Category Archives: Table Mountain National Park

Eastern Grey Squirrel

Sciurus carolinensis

The Eastern Grey Squirrel is not indigenous to South Africa. It was imported from North America to the city of Cape Town, by way of Great Britain, in the late 1890’s. Thankfully it has not spread much further than Cape Town’s suburbs and surrounding towns in the years since, as it relies on the nuts of plants like oaks and pines that also are not found naturally in this country. In addition they’ve been recorded feeding on cultivated fruits from orchards and gardens, fungi, insects and eggs.

Eastern Grey Squirrels are usually encountered alone or as small family groups. They nest in holes in trees or construct their own nests – called dreys – in the forks of branches. While they’re very agile in trees they often forage on the ground. They’re also well known for hoarding food stores by burying it for later consumption. Litters of 1-4 kits are born at anytime of year and leave the nest when they’re about 2 months old. In the wild they may live to about 8 years old, though most die within two years of birth. Adults weigh around 550g and measure between 40 and 50cm in length, of which the tail accounts for roughly half.

One of the very best places to see these critters locally are in the Tokai Plantation, a spacious picnic area managed as part of the Table Mountain National Park.

Cecil John Rhodes, the man responsible for establishing the Eastern Grey Squirrel (and Chaffinch and Common Starling) in South Africa, is a controversial figure. A staunch proponent of British imperialism, he amassed an enormous fortune here at the southern end of Africa. As this isn’t a political blog we won’t delve into his legacy any further, but whether you despise or admire the man you cannot help but be impressed by the magnificent memorial erected for him on the slopes of Devil’s Peak (inside the Table Mountain National Park) in Cape Town after his death at the rather young age of 48 in 1902.

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Cape Fur Seal

Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus

The Cape Fur Seal is the only seal that is native to the continent of Africa, being found from Namibia’s Atlantic coast to Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast (rarely further east to East Londen). They live in coastal waters, roaming up to 160km from the coastline, and prey mainly on schooling fishes like sardines and mackarel, octopuses, chokka (a type of squid), crabs, lobsters and other invertebrates. While hunting the seals can dive up to 200m deep and stay submerged for up to 8 minutes!

Cape Fur Seal breeding colonies are usually located on rocky islands and shores, though there are a few on sandy beaches. Bulls establish their territories from mid-October in preparation of the cows arriving about a month later, first to give birth to a single pup and then to mate with the “beach master” – the bull in control of that territory and the harem of cows in it – about a week later. The harems break up by end of December when all the females of reproductive age have been mated. The pups can’t swim until they’re about 3 months old and are prone to drowning after being struck of the rocks by freak waves or being caught by land-based predators like jackals and hyenas. Adult bull seals, at 2.4m in length and up to 360kg in weight, are much bigger than the cows who weigh up to 115kg. They may live to about 18-21 years of age in the wild, though even adults may fall prey to sharks and killer whales.

Several operators use the Hout Bay harbour near Cape Town to conduct sight-seeing tours of about an hour to the large seal colony at Duiker Island. During our December 2022 tour of the Western Cape we booked ourselves on the Calypso operated by Circe Launches for one such trip, and found the company a thoroughly professional outfit that we’d gladly recommend and certainly use again ourselves.

December days at the Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town is a city more richly endowed with scenic splendour than most others in the world,  and almost all of the most beautiful spots in and around the city are protected in the Table Mountain National Park. And while Table Mountain itself is undoubtedly worthy of its spot among the wonders of the natural world, it is in the Cape of Good Hope section of the national park that visitors can get the most authentic taste of the Cape Peninsula’s other natural wonders, of which there are many!

The Cape Peninsula is world renowned for its rich variety of unique plants – about 2,300 species are found here and many of them occur nowhere else on earth.

More than 300 bird species have been recorded in the Table Mountain National Park and the Cape of Good Hope section of the Park is an excellent place in which to search for most of them.

There may not be any of the famed “Big 5” African animals roaming freely over the Cape Peninsula these days, but there’s still a very rich and diverse population of insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals that inhabit the area along with all those birds.

While exploring the Table Mountain National Park and Cape Town during December 2022, we based ourselves at the Eland Cottage inside the Cape of Good Hope section of the Park. Eland Cottage has two lounges, a fully equipped kitchen, dining room, bathroom, three bedrooms, outside shower and lapa! In addition to Eland visitors to this part of the Park can also book the Duiker Cottage, similar to Eland, and Olifantsbos House – a luxury unit with an exclusive setting right on the beach. DeWetsWild will gladly assist you with bookings in these units, other accommodation options in the Table Mountain National Park, at one of five hotels in metropolitan Cape Town or at the Goudini Spa in the Cape Winelands if you are planning a visit to Cape Town and surrounds.

At Simonstown, just a stone’s throw north of the Cape of Good Hope, is the Boulders Beach where African Penguins breed right at the urban edge. Have a read here if you’d like to know more about this special place. While we again spent a few moments with the penguins at Boulders during our December 2022 trip to Cape Town we will soon tell you more about another colony of these charismatic birds that you should seriously consider also including in your visit to the Western Cape.

Our 2022 in pictures

Join us for a look back at the wonderfully wild South African destinations we visited during 2022. May 2023 be a blessed year for you and your family, memorable for all the best reasons.

Seeing more of Cape Town

We’ve spent the whole day exploring Cape Town’s scenic attractions – from Chapman’s Peak Drive to a seal tour out of Hout Bay, to a picnic in Tokai and a ride up-and-down Cape Point with the Flying Dutchman funicular (and many points in between). Lots to tell you about when we’re back home!

