Tranquil Tracks: Avoiding the crowds on Newlands hikes

Newlands Ravine, with its starting point in Newlands Forest, offers a challenging zig-zag trail up the back of Table Mountain. It tends to be more quiet than some of the other routes starting in Newlands Forest and the descend has several options, depending on how much time you want to spend hiking.

There has been a notable increase in hikers in Cape Town over the last few weeks. That is at least partially down to South Africa’s beaches being closed due to lockdown restrictions.

It might also have something to do with many of the usual big events being cancelled or postponed.

Whatever the reason, Cape Town’s hiking routes are definitely a bit busier than usual. It is encouraging to see so many people taking to the trails and discovering the magical mountain we get to call our playground.

It also means that the calm silence many of us crave on the trials might feel like it is lost. And yet, this tranquillity is usually not far away, even when the parking lot is jam-packed.

The mountain is big. We often underestimate just how big – which sometimes results in getting lost (which is why we insist that you make sure you know your route before heading out, if you are not a regular hiker), but which can also lead to great walks that will leave you awe-struck.

Kirstenbosch is always a great alternative to some of the more popular routes on the front of Table Mountain and Newlands. We recently explored the trek up Nursery Buttress – not recommended if you are not fully prepared.

But for those who prefer the freebie access in Newlands Forest, there are plenty of options, too.

As with all our hiking guides, make sure that you read the safety guidelines below the route description. Be sure to carry enough water and you take extra care when veering off course. If you decide to opt for any of the routes we mention, we cannot be held responsible for any injuries that you or your hiking party might sustain.

Newlands Forest Ravine hike: A trail off the beaten track

Grade: 1 ** The easiest way up to the Saddle from the Eastside
Height gain: 610m: from 90m to 700m
Time: Three hours to the top, one to two down, depending on the route you choose.

There are a few clearly marked and popular routes in Newlands Forest, The Contour Path Loop, Littlewort Trail, Fernwood Track and Woodcutters Trail are some of the most popular routes. Even with some of these, there are always little paths to follow that will allow you to escape into the magic of Newlands Forest.

We are going to focus specifically on the Newlands Ravine trail because it offers a few different options depending on how much time you want to spend hiking.

The Woodcutters Trail has been one of the quieter options to reach the start. Depending on your fitness level, just getting to the start might feel like enough of a hike.

The start of the Newlands Ravine hike.

Newlands Ravine starts opposite the wooden picnic spot above Newlands Forest Station on the Contour Path. Getting to the starting point can in itself be an adventure (those little sidepaths we mentioned… there’s a lot of them here).

The Newlands Ravine ascend follows a straightforward path that zig-zags all the way to the Saddle. From The Saddle, you can do various other routes like Ledges, Devil’s Peak or even descend to Table Mountain road on the northern side of the mountain and follow the contour path back around Devil’s Peak (about a 10 km walk).

One of the most challenging parts of the ascend is that you are almost always under the tree canopy – useful for summer, of course. It means that unlike some of the routes on the front face of Table Mountain, you can’t really get a sense of how far you have progressed… meaning it can feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

It also means that the reward of reaching the top will feel exhilarating. Once there, a beautiful rock overhang – shaded and calm – makes the perfect picnic spot.

Not the shaded spot: Hello from the other side of the Newlands Ravine hiking route.

You can choose to descend back down the route you came or, if you planned ahead, you can follow the route down to Tafelberg Road.

A word of warning: check a map before you go down – and make sure you keep your GPS handy. There are paths that will get you down the mountain in a relatively quick time. If you miss these, though, you’ll end up traversing all the way around the front of Devil’s Peak and onto the Contour Path. It’s not the worst place to get lost, but it can be a brutal slog on tired legs.

The views from the other side of Newlands Ravine – if you choose to descend via Tafelberg Road – are breath taking.

And when you eventually get down, you’ll have to walk on Tafelberg Road to the actual starting point for Devil’s Peak – even if you plan on calling an Uber. A large part of the road was recently shut (although, that might change by the time you are reading this) due to rockfall.

Additional information about this route obtained from Mountain Meanders.

Emergency contact numbers, cell phone access and safety guidance for Table Mountain hikes

  • All Table Mountain hiking routes come with the usual disclaimer: Do not underestimate the mountain. Go equipped with the right gear – that includes the correct footwear and enough water – and make sure you tell somebody where you are going.
  • Many of the walks, hikes and scrambles on Table Mountain are difficult and dangerous.  Do not attempt any Grade 3 or higher route unless you are experienced with exposed rock scrambling and on lesser travelled routes which might be overgrown, do not go on your own without sufficient preparation.
  • If at any stage during your hike you feel like you cannot go on – whether that is because you are tired or you are daunted by any of the climbs, turn back.
  •  There are many places on Table Mountain without cellphone reception. In the case of an emergency, you’ll have to traverse to the closest ‘edge’ – meaning anywhere that you can see the City from.
  • Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) is the main organisation that coordinates rescue operations in the Western Cape, but do not contact them directly – contact Metro Rescue first at 10177 or 021 937 0300 who will then contact Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR).  (Note that the Metro Rescue number changed in August 2008.  The old number which is listed in many places still works, but use this new number in preference.)
  • Mountain Club of South Africa safety guidelines
  • University of 3rd Age Safety notes and statistics including information on rescue costs.
  • Hikers Network has a comprehensive set of notes on mountain safety, first aid and more.
  • Cape Nature also has an extensive set of notes, with particular relevance to country areas.