia Neck) and the walking was easy. My walk along the jeep track was longer but easier than the actual Trail (I have hiked most of the distance, which I missed today, before.) This is a relatively easy hiking day. If you are troubled by this hike then you will find the next two days very difficult.
If one hikes the Trail in the opposite direction it will be a lot tougher because of the 967m net height gain.
Orange Kloof Camp (100m above sea level) to Silvermine Camp (450m)
15kms and 350m net height gain
09h00 to 16h00 = 7 hours
The day started with an easy one kilometre hike back up to Constantia Neck. It is then easy to lose the path. One needs to walk down the road towards Hout Bay for about 200m to a locked vehicle gate on the left hand side. There is a sign inside the gate advising that TMNP had acquired a sliver of land from the Silvermine Estate to facilitate access to Vlakkenberg. It is not clear, but the Hoerikwaggo Trail actually follows this route. There is a pedestrian access to the right of gate. Shortly afterwards there is a sign on the left that indicates the route to Vlakkenberg, once again without reference to Hoerikwaggo. Take this relatively unattractive access route (which becomes very steep), about 20m wide between two fences, for about a kilometre until one is on the mountain above private properties. The path then climbs constantly but easily up the flanks of Vlakkenberg to Vlakkenberg Nek.
At this stage I had climbed about 450m since leaving Orange Kloof Camp. I had beautiful views of Orange Kloof, Table Mountain Back Table and down to Hout Bay and then as I went over the neck views opened up to False Bay.
One of the joys of walking in these mountains is that in a short time one can get views of completely different coastlines and areas of the Peninsula. In the next kilometre the path dropped about 100m into a valley and then the same amount up on to the flanks of Elephant’s Knee.
I stopped for a snack, three hours after leaving, near Picnic Rock and had a lovely view of Hout Bay.
For the next two hours I followed the path that was largely a contour path around Constantiaberg. It descended slowly for about 150m and then started ascending slowly. Many small streams tumbled down the mountain and over the path. Throughout the path was in a good condition. In many places the going had been improved by the laying of rocks. I was grateful for the good path because the mountainside above and below the path was very steep.
I could see Chapman’s Peak Drive far below me and a path that had a junction with mine descending very steeply to the Toll Plaza area.
There was then a 100m steep ascent zig zagging up the path that starts in Blackburn Kloof to the wooden lookout point 600m above the sea level far below.
After a snack and chat with other hikers I followed the easy 150m descent over about three kilometres, past the Silvermine Dam, to the tented camp near the mountain bikers’ car park. The weather had been mild and dry all day with a light breeze. There were plenty of sources of water on the trail. I had met about five groups of hikers during the day to the Blackburn Lookout and seen others on lower paths and several groups in Silvermine. I arrived tired and happy.
This route will be easier in the other direction because one will descend Blackburn Ravine and also descend the 450m from Vlakkenberg Neck to Orange Kloof Camp.
Silvermine Camp (450m) to Slangkop Camp near Kommetjie Lighthouse (sea level)
21kms and 450m net height loss
08h00 to 16h00 = 8 hours
This was the toughest day of the Trail because it was long and had a lot of ups and downs. It broke down something like this:
From the camp, via the dam wall, 250m height gain up the jeep track to the shoulder of Noordhoek Peak – 1 hour
A descent of 350m to the neck between Noordhoek and Chapman’s Peak – 1 hour
An ascent of 250m from the neck to Chapman’s Peak – 1hour 15 minutes
Lunch break on the peak – 30 minutes
Descent of 600m from Chapman’s Peak to Noordhoek Beach – 1 hour 45 minutes
Walk the length of Noordhoek Beach – 1 hour
Tea break – 30 minutes
Kommetjie beach round to lighthouse and Slangkop Camp – 1 hour
On the mountain the route was very rocky but well marked. The going on the wet sand on the beach was relatively easy except that the tide was coming in so every few minutes I was running from an incoming wave. The day was sunny but not very hot and windy in exposed places. THERE WAS NO WATER ON THE TRAIL ALL DAY! I only met two groups on the mountain. It was Saturday and there were lots of people on Noordhoek Beach and even more on Kommetjie Beach and fifty on surfboards in the sea at Kommetjie. I loved looking down far below me to Chapman’s Peak Drive and the beautiful sea. The views of both coastlines of the Peninsula from the mountain were magnificent as was the view of and along the beach. I had to cross a stream at the end of Noordhoek Beach and avoided taking my boots off because the water looked green and polluted.
