I am always one for trying new hiking trails (even on my own) so it was with great excitement that I set out with a hiking acquaintance to tackle the Table Mountain National Park’s Pipe Track in mid-October 2016.
A quick Google search the night before told us that this somewhat secluded hiking trail – which starts on the Camps Bay side but still falls under the protective jurisdiction of TMNP – was relatively ‘unknown’ (at least as far as Cape Town hikes go…).
I use the word ‘unknown’ loosely, for the Pipe Track, we soon discovered, is pretty popular among Cape Town’s more well-travelled hiking enthusiasts and a few Camps Bay locals too.
We set off from the blustery CBD (hence why we switched from hiking Table Mountain’s more exposed Platteklip Gorge) around 11:00 am, and were fortunate enough to miraculously wind our way up Camps Bay’s steeper streets and quite literally land up at the entrance to the trail, by happy coincidence and sheer luck. (Though I recommend asking for directions or using a GPS, just to be safe. 🙂 )
This starts above the Camps Bay housing (fun fact: all the avenues and roads in that area tend to be named after women, like Susan Avenue and Barbara Road) and takes you up a gravel road on Theresa Avenue. Joining what is the Theresa Avenue Jeep Track, which eventually bleeds into the Pipe Track.
We were fortunate enough to come across a group of very organised looking hikers, who were clearly old hands with this route and many others. They helpfully allowed me to take a few photos of the map inside their hiking guide, as they carefully gave my companion and me instructions.
I hoped he was absorbing them better than I was but as they explained, after you have turned right at the first fork in the Theresa Avenue Jeep Track, you continue straight for quite some time and whilst it gets steep in places and tiring after a while (especially in early afternoon sun), it’s fairly pleasant going. (Though if you’re photo crazy like I am, you’ll be stopping every few moments to snap another picture perfect photo of the surrounding shrubbery, ocean views and wild proteas.)
We only turned right because our end destination was the Tranquility Cracks, a wonder of nature, as you will see further on… but I have to say, the Pipe Track as a hiking mission on its own is a truly beautiful experience.
You snake right along the Twelve Apostles mountain range and are afforded some of the most breath-taking views of Camps Bay, Clifton in the distance and of course, the azure beauty of the nippy Atlantic Ocean.
The Pipe Track was built in 1887 to service the pipeline, which brought water from Disa Gorge (found on Table Mountain’s southern side, which is known as the Back Table). It would pass through Woodhead tunnel, on to Slangolie Ravine and eventually on to the Molteno Reservoir.
After you have passed several benches (which offer great sightseeing spots), you will be approaching the pines. They are possibly the most recognisable part of the trail – and since my hike, I’ve seen many notable Cape Town ‘Instagrammers’ using the pines for Pipe Track-related posts.
From there, it’s fairly easy going for a while, allowing for friendly converse and the quiet absorption of nature… and trust me, the further you go along the trail, the more beautiful the views and surrounding vegetation seem to become.
In time, at what could be considered a midway point of sorts, you will come across Woody Ravine. Here, we had to once again ask for directions to check we were on the right track, though our fellow hikers again assured us that we were and could carry on straight if we wanted to get to Tranquility Cracks.
Beyond Woody Ravine, you will encounter the first real views of places like Oudekraal, a favourite spot of mine which I took immense pride in being able to point out to my hiking companion, who was less well-acquainted with that side of the Mother City.
It is also at this point that the first makeshift steps start; these reminded me faintly of those one encounters up Platteklip Gorge but more tellingly, you will also come across the first rusted pipes, which will help you to see why the trail is so named.
A little further on, near a slight cliff overhang, there’s a shady spot where you can rest, if necessary. There’s also a small cave entrance, which, despite the threat of bats, I slipped into.
Inside, there wasn’t much to see (not even any bat guano), but I have since discovered that it was once apparently the hiding spot of a deserter of the Royal Navy, who stayed there and lived off (much to my disgust) dassies and shrubs.