Iconic Cape Town

We’ve arrived in Cape Town where we’ll be visiting the Table Mountain National Park and surrounds for the next couple of days. Here just a quick look at two of the city’s most iconic landmarks; Table Mountain and Robben Island. and one less well known, the memorial to Cecil John Rhodes.

Boulders Beach and Penguin Colony (Table Mountain National Park)

Boulders, a sheltered cove in the naval town of Simon’s Town, comprises a few small bays and beaches protected by enormous granite rocks, 540-million years old, from the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean in False Bay. It is one of the most popular attractions in the Table Mountain National Park.

In 1982, two pairs of African Penguins took the unusual step of settling and breeding on the mainland here at Boulders. Today, the colony has grown to number over 2,000 birds and offers probably the most accessible views of penguins to be had anywhere in the world. Visitors are urged not to get too close to the penguins and not to try and touch them, as they’ll not hesitate to nip a finger or nose with their razor sharp beaks if they feel threatened.

While pride of place obviously goes the the penguins, there’s a multitude of other wildlife – birds and mammals especially – that find a safe refuge at Boulders.

Wheelchair-friendly boardwalks erected at Foxy Beach allows visitors to get up close to the penguins, while swimming and sunbathing is popular at Boulders Beach. The two beaches are connected by a lovely walkway through indigenous bush known as Willis’ Walk. There is a curio shop at the visitor centre, and several restaurants, cafes and coffee shops nearby in Simon’s Town.

Boulders Beach and Penguin Colony is located in Simon’s Town, base of the South African navy south of Cape Town. Parking is available in Seaforth Road and Bellevue Road, both of which turn off the main Milner’s Point Road (M4) leading through town.

Cape of Good Hope (Table Mountain National Park)

Archaeological investigations indicate that the Cape Peninsula, the mountainous promontory that stretches for over 50km from Table Mountain in the north to Cape Point in the south at Africa’s south-westernmost extremity, has been inhabited intermittently by humans since the Early Stone Age, roughly 600,000 years ago. First described as the “Cape of Storms” by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, the first known European to navigate around the southern tip of Africa in March 1488, and then given the moniker “Cape of Good Hope” by King João II of Portugal as Dias’s “discovery” opened the possibility of an oceanic trade route to India and the Far East, the most flattering description for this stretch of rugged coastline came from English Admiral Sir Francis Drake in 1580, when he referred to it as “a most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth“. Today, two “padrãos” – replicas of the limestone pillars erected by Portuguese explorers on their voyages to signify Portuguese and Christian sovereignty and erected in 1965, commemorate two of those erstwhile explorers: Dias and Vasco da Gama, the first to reach India from Europe around the African coast.

In 1939, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve was established on the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula. In 1998, the reserve’s 7,750ha was incorporated into the Cape Peninsula National Park, which was renamed the Table Mountain National Park in 2004. The land area of the Park covers a total of almost 300km², with a further 975km² of the ocean protected in a marine reserve. Managing this National Park with Cape Town and its suburbs, a city of 3,7-million people, right on the doorstep must be a daunting task and with over 4-million visitors annually, the Table Mountain National Park is one of South Africa’s top tourist attractions.

Cape Point consists of dramatic sea cliffs, among the highest in the world, jutting into the Atlantic Ocean at the tip of the Peninsula. On a clear day the view from the top is nothing short of spectacular. The “Flying Dutchman” Funicular (named for Captain Hendrick van der Decken’s ghost ship still plying these waters in stormy seas) is available to take visitors up to the old lighthouse and viewpoints and back down, though there’s always the option of hiking the 800m distance.

Commonly described as Fynbos, the natural vegetation of the Table MountaIn National Park is an integral component of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which, with an amazing 9,004 plant species is the smallest of only 6 plant kingdoms recognized in the world and a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. There are over 2,285 indigenous flowering plant species on the Cape Peninsula – compare that to fewer than 1,500 species indigenous to the entire British Isles! Inside the Cape of Good Hope section of the Park alone, over 1,200 plant species have been identified.

The Cape Peninsula may be world renowned for its awesome scenery, but it is also home to a wide variety of birds (303 species on land and sea), mammals (58 terrestrial and 36 marine species) , reptiles (64 species), amphibians (17 species) and fish (including the Great White Shark), not to mention countless invertebrates.

Visitors may overnight inside the Cape of Good Hope section of the National Park at one of three cottages (Olifantsbos, Eland & Duiker) or on the Hoerikwaggo Cape of Good Hope Trail. An extensive network of tarred roads lead to several viewpoints and picnic sites, two of which have tidal pools as swimming in the sea at many of the beaches here is considered rather risky, while a restaurant and curio shops can be found at Cape Point.

We spent two nights at Eland Cottage at the Cape of Good Hope during our epic December holidays in eight of South Africa’s national parks.

The Cape of Good Hope section of the Table Mountain National Park lies to the south of the city of Cape Town, and can be approached either from the town of Kommetjie along the Atlantic seaboard (road M65), or through Simon’s Town on the False Bay coast (road M4 / M66).

What a trip it’s been!

Happy New Year to all our friends here at de Wets Wild! We hope that 2018 has lots of opportunities to explore the outdoors, for you as well as for us!

We have just arrived back home safely after another epic summer holiday in South Africa’s wild places. All in all we were away from home for 24 nights and traveled a total of 5,550km, exploring eight of this beautiful country’s National Parks.

The route for our epic December 2017 holidays

Of course we came back with literally thousands of photos, which we’ll be sharing here in the coming weeks. We tried to post a daily update as we went along – here’s a quick recap.

Our 2017 in pictures

Looking back at the places we stayed at during another year of enjoying South Africa’s beautiful wild places.

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