How Table Mountain Got Its Cloth

How Table Mountain Got Its Cloth

Imagine sitting at home and looking out the window to see a big mountain that looks like it has a tablecloth on top.

That’s what it’s like to see Table Mountain in Cape Town, my hometown.

This mountain is really famous because it’s flat on top and often gets covered in clouds that look just like a cloth lying over a table. You might hear some cool stories from the people here about how those clouds got there, and there’s also some interesting science behind it.

I’ve gone up the mountain a bunch of times, and let me tell you, it’s an amazing place to hike and see this “tablecloth” up close. The clouds don’t just look pretty; they also change the weather in Cape Town, which makes the city a cool place to live and visit.

In this article, I’m going to tell you all about the legend of Table Mountain’s tablecloth, the actual reasons for the clouds, some advice for when you go hiking there, and how these clouds affect our city.

So, grab a cup of something warm, get comfy, and join me in exploring this wonderful natural wonder right here in Cape Town.

Key Takeaways

  • Table Mountain is a special mountain in Cape Town because of its flat top and famous “tablecloth” of clouds.
  • There’s a fun story locals tell about a smoking contest that explains why the mountain has its tablecloth.
  • Science tells us that the tablecloth is made by a cloud called “orographic lifting”, where the mountain pushes air up to make clouds.
  • If you want to see the tablecloth yourself, there’s no better way than hiking Table Mountain.
  • The cloud cover on Table Mountain is not just for show; it shapes the weather in Cape Town and draws people from all over to see it.

The Legend of the Tablecloth

Table Mountain Tablecloth

In Cape Town, we have a legend that goes back a long time about Table Mountain and its tablecloth. It’s a story about a man called Van Hunks who loved to smoke his pipe.

One day, he sat down to smoke on the mountain and met a stranger. They ended up having a smoking contest. As they smoked, more and more smoke filled the air above the mountain. Well, it turns out that the stranger was no regular guy—he was the devil! The smoking contest got so intense that a huge cloud of smoke covered the top of the mountain, and even after the contest was over, the cloud stayed.

Now, every time we see the clouds over Table Mountain, it reminds us of that legendary smoke-out between Van Hunks and the devil, and we call it the mountain’s tablecloth.

I think it’s a pretty neat way to explain something as magical as the cloud covering Table Mountain.

Scientific Explanation

Even though the legend is a fun tale, there’s actually a real scientific reason why Table Mountain gets its tablecloth.

When the wind called the ‘southeaster’ blows in, it hits the mountain and has to rise over it. As the air goes up, it cools down and the water vapor turns into tiny water drops, forming a cloud. This is a fancy process called orographic lifting and it happens a lot here in Cape Town, especially during summer.

The neat thing is, once the air goes over the mountain and starts to go down the other side, it warms up and the cloud disappears. So, it’s like watching a magic trick where a blanket gets pulled over the mountain and then whoosh, it’s gone. That’s why sometimes we see that cloud hanging around the top like a well-placed tablecloth.

It really is amazing to see nature doing its thing and creating something so cool to watch.

Hiking and Viewing the Tablecloth

How Table Mountain Got Its Cloth

Hiking up Table Mountain to see the tablecloth isn’t just a walk in the park; it’s an adventure. If you’re planning to hike up, the best way to see the cloud cover is to pick a day when the weather is just right—not too windy or rainy.

The Platteklip Gorge route is one of the most popular paths. It’s pretty steep and takes you straight up to the top. Now, it can be tough, so you’ve got to bring water, wear good shoes, and maybe some sunscreen.

When you get to the top, if you’re lucky, you’ll be standing right under the tablecloth. It can get chilly and wet, so bring a jacket. Sometimes the cloud is so thick, you can’t see much, but it’s still a cool feeling to stand in a cloud on top of a mountain.

And hey, if hiking isn’t your thing, there’s always the cable car that whisks you to the top in a few minutes. No matter how you get there, seeing that tablecloth of cloud up close is something you won’t forget.

