Cape Town - “Minimum effort, maximum reward,” professional hiker Tim Lundy says as we scramble atop the granite rock at the very top of Chapman’s Peak.
I rest a moment with my hands still on my knees, catching my breath. But when I look up, it’s taken away again.
The Atlantic Ocean stretches out like a deep blue dam in front of us. Flawless and flat, like a mirror.
A helicopter can be heard in the distance.
To my right lies the Hout Bay harbour. In the distance, two small trawler vessels are faint specs on the blue dam.
To my left, the Cape Point vineyards are a green oasis right next to an ashy black mountain – scorched by the Cape fires in March this year.
I expected the hike up Chapman’s Peak to have the same apocalyptical look, but the mountain surprised me. Everywhere you look – amid the charcoal-like fynbos – there are bursts of colour coming through.
It's a narrow path to a heavenly destination, overlooking the icy Atlantic ocean from the very tip of the African continent.
Tim Lundy from Cape Town Hiking is my hiking guide on the trail. He has been hiking the mountains of Cape Town for more than 30 years and started doing so with his late dad, hiker and author, Mike Lundy.
Tim says the mountain has its own way of ensuring balance. And, though the Cape Fires were likely not started naturally, they play a key role in the natural balance of the mountain.
“If the big Protea bushes didn’t burn down, new ones would’ve never had the chance to sprout,” he says. Protea flower heads explode when they burn, Tim says, sowing new seeds in the fertile ground.
In the rocky crannies on the trail, hundreds of tiny new Protea varieties are sprouting up. They will be large, established scrubs in 10 to 15 years’ time.
In the meantime “the smaller plants and bulbs also have a chance to show their beauty.”
On the way up Chapman’s Peak, Tim points to a Fire Erica, a dainty bush with red fingers-like flowers, growing low on the ground.
“This flower only blooms after fire,” he says. “If it weren’t for the fires, we wouldn’t even have known about them.”
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We couldn’t see it from Chapman’s Peak Drive, where we began our hike, but the south facing slope on the way up is covered in pink and purple Watsonias, thriving in the sunlight in the absence of the large shadows cast by the big Protea bushes.
In the rock pools near a stream, the daintiest endemic wild orchids are growing.
As we make our ascent up towards the beacon on Chapman’s Peak, the vegetation changes every few steps.
Where the Protea stubs are short and stout, Tim explains they’ve adapted this way to hold their ground in the mighty Southeaster.
The Proteas have also adapted to survive during droughts - like the one South Africa is currently experiencing. Although Cape Town received very little rainfall over the past winter, Tim says the plants will be okay.
Further up Chapman's Peak, just before the grey granite cliffs leading up to the Chapman’s Peak beacon, there is a patch of rare white Watsonias growing in a lucky shade spot cast by the tip of the Peak.
Cape lizards are the only company we have on the trail on a perfect, windless Saturday morning in Cape Town – you wouldn’t think we’re minutes away from one of SA’s largest cities.
At the top, I regain my breath a second time. A helicopter carrying tourists comes chopping past the Peak, no more than 7metres above our heads.
“They’re after the same view we have here,” Tim says, pointing to Hout Bay, where he grew up. “It’s my favourite view of Cape Town.”
Want to go? This is what you need to know:
Where: On Chapman’s Peak Drive. Park your car at the last checkpoint, where the guards check for paid day passes (you don’t have to pay). The hike starts at the green SANParks signpost.
Effort: Very easy. Family (and dog) friendly.
How long: The hike takes about 2 hours to the beacon – an easy stroll with lots of stops to enjoy the spectacular views overlooking the Indian Ocean to one side, and the Atlantic Ocean to the other.
Downhill, it takes less than 90minutes to get back to the parking lot.
Take with: Wear sunscreen and a hat with a broad rim. Take 2l water per person.
It is advised you hike with an experienced guide, or at least let friends and family know of your hiking plans and ETA.
You can contact Tim Lundy on Facebook or email.