Further on, near what I believe is Slangolie ravine, you will see several no entry signs warning of ‘dangerous ascent’ and rock falls (it’s not hard to see why)… so just walk on and please rather be safe.
We passed a trickling stream of clear mountain water, the Milkwood forest (which was very lovely) and then a cool overhang, which faces Slangolie ravine.
To Slangolie, it’s fairly easy going but after that, once you get closer to Corridor Ravine, it becomes a more moderate hike and the path narrows considerably – though once again, the views offer suitable compensation for any breathless or brief, heart-in-mouth moments.
Tackling Corridor Ravine
Corridor Ravine was the steepest part of the hike and required at least one coffee and biscuit break (upon my insistence), and though there is limited shade offered by large shrubs, on a very hot day, there’s not much protection from the sun, which makes it a bit more tiring.
Don’t give up though because once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with the most amazing and expansive sights of the ocean, the back of Table Mountain and in time, far below, the beautiful Constantia Wine Valley and False Bay regions of Kalk Bay and Muizenberg, especially once you are nearer the Cracks.
At the top, take a left at the cairn and then on to the rocky structure to your right. Once you’ve crested that section, keep an eye out for a largely concealed path to your left, which will lead you through some vegetation to the Cracks themselves.
And there, with fissures, time’s tracings and grotesque rocky shapes, you can stand on top of the world, just above the Cracks, or carefully make your way across or down into them (I had to quite literally be lifted across and then down at one place because I was too short) – and honestly, it’s one of the most amazing natural wonders I have ever seen.
The whole vicinity of the Cracks, a labyrinth of winding tunnels with mini forests essentially contained within, is simply breathtaking, as are the views of the coastline below and just across the way, the back of Table Mountain, the cute, overnight chalets and what I assumed was one of the dams, which naturally exist on top of the famous mountain.
After a while of soaking up the atmosphere, which literally injects life back into you, we made our way into the Cracks and feasted on partially warm slap chips and leftover, still warm coffee. There we encountered only silence, a peaceful silence, which soothes rather than disquiets one, and the occasional sound of bird call but we were fortunate enough to have the Cracks entirely to ourselves for about 30 minutes.
After that, we made our way rather haphazardly down Woody Ravine, which was a pretty hair-raising trip down, here and there.
I would not recommend this route unless you’re an experienced hiker or outdoorsy person. Even then, be advised that it’s still slippery and unsteady going. Although it was re-opened in 2009 after bad rock falls, even now, it’s still not the safest place to navigate down.
Rather take the same route back via Corridor Ravine or hike your way to the Table Mountain cable car. I think it’s close enough if you have the stamina for a little bit more hiking and if it’s still early enough in the day.
For us, it was getting close to 4pm so we decided to rather head back down. Once we’d ‘survived’ Woody Ravine, it was very quick getting back down, though I passed each place with a far heavier heart than I had gone up with.
With the sun starting to get lower and the land beginning to flush with the approaching golden hours of sunset, we made our way back to Theresa Avenue, feeling not so much tired as rejuvenated… We were ready to face all the remaining weeks of 2016 had left to throw at us.
Please note: The above descriptions and images are my own and in no way reflect on the accuracy or safety of the hike, though I’ve done my best to be true to it (with both my descriptions and images), and even did some online research after my hike, regarding the Pipe Track and Tranquility Cracks hiking trail(s).
With lots of stopping for photos and spending some time experiencing the Cracks themselves, it took us about five and a half hours to head up and down at a fair, yet not rushed pace.
I recommend taking lots of water, light snacks to replenish your energy banks and of course, having comfortable walking shoes with a good, non-slippery grip, sun cream (if it’s hot; and keep re-applying) and a light but warm top or windbreaker jacket with, just to be safe.
Also, although I’m one of those brave sorts who likes venturing about on my own, this is not a hike I suggest doing alone, simply because of the risk of snakes (though fortunately, there is cellphone signal by the Cracks) and the fact that it is fairly remote and at times, deserted.