"The cable car floor is about to revolve in 1… 2… 3…" Time stands still, as you you glide into the air, your receding view of the city and harbour below gradually giving way to a magnificent 360-degree panorama amid gasps of amazement from the sixty-five or so locals and tourists in your car. Dizzying up-close rock formations herald your arrival at the top of what early Khoi San inhabitants called Hoerikwaggo, 'Mountain of the Sea', formed below the ocean more than 600 million years ago.
I have a vague memory of a rather terrifying trip up Table Mountain in a small open cabin, now on display along with two other cable cars dating back to the Cableway's 1929 inception. Being a Capetonian, the thought of going up again didn't feature until I decided to give the Birthday Special a go, arriving at the Lower Cable Station only to find the cableway closed due to high winds. Cape Town weather is always a gamble.
Issued with a free pass valid for 7 days, the promise of a perfect day dawned and I seized the opportunity. Walking along well laid out paths to various lookout points, I felt the same breathtaking awe that hits you at the rim of the Grand Canyon. At every turn, you're confronted with indescribably spectacular and never-ending views - over the city with the V&A Waterfront, Table Bay and Robben Island beyond, the Atlantic seaboard with its surprising number of beaches, the southward stretch all the way to the Kommetjie Lighthouse, and the Cape Flats with those pale blue mountains far in the distance.
Free short guided walks are also offered at the Twelve Apostles Terrace below the Shop at the Top and the Table Mountain Café. Ameer, knowledgable and user-friendly, enlightened us about the Fifteen Apostles, the elephant-related dassies that feed on blister bushes, the diverse fynbos, floral kingdom and much more. A geographically-correlated relief map of the Peninsula showing relative direction and distance to far off cities was of special interest to a sudden horde of schoolkids, and Hong King honeymooners were amazed to learn that they were 11,863km from home, "just over there…"
The clouds were beginning to roll in from the south as we started our descent with much camera action and self-congratulation on our perfect timing. As you leave, you can buy your pre-expedition photos, bundled with a convincingly contrived sunset shot, a CD of general pics, and two post cards - alas, too late for snailmailers to pop into the postbox at the top this time round, but you'll be back! A Cable Card for a year's unlimited access is a bargain at R510.
If you have the time and energy, a popular alternative is to hike up the 3km Platteklip Gorge route and take the cableway down. If not, skip the crowds by arriving mid afternoon, preferaby after booking online at www.tablemountain.net and checking the weather conditions.
For the Birthday Special, all you have to do is grab your South African ID and carpe diem natalis!