Lion’s Head full-moon hike

Expect atmospheric views of city, sea and Argentine rugby players on Cape Town’s most accessible summit

The author on Lion's Head. Photo by: Daniel Rutland Manners

A dust storm erupts at the bottom of Lion’s Head, Cape Town, as if a migrating herd of Mara wildebeest has roared it into being.

From it emerges cherub song, and a troop of young, olive-skinned gods thundering up the incline like it’s the summit of Olympus itself. Never before have I witnessed such gargantuan, bare-chested glory subjugating this relentless 2km ascent.

Their impossibly large, angular frames could mean one thing only.

“Excuse me … are you rugby players?” I sing at one of them, and dance from toe to toe.

Si! Ola chiquita … estudiantes de Argentina [yes, from Argentine universities],” the fine Amazonian specimen croons.

He winks. The Atlantic sunset reflects in a pearl of sweat glinting in his left dimple.

“Encore,” my ovaries swoon.

There are as many ways to skin a cat as there are to reach the summit of Lion’s Head – the 670m-high sandstone cat rising sharply from Cape Town’s coastal plain. On most days, its flanks are peopled by hikers, dog walkers, bird watchers, rock climbers, trail runners and, when the stars are aligned, post-pubescent rugby players from Argentina.

Thanks to these throngs, and no thanks to a glaring paucity of SANParks guards, Lion’s Head is a relatively safe temple for urban mountaineers – the odd mugging aside.

But of all the Lion’s devotees, the moonwalkers – worshippers of a celestial body rotating on its axis only some 150-million km beyond our stratosphere – are likely among the most consistent. Perhaps it is the moon’s gravitational force that lures them, because they pitch up at the foot of the Lion in their head-torched hundreds every 28 days.

The flanks of Lion’s Head, Signal Hill and the city of Cape Town lit by the full moon. Photo by: Heinrich Knoetze Photography (Source: Facebook)

If the weather is passable, the idea is to hike to the top – the ascent takes up to 90 minutes for the average hiker – and watch the full moon chase sun into sea.

On this balmy evening I have joined the crowd at the start of the ascent on Signal Hill Road. In my backpack: something warm, something liquid, something edible and my head torch.

It’s an informal affair. There are no guides and it’s free. Go it alone or in a group. Start when you like, but the best time is an hour or two before dusk to see the moon rise over the Cape Flats and Hottentots Holland mountains to the east.

But do not underestimate this precipitous, if relatively small, massif.

Experienced hikers have slipped and died here – especially at the few sections requiring you to clamber up a set of vertigo-inducing chains and ladders (there is a less technical, sign-posted alternative at the chains that adds about 15 minutes to the journey).

Yet many more have made it to the top and, on this night, so do I, to take in incomparable 360-degree urban views of city and sea – and, of course, Latin American rugby players resplendent in their moon-lit, pectoral perfection.

The atmosphere on the full-moon summit is habitually lively, and the hikers mostly young revellers breezing between selfie sticks and papsak [box wine] squashed into backpacks.

The nocturnal descent, challenging even in the lunar lustre, turns out to be admittedly less festive.

Even less romantic is my smartphone’s failure to hail an Uber in the yowling southeaster at the end of it all, so I accept a lift from a harmless-looking bloke and a sheepish friend who has twisted his ankle.

Only I have to share the backseat with a hyperventilating Staffordshire terrier called “Bakkies Botha”, who promptly elects to pass out in my lap and soak it in sputum.

Not quite the tryst with a rugby player I might have hoped for. — ©

Heinrich Knoetze Photography

About Tiara Walters 1 Article
Tiara Walters is an award-winning, independent storyteller, books & copy editor based in Cape Town. She has a special interest in biography, science and wilderness. She is a SANParks Environmental Journalist of the Year winner and was the first South African female science writer to oversummer with the South African National Antarctic Programme in Antarctica. In her free time, Tiara explores and climbs the mountains in her backyard of the Western Cape. Connect with her via


  1. This is as indicative of a typical Lion’s head weekend hike as it is well written and witty- thank you Tiara

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