Table Mountain is synonymous with the Mother City – an icon which is now one of the New7Wonders of Nature; the remarkable, flat-topped formation is the heart and soul of one of the world’s most beautiful metropolises. No visit to Cape Town is complete unless you’ve ascended the steep slopes of the mountain from the comfort of the cableway and walked across the cloud-covered top for yourself, enjoying the fragrant fynbos and wealth of animals that adorn its surface.
If you’re staying in a B&B in Cape Town, then a visit up the mountain should be at the top of your agenda. Enhance your experience, with a bit of knowledge about the cableway’s past, in order to fully appreciate the ingenuity of its engineering.
Before the cableway was built, the only way to the top of the mountain was by foot – a rather taxing climb, albeit a beautiful one that remains popular today. Humans seem to have an innate compulsion to summit mountains – perhaps it gives us the feeling of being invincible and conquering the elements, or perhaps we simply want to ‘sit on the roof of the world’ and admire the view.
Lady Anne Barnard felt this need and, upon hearing that no woman had previously ascended the steep slopes, she hitched up her skirts, assembled a team of three gentlemen, several slaves and her maid and started the tremendous trek. The team conquered the Table via Platteklip Gorge and celebrated with a picnic before their descent.
Plans for the proposed railway to the top of the mountain had to be halted in 1880, due to the outbreak of the First Anglo-Boer War. In 1912, HM Peter, an engineer, was commissioned to investigate the numerous options available for constructing a public transport system to the Table’s top.
Peter’s preferred plan was a funicular that would operate from Oranjezicht through Platteklip Gorge – his idea won overwhelming support, but unfortunately never came to fruition due to the outbreak of the First World War.
The next person to take up the task was Trygve Stromsoe, a Norwegian engineer, who immediately suggested the construction of a cableway as a viable solution. Having shown savvy businessman, Sir Alfred Hennessy, a working scale model, he gained financial backing from the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company and the scheme quickly began to take shape.
Walgate and Elsworth were chosen to design the upper and lower stations and the construction of the cableway itself was assigned to Adolf Bleichert. The building process began speedily, but it was dangerous and hard work, as the materials could only be transported via a temporary ropeway and an open box.
Luckily, no accidents occurred and the first cableway opened for business on the 4th October 1929. Today, the cableway has transported in excess of 20 million people to the Table’s top and is one of three Rotair cable cars in the world.
If you’re staying in a bed and breakfast in Cape Town in summer, take advantage of the cableway’s sunset special and ascend to the top of the mountain in time to watch the entire city become bathed in a golden glow.