I had asked Mxolisi, the camp host at Orange Kloof and Silvermine, which was the best camp and he said Slangkop. When I asked him why he said it was because it was close to a shop. In my unfair and highhanded way I decided that his basis for judging a camp was different from mine. Well by the time I got to Kommetjie I was in complete agreement with him and succumbed to the pleasures that Kommetjie Village could offer on a Saturday afternoon and stopped for a cold Amstel beer and a boerewors roll!
TMNP encourages hikers to walk the trail in the other direction. In my view that is just plain silly for this day. After walking a long distance on the beach one then has to first ascend 600m up Chapman’s peak and then another 350m up to the shoulder (not the peak) of Noordhoek Peak. One exhausted group that I met half way up Chapman’s Peak had taken five hours to that point from Kommetjie. I am sure that it took them another five hours to Silvermine Camp.
Slangkop Camp near Kommetjie Lighthouse (sea level) to Redhill Road (250m)
12kms and 250m net height gain
11h00 to 15h00 = 4 hours
This was the easiest of all the days. The initial 150m climb up the 7 zigzags was relatively easy because the zigzags were fairly long.
I hiked today with Dave Wolfaardt whom I met on the Oorlogs Trail. The rest of the hike was spent on the plateau gently moving no lower than 100m above sea level and no higher than 280m. The path was easy to walk on.
The vegetation was attractive fynbos. The day was sunny, about 22°C with a cool breeze. We saw lots of birds and a small tortoise.
The walk was delightful. When I first looked at the map I was disappointed that the only route marked would take us to the outskirts of the residential area of Ocean View. HOWEVER, TMNP HAS CREATED A NEW PATH WHICH IS NOT ON THE LATEST SLINGSBY MAP FOR CAPE POINT, SIMONSTOWN AND KOMMETJIE VERSION 3.1! After crossing the Witsand Road and passing the reservoir, at the point that the marked path turns towards Ocean View, the new path begins. We decided that it was the official route because someone had gone to some trouble to lay the way with rocks. This unmarked path stays south of the Bokramspruit for about 2kms before crossing it and joining the marked path on the other side of the Spruit just before the ridge.
(Hiking the other way it is not so obvious that one should take this path and many people must walk down into Ocean View.) It took us about 2.5 hours from the start to the Kleinplaas Dam wall where we stopped for tea for 30 minutes.
It was then an easy one hour walk to the junction of Redhill Road and Klawervlei Road and the end of the trail for the day.
In that last hour we had many lovely views of False Bay.
There was also a very different view of Table Mountain in the distance.
It was school holidays and there were a lot of people near the dam. Most of them took the shorter route up the jeep track from Brooklands. Drinking water was available from Bokramspruit and the dam.
The route in the other direction will be marginally easier.
The Slingsby map shows the site of the proposed fifth camp for the Hoerikwaggo Trail to be about one kilometre from the junction down Klawervlei Road, near the grave of the Navy mascot dog, Just Nuisance. It is not clear when this will be ready.
Smitswinkel Camp (150m) to Buffelsfontein Visitors’ centre (40m)
8kms and 90m net height loss
09h00 to 12h30 = 3.5 hours
I hiked this part of the Trail with five other members of the Meridian Hiking Club led by Dolores Donovan. The Camp is 400m from the entrance gate of the Cape Point Reserve and it is another 600m on the road to a parking place on the left. On the map the walk thereafter is described as being the False Bay Scenic Walk which it certainly was. It stayed above the sea cliffs and provided a wonderful view across the Bay.
It skirted the peak of Paulsberg but went over Kanonkop and reached a height of 230m.
The path was generally rocky but was otherwise sandy and easy walking.
The route turned westwards, away from the sea, and then headed south again through vegetation to the Buffelsfontein Visitors’ Centre. There were a few sources of water. The clouds were moving fast and most of the time was overcast. We walked in light rain for about twenty minutes. While drinking coffee at the Visitors’ Centre the heavens opened and rain poured down. After about an hour of rain we abandoned the walk. This was a relatively easy walk. The hike in the other direction will probably be no more or less difficult.
Buffelsfontein Visitors’ Centre (40m) to Cape Point (140m)
6kms and 100m net height gain
12h00 to 15h00 = 3 hours
I returned on another day with Tibby and our friends, Bev and Bernard, to do the last leg. Soon after leaving the Visitors’ Centre we saw three bontebok and a calf. The path dipped gently into the valley and up the other side with views up and down the coast. It was comfortable walking with a good path and beautiful flowers.
We crossed the Meadows and began walking along the top of the cliffs with an 80m drop down to the aquamarine sea. This was a spectacular part of the walk.
