Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine Hike

A popular hiking route on Table Mountain is up Skeleton Gorge and down Nursery Ravine. This can be done in either direction and there seems to be a debate about which way is better, but with kids this is the better direction as there is some light scrambling on Skeleton Gorge which will be challenging for short limbs to come down. This hike is found on the eastern slopes of the mountain and most easily started in the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. This has got to be one of my favourite hikes, not only is it beautiful but it holds many happy memories for me. I remember doing this hike fairly often as a child with my dad and siblings. The lush, indigenous forest is something special and I remember my dad showing us how the Maytenus tree’s leaves are magical and can look broken but still held together by almost invisible strands. This was the first hike that Brian and did together when we started dating and it was also his first time hiking up Table Mountain. After having a few complications in my pregnancy with Seth and being told to take things slower during the pregnancy by my doctor, it was one of the first things we did with Seth after his birth because I was desperate to get out. These are some of the reasons this is my go-to Table Mountain hike and I was excited to share it with my kids.

Young and carefree in 2006

Last year on Mother’s Day we hiked up Lion’s Head and that was when we realised that it was possible to hike as a family of 5. So, this year for Mother’s Day, I asked the kids if we could do another hike. I needed to guilt them into doing it as they weren’t very keen, but once we were all dressed and ready to go everyone was pretty excited.

We always start this hike from Kirstenbosch Gardens – one of our favourite places in Cape Town. From the Gardens the signage is great and it’s easy to find the route up to the contour path. The route that we usually take leads straight over the contour path and directly up into the Skeleton Gorge. Skeleton Gorge is cool and shady as it is in a dense forest. There is a stream running down and a small waterfall which makes for nice resting point. Emma was really enjoying all that there was to see in the forest, from spider webs with diamond like dew drops on them to interestingly shaped and coloured leaves. The trail up through the forest is a well-maintained stepped path, but it is quite tiring and requires a fair fitness level, so we took as many breaks as needed to keep Em happy and motivated.

The path then changes and becomes more rocky and requires some light scrambling and there are 5 ladders to climb, but it is easy and safe if you take it slowly. It had also been raining a fair amount in the week before we hiked so the whole path became a little stream. This was quite exciting as we needed to jump from rock to rock to keep our shoes dry in between climbing ladders and small boulders. We all made it quite easily past this section, except for Jude’s teddy, which was dropped and left behind and then required some rescuing. Once you are past this section you then get to a dirt path which zigzags up to the end of the Gorge where you leave the cool forest and are exposed to the magnificent view. The kids were amazed at how high we were and how small the cars in the car park looked. We headed over to ‘breakfast rock’ and stopped for our picnic. There was a small puddle near where we were eating and the boys decided that it needed to be explored and ended up with wet socks and shoes, but the mood remained happy. We also met and chatted to quite a few other hikers, some who were older, experienced hikers and some who were visiting Cape Town and it was their first time up Table Mountain.

From here you have some options of which a few are to go to one of the reservoirs, head toward McClear’s beacon, go to the cable car or head over the buttress to Nursery Ravine. After our long break we decided that trying to go to the reservoirs on top of Table Mountain would be too much for Emma (and possibly us too), so we headed across to Nursery Ravine. I must say, this part of the walk felt as though it took forever. It was hot and Jude was on my back and felt extra heavy, Emma was moaning and the path was tough. But we finally made it to the ladder that leads down to Nursery Ravine.

The first half of Nursery Ravine is steps, which is hard work on the legs. Every time we stopped Emma would laugh at her legs and say they were “shivering”. Truthfully, we all had a bit of a shake to our tired legs by then. We then entered the forest and slowly continued our descent. By the time we reached the upper end of the Gardens, Jude and Seth were fast asleep and Emma was completely exhausted. She felt she couldn’t continue and although she was so proud of herself for getting up and down the mountain, she could no longer move herself forward. So, from here Brian carried her. Once he picked her up, she fell asleep almost instantly in his arms.  Now heavily burdened with children, we headed straight for the café and bought some well-deserved ice-cream for everyone.

I have always felt safe doing this hike as it is popular and you should meet quite a few other hikers on the way. The path is well maintained and well signed. There is a fair amount of water on the route in the wetter seasons and plenty of shade. As much as I love this hike and I am glad to have done it with my family, it was hard work with the kids and was just a bit too long for them. I don’t think that I would easily recommend this hike to families with young children who are walking themselves unless they have done a few other hikes before and coped well.

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