Cape Peninsula

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The Cape of Good Hope; looking towards the west, from the coastal cliffs above Cape Point.
Map showing the Cape Peninsula, illustrating the positions of the Cape Town City Centre, Table Mountain, the main mountains and peaks that make up the Peninsula, and the Cape of Good Hope.

The Cape Peninsula (Afrikaans: Kaapse Skiereiland) is a generally rocky peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean at the south-western extremity of the African continent. At the southern end of the peninsula are Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. On the northern end is Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town, South Africa. The peninsula is 52 km long from Mouille point in the north to Cape Point in the south.[1]

The peninsula was once an island, but about sixty million years ago it was joined to the mainland by the emergence from the sea of the sandy area now known as the Cape Flats. The towns and villages of the Cape Peninsula now form part of the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality.

The Cape of Good Hope is sometimes given as the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean, and the west coast of the Peninsula is colloquially referred to as the "Atlantic Coast",[2] with the western (False Bay) side sometimes referred to as the "Indian Ocean Coast".[dubious ] However, according to the International Hydrographic Organization agreement that defines the ocean boundaries, the meeting point is at Cape Agulhas, about 200 km (120 mi) to the southeast.[3] [4]

Similarly, Cape Point is not the fixed meeting point of the Benguela Current, running north from the Antarctic and up the west coast of Africa, and the Agulhas Current, running south from the equator along the east coast of Africa. The meeting point fluctuates along the southern and southwestern Cape coast, usually occurring between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point.


Table Mountain National Park, previously known as the Cape Peninsula National Park, was proclaimed on 29 May 1998, for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation. The park comprises a large part of the undeveloped area of the Cape Peninsula, and is managed by South African National Parks Board. The coastal waters surrounding the Cape Peninsula are proclaimed as a Marine Protected Area since 2004, and include several no-take zones, and are part of the National Park. The waters of this marine protected area are unusual in that they are parts of two fairly distinct marine bioregions, namely the Agulhas Bioregion and the South-western Cape Bioregion. The boundary is at Cape Point.


A King protea growing in Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos on Table Mountain
Indigenous forest on Table Mountain, with Devils Peak visible in the distance

The Cape Peninsula has an unusually rich biodiversity. Its vegetation consists predominantly of several different types of the unique and rich Cape Fynbos. The main vegetation type is endangered Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos, but critically endangered Peninsula Granite Fynbos, Peninsula Shale Renosterveld and Afromontane forest occur in smaller portions on the mountain ranges of the Peninsula. On the sandy Cape Flats lowlands there are a few pockets of protected Cape Flats Sand Fynbos.

The Peninsula's vegetation types form part of the Cape Floral Region protected areas. These protected areas are a World Heritage Site, and an estimated 2,200 species of plants are confined to Table Mountain range - more than exist in the whole of the United Kingdom.[5][6] Many of these species, including a great many types of proteas, are endemic to these mountains and can be found nowhere else.

In addition, the Table Mountain range has the highest concentration of threatened species of any continental area of equivalent size in the world.[7]

Remnant patches of indigenous forest persist in the wetter ravines of the range. However, much of the indigenous forest has been felled and replaced with commercial plantations. Varieties of fynbos tend to dominate on the more exposed parts of the mountains (such as above the city) where conditions are too dry and harsh for forests. The mountain's natural wildfire cycle seasonally burns and thus rejuvenates the fynbos vegetation on these exposed slopes.[8][9]

The non-urban areas of the Cape Peninsula (mainly on the mountains and mountain slopes) have also suffered under a massive onslaught of invasive alien plants for well over a century, with perhaps the worst invader being the cluster pine. Considerable efforts have been made to control the rapid spread of these invasive alien trees. Other invasive plants include Wattle, Port Jackson and Rooikrans (All Australian members of the Acacia family).[10]

Dassies (rock hyrax)