The path then turned inland up towards the Protea and Restio Overnight Trail Huts on Vasco da Gama Peak. There was a steady 200m ascent over a neck and almost to the top of Vasco da Gama Peak from where we looked down on Cape Point.
The descent was down a rocky ridge keeping us surrounded by bushes until the last moment when we arrived at the Cape Point car park.
This could be the end of the Trail but perfectionists will want to do the last ascent to the upper lighthouse and the walk round to the viewpoint over the lower lighthouse.
This was a delightful way to finish the Trail. There was only one small stream for water. The weather was blue and warm with a cooling breeze. This was a relatively easy walk. The hike in the other direction will probably be no more or less difficult.
|Cable Car||Orange Kloof||10||4.5||-967||Relatively easy but tough on knees|
|Silvermine||Kommetjie||21||8||-450||Hardest day and tough on the knees|
|Redhill||Smitswinkel||Transfer by car|
|Smitswinkel||Cape Point||14||6.5||+10||Easy and lovely finish|
|Total of Trail||72||30||-807||Wonderful experience|
There are currently four tented camps along the route. They each accommodate twelve people overnight. They were intended for sole use by Hoerikwaggo hikers but the take up has not been high so anyone can now book a tent in the camps and can drive up to each camp. The principle behind the building of the camps was to touch the earth lightly and so they have been built adjacent to places where other buildings or activities were in place and have been built almost entirely from wood. The camps have been built with great care and thoughtful design and are very attractive and rustic. Each camp has a different feel and all are wonderful. Each camp has a large communal kitchen dining room which is fully equipped with gas cooking rings, a fridge/freezer, crockery, cutlery, glasses, pots and pans and braai grids and utensils. They also have wood stoves to produce heat in the winter. There are outside braai areas at all the camps with the one at Slangkop being principally enclosed.
At Smitswinkel there is also a large indoor fireplace where a braai could happen on a wet day. There are lovely views of mountain or sea from these communal areas with imaginative sliding doors and windows permitting the outside to come in on hot days.
There is plenty of internal and external seating. Wooden boardwalks connect all parts of each camp. The tents are a good size and accommodate two full size single beds in each except for Orange Kloof and Silvermine where there are only five tents with one in each camp accommodating four beds. The bottom end of each tent opens up to provide a small wooden porch and a view
The tents are all encased in hard corrugated plastic and wooden poles so one is protected from the elements in the tents; and yet they look attractive.
At Orange Kloof, Silvermine and Slangkop there are two toilets and two shower cubicles in attractive small buildings which also have basins.
At Smitswinkel there are en-suite shower rooms with a toilet off each tent. There are conventional flush toilets at all the camps except Silvermine where a curious dry conveyer belt system is used. There is hot water available in the kitchen, showers and bathroom basins at all times. There is electricity in all the camps except Silvermine where the communal lights work off solar power and gas, the fridge is powered by gas and one is given battery powered lamps for the tents. There are mattress protectors on all beds and most people use their own sleeping bags but one can, by prior arrangement and payment, be provided with very comfortable bedding. Firewood can be purchased from the camp caretaker at Slangkop and Smitswinkel. There appears to be wood left over from the building of the other two camps, which is available for free at those camps. I assume that at some point this free wood will run out and one will have to pay for wood. Whenever the camps are occupied there will be a TMNP caretaker at the camp who will ensure that everything is working, beds are made and your luggage is received and dispatched (if you have paid for the transport of your luggage). All these camps are sheer luxury on a hiking trail but can also be lovely venues for a gathering of friends or family.
Orange Kloof Camp
This camp is in the closed area of Orange Kloof about one kilometre from Constantia Neck on the Hout Bay side. As the Trail runs through Constantia Neck one has to return there in the morning. The camp is in a clearing in the forest and has wonderful views of the Back Table.
Besides the attractive braai area there is also a deck outside the kitchen and a further raised platform with benches to better enjoy the views of the mountain. Road access is 1.2kms down the Hout Bay road from Constantia Neck, on a gravel road between some houses, through a gate (that might be locked) and a further kilometre into the forest (past other forestry houses) along a road that might be slow going for a car with low clearance.
This camp is just before the mountain bikers’ car park about half a kilometre from the dam. It has mountains on three sides and a long view down the valley towards False Bay. The braai area is under the shade of a tree which made it too cold in September; but I am sure it will be wonderful on a hot summer’s day.
Road access is from a jeep track just above the mountain bikers’ car park. The camp is in the Silvermine Reserve so if one is driving one needs to arrive before 18h00 and leave before 19h00. An entrance fee is payable if you arrive by car.
