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Crashing waves on a beach with Table Mountain in the background

New Seven Wonders of Nature: Table Mountain

By Jessica Whyte

Last updated: 27th January 2012

Shortlisted as one of the provisional >New Seven Wonders of Nature, Table Mountain towers out of the mist above the captivating city of Cape Town in South Africa. It’s impossible not to be wowed by the natural wonder of this awesome sight as it sits, enormous and imposing, on the Cape Town city skyline. The man-built city of Cape Town, for all its delights and diversions, is dwarfed by the natural beauty of this majestic mountain, which has become an iconic symbol of sunny South Africa.

Wherever you are in Cape Town you can’t miss this larger-than-life landmark. Rising an amazing 1086 metres, the sandstone mountain is unique because of its flat peak, which stretches nearly 3km wide. Over the years, it has been one of the biggest tourist draws in the country, and it’s not hard to see why. It has a mystical, magical allure than is only increased when the clouds roll in and hover above the flat summit, drawing your eyes to the haunting beauty of the mountain.

It’s easy to get to the summit without any effort, as you can catch one of the world’s most wonderful cable car rides to the top. Float up with your head in the clouds and feel the ground fall away beneath you as you sway in your cable car above Cape Town. The sensational view to the sweep of Cape Bay is matched only by the monumental mountain that looms towards you in all its glory. The cable car ride opened in 1929 and has been a firm favourite with tourists ever since.

If you’re of a hardy disposition, you can strap on your hiking boots for a full-on climb up Table Mountain. With around 300 hiking routes of varying difficulty, for daredevils it’s the only way to the top. A hike up the strenuous Platteklip Gorge will take a fully-fit hiker about two and a half hours of trekking time, but it’s advisable to go with a hiking tour as the way can be slow-going and dangerous at times. Whichever way you choose to reach the top, once you’re on the perfect plateau you’ll be bowled over by the breathtaking views below. You’ll feel as though you’re flying, with the whole of South Africa at your feet.

One of the main attractions once you’re on the mountain slopes is the fantastic range of flora and fauna that roam among the rocks and spring up among the sandstone. Table Mountain is home to an astonishing variety of over 1500 rare plants and flowers, including the seductively named Silver Tree and some outstanding orchids. Wonderful wildlife hides in the mountain holes, and you’ll be bound to spot the cute and unusual dassie, a rodent that looks a bit like a rabbit without ears!

The mountain is often submerged in a magical mist, and as the clouds descend it can obscure the stunning views. The best times to see the full beauty of the views from the Table is in the luminous early morning or during the evening, where you can watch the sun sink into the haze of the horizon. Popular viewing points are at the looming splendour of the Lion’s Head, with its 360 degree views, or the dangerously named Devil’s Peak. This particularly devilish location has become the stuff of legend…

…Table Mountain’s cloud formations are so unusual and have become known as the ‘tablecloth’ due to their all-encompassing blanket of mist. Local legend claims that a pirate called Van Hunks once lived in the crevices at Devil’s Peak, whiling away his days by puffing on his favourite pipe. One day a mysterious stranger approached him and challenged Van Hunks to a smoking competition. When the pirate could smoke no more, the stranger revealed himself to be the devil and myth has it that when the clouds descend it is the pirate and the devil locked in another smoke-off at Devil’s Peak!

It’s not hard to see why this legendary mountain has captured the imagination of travellers through the centuries and why it is a must-do destination for any gap year trip. Now its status as a stunning sight of our natural world has been recognised and the marvellous mountain has become one of the provisional New Seven Wonders of Nature nominated and voted for by millions of people around the world. It looks like it will remain an international icon for many more centuries to come.

Look out for the next provisional listings in the countdown of the Seven Wonders of Nature coming up on the  Gap 360 blog …next stop, Vietnam’s sensational Halong Bay

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