Trust me, the views and the experience are totally worth the effort.

Impact on Cape Town

The tablecloth doesn’t just make for cool photos and stories; it’s a big deal for Cape Town’s weather and tourism too.

When the tablecloth is there, the temperature can be a bit cooler under the cloud, which is nice when the rest of the city is warm. Also, the clouds bring moisture to the mountain, which helps our plants grow and keeps things nice and green.

For tourists, the tablecloth is a real draw.

I mean, how many places in the world can you take a cable car ride through a cloud? It’s a unique thing that makes people want to visit our city. Even for those of us who live here, we never get tired of looking at the mountain and seeing that fluffy white cloud on top.

It’s a constant reminder of how beautiful Cape Town is, and it gives us locals something mystical and exciting to share with visitors who want to learn more about our city’s natural wonders.


So, there you have it. We’ve looked at the legend behind Table Mountain’s famous tablecloth and learned about the science that really makes it happen.

We’ve also talked about how you can see it for yourself by hiking up the mountain or taking the cable car, and how this amazing sight affects Cape Town’s weather and brings in tourists.

The tablecloth is more than just a pretty thing to look at; it’s a part of our city’s story and something that makes living here or visiting extra special. Next time you see a picture of Table Mountain with its cloud cover, you’ll know there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

It’s a pretty neat feeling to have one of nature’s most wonderful tricks happening right in my backyard.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes the Table Mountain cloud?

The cloud that covers Table Mountain, which we call the “tablecloth”, is caused by a natural phenomenon known as orographic lifting. When the southeaster wind blows, it pushes air up against the mountain. As the air rises, it cools down, and the water vapor in the air condenses to form a cloud.

This cloud drapes over the mountain, creating the tablecloth effect. Once the air passes over the peak and descends the other side, it warms up, causing the cloud to evaporate, and that’s why the cloud sometimes looks like it’s disappearing. It’s pretty cool to see how the mountain can change the air and make its own weather.

Is Table Mountain the only place where this phenomenon occurs?

No, Table Mountain isn’t the only place where you see this cloud-making magic. The orographic lifting process that creates the tablecloth on Table Mountain can happen at any tall mountain where moist air is forced upwards by the landscape.

This means that in other parts of the world with similar conditions, you might find mountains with their own versions of our tablecloth. But even though the science is the same, the way it looks on Table Mountain is unique because of the shape of the mountain and the local climate here in Cape Town.

Can you always see the cloud on Table Mountain?

Not always. Seeing the tablecloth is something special, but it doesn’t happen all the time. It usually forms when the southeaster wind is blowing. During the summer in Cape Town, you’re more likely to see the cloud, but in winter, not so much. It depends on the weather, so on some days the mountain is clear, and you can see its flat top without any clouds.

Knowing when to go up the mountain to catch the tablecloth can be a bit of a guess, but that’s part of the adventure.

Are there any special events related to the Table Mountain cloud?

Sure, in Cape Town, the tablecloth is a favorite thing to see for both locals and tourists, so sometimes there are events when the cloud is particularly impressive. For example, photographers might host outings to capture the perfect shot of the cloud spilling over the mountain.

Tour guides also have special treks up the mountain focused on experiencing and learning about the tablecloth. While there might not be big festivals just for the cloud, it’s a part of many outdoor events and activities because it’s such a well-known feature of Table Mountain.

Jan Pretorius

About the Author

Jan Pretorius is a seasoned writer and an avid explorer with a deep passion for Table Mountain, Cape Town, and its surrounding areas. Having resided in Cape Town since 1995, Jan has dedicated over two decades to hiking and understanding the nuances of Table Mountain. As the author behind, he shares his expert knowledge and insights, offering visitors a comprehensive guide to one of South Africa’s most iconic landmarks. Jan’s writing not only reflects his intimate familiarity with the region but also his commitment to showcasing its beauty and allure to the world.


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