The most common mammal on the mountains was the dassie, or rock hyrax. Between about 2000 and 2004 (no one is certain about the exact year or years) their numbers suddenly plummeted for unknown reasons. They used to cluster around the upper cable station on Table Mountain, near areas where tourists discarded or (illegally) supplied food. The population crash of the dassies has in all probability been responsible for the decline in the Verreaux's eagle population on the Peninsula, which currently (2014) consists of only one nesting pair on Noordhoek Peak, when previously there had been at least three pairs, one of which had a cliff nest near the upper cable station on Table Mountain, in Blinkwater Ravine. Dassies were an important part the Verreaux's eagle's prey on the Peninsula.[11] Table Mountain is also home to porcupines, mongooses, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and an rare endemic species of amphibian that is only found on Table Mountain, the Table Mountain ghost frog. The last lion in the area was shot circa 1802. Leopards persisted on the mountains until perhaps the 1920s but are now extinct locally. Two smaller, secretive, nocturnal carnivores, the rooikat (caracal) and the vaalboskat (also called the vaalkat or African wild cat) were once common in the mountains and the mountain slopes. The rooikat continues to be seen on rare occasions by mountaineers but the status of the vaalboskat is uncertain. The mountain cliffs are home to several raptors species, apart from the Verreaux's eagle. They include the jackal buzzard, booted eagle (in summer), African harrier-hawk, peregrine falcon and the rock kestrel.[11]

Up until the late 1990s baboons occurred on all the mountains of the Peninsula, including the Back Table immediately behind Table Mountain. Since then they have abandoned Table Mountain and the Back Table, and only occur on the Constantiaberg, and the mountains to the south. They have also abandoned the tops of many of the mountains, in favour of the lower slopes, particularly when these were covered in pine plantations which seemed to provide them with more, or higher quality food than the Fynbos on the mountain tops. However these new haunts are also within easy reach of Cape Town's suburbs, which brings them into conflict with humans and dogs, and the risk of traffic accidents. There are now (2014) a dozen troops on the Peninsula, varying in size from 7 to over 100 individuals, scattered on the mountains from the Constantiaberg to Cape Point.[12][13] The baboon troops are the subject of intense research into their movements (both of individuals and of the troops), their physiology, genetics, social interactions and habits. In addition, their sleeping sites are noted each evening, so that monitors armed with paint ball guns can stay with the troop all day, to ward them off from wandering into the suburbs. From when this initiative was started in 2009 the number of baboons on the Peninsula has increased from 350 to 450, and the number of baboons killed or injured by residents has decreased.[13]

Rau quagga in the animal camp on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, above Groote Schuur Hospital.

Himalayan tahrs, fugitive descendants of tahrs that escaped from Groote Schuur Zoo near the University of Cape Town, in 1936, used to be common on the less accessible upper parts of the mountain. As an exotic species, they were almost eradicated through a culling programme initiated by the South African National Parks to make way for the reintroduction of indigenous klipspringers. Until recently there were also small numbers of fallow deer of European origin and sambar deer from southeast Asia. These were mainly in the Rhodes Memorial area but during the 1960s they could be found as far afield as Signal Hill. These animals may still be seen occasionally despite efforts to eliminate or relocate them.

On the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak, above Groote Schuur Hospital an animal camp bequeathed to the City of Cape Town by Cecil John Rhodes has been used in recent years as part of the Quagga Project.[14] The quagga used to roam the Cape Peninsula, the Karoo and the Free State in large numbers, but were hunted to extinction during the early 1800s. The last quagga died in an Amsterdam zoo in 1883. In 1987 a project was launched by Reinhold Rau to back-breed the quagga, after it had been established, using mitochondrial DNA obtained from museum specimens, that the quagga was closely related to the plains zebra, and on 20 January, 2005 a foal considered to be the first quagga-like individual because of a visible reduced striping, was born. These quagga-like zebra are officially known as Rau quagga, as no one can be certain that they are anything more than quagga look-alikes. The animal camp above Groote Schuur Hospital has several good looking Rau quaggas, but they are unfortunately not easily seen except from within the game camp, which is quite large and undulating, and the animals are few. The animal camp in not open to the public.


