The mountain slopes that cut the Cape Peninsula in half between Muizenberg and Hout Bay (Silvermine Nature Reserve) must surely be the rockiest, most devoid of vegetation of the Table Mountain chain. To look at the north-facing side, one would think that millenia of rainstorms lashing the Cape had washed away the last traces of soil, leaving weathered, weird and wonderful rock formations in their wake. Perhaps this is the cause, as the south-facing slopes are tamer and softer to the eye, clad in green fynbos and dotted with proteas bushes, and taller trees along the river courses. The photos from today’s hike, starting at the south gate of Silvermine Nature Reserve and winding across the ridges ever upward, bear testimony to this mental meander. Our destination was the Amphitheatre, a natural hollow exactly as it is named, that has a flat centre amply sized to cast a production of Shakespeare or a small orchestra, and once again the imagination can run away on all sorts of theories of what may have taken place there. Mountains are magical places.
To get there takes quite an effort and as you follow the jeep track and then take the path left and over multiple ridges – it is a path we know well, using it to cross the plateau in all seasons and enjoy our coffee under the overhang known as Bertie’s Balcony (whether correct or not, the name has endured). Our enjoyment of the views across to Table Mountain will never become jaded, as the serenity of the outlook lends itself to return visits – ‘old hikers never die, they just trail away’ is very apt. Cloud cover and a light breeze made for perfect conditions and as we passed the turnoff to Bertie’s Balcony and continued the steep climb up a marvellously well-made path of flat stones – all praise to our forebears for the massive effort put into preservation and conservation of our natural beauty – we appreciated our good luck with the weather. It can be exhausting to hike in the heat of summer and sometimes last-minute changes of plan become a necessity. Although the clouds melted away later, they did their job while we toiled uphill.
Flowers were few and far between as we near the end of the dry season (hopefully!) but the brilliant blue flowers of the African Capeblue lay scattered like confetti wherever we looked, and the regal Table Mountain watsonias provided splashes of soft orange where they bloomed in random clusters. As we straggled over the last ridge and came upon the unobstructed view of the South Peninsula from Simon’s Town across Red Hill and almost to Kommetjie, it once again became clear why we were there. My last visit to the Amphitheatre was 52 years ago – it seems almost impossible. And yet it was like yesterday, as I stood in the centre of the sandy stage and remembered that day when I was 12 years old, on a class outing with a teacher who knew the importance of teaching children more than book learning. Happy days from long, long ago.