Ker & Downey’s Haley Beham recently returned from a trip to South Africa where she had the opportunity to hike through Table Mountain National Park to the old manganese mine, a seldom explored area of the park.
On my recent trip to South Africa, I had the opportunity to stay at Tintswalo Atlantic, a boutique property situated on the banks of Hout Bay just 45 minutes outside of Cape Town. As the only property within Table Mountain National Park, the lodge is perfectly positioned to take in views of the bay from the main deck or your suite. It is also in a prime location from which to explore the trails of Table Mountain National Park and discover the naturally occurring fynbos (shrub-land vegetation) and protea (flowering plants) which make up the Cape Floral Kingdom. Of the six floral kingdoms in the world, the Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest in area, stretching from Clanwilliam on the west coast to Port Elizabeth on the southeast coast, yet is the richest of all the world’s plant kingdoms. In the Cape Peninsula alone, over 2,500 species of flowering plants exist.
On an overcast and slightly drizzly Saturday morning, I set out from the East Fort ruins (the oldest working original gun battery of original guns in the world) with Mike, a resident guide from the Hout Bay Museum who has been leading walks in the park for 15 years and is well-versed in the history of the area. After several minutes on a well-marked trail with Mike pointing out the various fynbos and protea in the area, he stopped, turned around, and flashed a sly smile.
“Do you want to go to the old manganese mine?” he asked.
To which I replied, “An old manganese mine? Of course I want to go.”
He glanced around before pointing down to the trail we would take. I use the word “trail” in the most generous way possible. The barely visible trail was off the beaten path through overgrowth and splayed branches through which we had to navigate. Mike told me that few people have taken that path to the mine because not many people know about it. Knowledge of the trail is treasured among guides and passed down through the generations to their children and grandchildren. I was now an honored keeper of the trail.
We pressed on through the branches and once we reached a clearing we were rewarded with incredible views of the Sentinel across the harbor and the quiet town in the bay. From our vantage point we could see the old jetty used to ship the ore mined from the mountain. In order to get the ore down the mountain, a chute of corrugated iron was devised that transferred the oran and iron down to waiting ships below. The chute was over 750 meters long and built at such a steep gradient that the ore frequently got out of control as it made its way down to the ships below. According to an old wive’s tale, the first load of ore went careening down the chute ad straight through the bottom of a waiting ship.
After our brief pause, we continued on a short distance until suddenly the entrance to the mine appeared. It truly was a sight to behold. At 15 meters tall and just 3 meters wide, the entrance of shaft number 7 is the most impressive entrance out of the 8 shafts, yet only penetrates the mountain 20 meters.
Due to the wet and slippery conditions, we didn’t explore past the entrance, but the remains of old timbers and corrugated iron from the chute are still visible among a growth of ferns. Unfortunately after only two years of operation, the mine closed down due to the poor ratio of manganese to iron mined from the mountain and the transportation of the ore it was plagued with.
The mine might have had a short life producing ore, but the remains are worth a visit. During dry conditions, the inside of the mine can be explored with a flashlight, but I think the walk there is the real adventure.
Know before you go:
The park is best explored with a guide. You’ll want to set aside about three hours to explore the manganese mine and some of the other trails in Table Mountain National Park. Take a small backpack to hold a bottle of water and a snack. You will want to hike with your hand free, especially during slippery conditions.
Wear long trousers. While most of the paths are clear, some of covered with branches that could scratch your legs. Also present in the area is a plant that looks like celery, called a blister bush. You might not notice any blisters immediately after making contact with it, but with exposure to the sun, blisters appear on your skin a few days after touching it. However these bushes are easy to spot!