See also: Cape Fold Belt
Geology of the Cape Peninsula, showing the where the Malmesbury Group and Cape Granite rocks and weathered soils are exposed, and overlain by the Cape Supergroup. The hard, erosion resistant Cape Supergroup form the mountains of the Peninsula.
The contact zone between the Malmesbury shales and Cape Granite, on the sea shore rocks of Sea Point. This contact region, where the Malmesbury shales were metamorphosed by the molten granite, were described by Charles Darwin during his travels on the H.M.S. Beagle in 1836.[15]
An west-east (left to right) geological cross section through Table Mountain on the Cape Peninsula, the Cape Flats (the isthmus connecting the Peninsula to the African mainland) and the Hottentots-Holland Mountains on the mainland. It indicates how the Cape Fold Mountains have been eroded in this region, leaving what was once the bottom of a valley to form Table Mountain with its flat table-top structure.[15]

The Cape Peninsula is underlain by the oldest rocks in the area, the Malmesbury Group, and the granite intrusions of the Peninsula pluton.

The Malmesbury Group has been dated from between 830 and 980 Mya, and was deformed during the Saldanian orogenic cycle, both before and during the granite intrusions of 630 to 500 Mya, and there are minor intrusions which precede the granite. The base of this group has not been exposed.[16] The basal rocks were eroded to a relatively featureless peneplain with exposed granites covering most of the peninsula south of Lion's Head and Devil's Peak. The Sea-Point contact zone, described by Charles Darwin is a well known region of metamorphic rocks formed by the granite intrusion into the Malmesbury rocks.

These rocks were later unconformably covered by the Cape Supergroup. The Cape Supergroup is divided into eight formations, the three oldest of which are present on the Peninsula. The lowest present is the reddish Graafwater formation which consist of shales and sandstone. This is overlain by the prominent Table Mountain Group, which consist mainly of hard, erosion resistant, quartzitic sandstone, which form the high, prominent, almost vertical cliffs of the Cape Peninsula. At the very top of Table Mountain, at Maclear's Beacon, is a small remnant of the Pakhuis Diamictites, better represented in the Cederberg Mountains, 200 km to the north of Cape Town .[16]


  1. ^ 1:250,000 Geological Series map 3318:Cape Town, Government Printer, Pretoria, 1990.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Cape Town Tourism. "Vote for Table Mountain – Cape Town Tourism". Retrieved 2013-01-12. 
  6. ^ "Western Cape". Retrieved 2013-01-12. 
  7. ^ "Perceval". 
  8. ^ "Enviro Facts guide to Fynbos". Retrieved 2013-01-12. 
  9. ^ "Cape Town Table Mountain Flora a floral biodiversity of fynbos". Retrieved 2013-01-12. 
  10. ^ "Brochures, booklets and posters". Retrieved 2013-01-12. 
  11. ^ a b Hockey, P.A.R., Dean, W.R.J. & Ryan, P.G. (2005). Roberts Birds of Southern Africa. VII Edition. p.531-532. John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.
  12. ^ Cape Peninsula Baboon Research Unit
  13. ^ a b Managing Baboon-human conflict: City of Cape Town
  14. ^ The Quagga Project South Africa
  15. ^ a b Compton, John S. (2004) The Rocks & Mountains of Cape Town. Cape Town: Double Story. ISBN 978-1-919930-70-1
  16. ^ a b Theron, J.N. Gresse, P.G. Siegfried, H.P. and Rogers, J. Explanation sheet 3318 – The Geology of the Cape Town Area. Geological Survey, Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs, Government Printer, Pretoria 1992. ISBN 978-0-621-14284-6

Coordinates: 34°12′18″S 18°24′14″E / 34.205°S 18.404°E / -34.205; 18.404