This camp is about 100m before the Slangkop Lighthouse at Kommetjie and about 50m, through the dunes, from the sea. It has views of both the sea and the lighthouse. The great attraction of this camp is its proximity to the sea and the beach. That proximity also means that the camp is more exposed to wind and bad weather which probably explains why the braai area is substantially enclosed.
This is the only camp close to a shop. The camp is adjacent to a residential part of Kommetjie, although one is not aware of that when in the camp. Road access is off Lighthouse Road.
Despite its name this camp is not in the bay but up on the mountain, above the M65 Plateau Road and behind Smitswinkel Forestry Station. The communal area and the tents have all been positioned with views up to the Swartkop Mountains.
The special thing about this camp is that each tent is bigger than at the other camps, with an en-suite shower room and toilet and is enclosed on three sides to provide a large private porch and sitting area and a cooking ring, fridge and crockery for the preparation of simple meals.
One cannot braai at the tents but must use the braai in the communal area. The camp is adjacent to the forestry station where people are living although one is not aware of them when in the camp. Access is off the M65 about 150m before the road junction for the road to the Cape Point Reserve. If the gate designated for the tented camp is locked the road through the gate to the right goes through the forestry station and ends at the camp.
Transport of luggage
TMNP offers a service of transporting your luggage between camps and from the start point and to the end point. There is a charge for the service. There appears to be no limit on how much one can have transported and so one can take along plenty of clothing, food, drink and firewood. They are also happy to move food from your cooler box to the fridge at the camp. From my perspective the service worked well. They collected my luggage from me at an arranged time at The Lower Cable Car Station. Each day I left my luggage in camp and it was waiting for me on my arrival at the next camp. The great joy of this service is that it frees one to hike with a small day pack. The one practical difficulty one might have is to arrange transport of oneself between Redhill and Smitswinkel and to the start and from the end. By arrangement you can leave a car at any of the camps. I would be wary of leaving a car too long at the car park on the Redhill Road although mine was fine after five hours.
This is a beautiful trail on big mountains through lovely scenery with amazing views of mountain, sea and city. For people who hike regularly and are fit this trail is quite manageable even though some of the days are long and some of the ascents tiring. If you are in any doubt about your ability to do the trail try doing the legs from Kommetjie to Redhill and from Smitswinkel to Cape Point first. If you are comfortable with those then do the other days.
If you have done some hiking in these mountains and can read a map you do not need a guide. If you use Slingsby maps the location of the camps is marked and the route between is relatively obvious (except for the path from the reservoir near the Witsand Road to just before Kleinplaas Dam, which is not on the map). The paths are generally clear and if they are not, you are probably on the wrong one. Do not get too complacent as it is easy to take the wrong path as I did on Table Mountain. Ensure that you always carry water, a fleece, a rain jacket, a hat, sun protection and basic provisions as the conditions can change quickly. Because the route is generally close to urban areas there is normally mobile phone coverage so take your mobile phone with you and save the Table Mountain Rescue number of 021 948 9900 on your phone. When near to roads be watchful of anyone who might mug you and take your valuables. I have never had a mugging related incident but there are press reports of them happening.
TMNP has done a wonderful job in designing and building the Trail. Most of the paths were already there but they have packed them with stones and added many wooden steps and boardwalks. I feel that they should publish the detailed route and should establish some simple signage en route. They have designed and built four magnificent camps which are a joy to stay in. TMNP has, however, completely failed in the marketing of this trail. Their website is difficult to find, confusing, incomplete and out of date. They only have themselves to blame for the poor level of bookings. It is a disgrace that on a long weekend in September I was the only person in camp on three of my four nights. Given the low level of bookings I am fearful that TMNP will not complete the Trail and purchase the necessary land between Redhill and Smitswinkel and build the Redhill camp. It will be sad if this trail is left incomplete like the motorway at the end of Eastern Boulevard and the N2 in Cape Town.
The paths on this trail are hiked on more by day hikers than people doing the trail. For many hikers, parts of this trail are familiar to them and the Trail and the camps are too close to home to be considered worthwhile hiking as a separate Trail. I respect that view but found that hiking the Trail put a lot of the area into perspective for me. For any hiker who does not know these mountains this is a very special trail. Even if you are not a hiker consider spending one or more nights at the wonderful camps.
There is no need to book to actually hike along this trail. It is on public land and anyone can hike along it at no cost. One, however, needs to book the accommodation, bedding and transport of luggage. The person who does this at TMNP and who is the best source of information about the Trail is Mercia Rademeyer. She used to be a guide on the Trail. Her contact details are 021 422 2816 and firstname.lastname@example.org.