Activity permits and access for Table Mountain National Park: All you need to know
Updated: Jan 19
Last updated: 19 January 2023
With an array of cards, fees and permits, accessing Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) can be somewhat confusing. We try to clear the air a bit and delve into all you need to know before you next venture into the park - whether it’s to walk the dog, pedal along mountain bike trails, or head out for a picnic.
Access Fees and Permits > Mountain Biking Map > Dog-walking Map > Summary of the Wild Card, My Activity Card and My Green Card > Penalties for not having a permit >
Managing socio-environmental spaces is complicated
Managing socio-ecological spaces is a complex undertaking. There are numerous considerations to take into account to ensure that people have fair access and that maintaining ecological integrity and biodiversity conservation - the core functions of protected areas- is served.
To throw another spanner in the works, Table Mountain is a recognised natural wonder of the world, a part of a World Heritage Site and is slap-bang in the middle of one of South Africa’s biggest metropolises. Like many cities the world over, Cape Town has crime issues, with some of the highest rates of murder, robbery and property-related crimes of any South African city. Nonetheless, Cape Town is also a tourism hotspot, with the Table Mountain National Park receiving over 4 million visitors annually.
TMNP is not a continuous land unit but is fragmented among the urban matrix and distributed across three managerial regions which span the length of the Cape Peninsula. Taking all these factors into account, managing such an area is an unenviable task.
TMNP is one of 19 National Parks managed by the South African National Parks (SANParks). SANParks is a Schedule 3(a) “public entity” in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, 1 of 1999. It is important to know that (according to SANParks, our emphasis in bold):
“The core mandate of SANParks is the conservation and management of biodiversity through a system of National Parks. It functions primarily under the ambit of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (PAA), 57 of 2003 (as amended).”
However, heritage and tourism management are core business mandates of TMNP, in line with their vision of TMNP as ‘A Park for All, Forever.’ This is a delicate balance by SANParks that requires rigorous and sound management. The “regulations for the proper administration of Special Nature Reserves, National Parks and World Heritage Sites” (GN R.1061, 28 October 2005) were issued in terms of section 86(1) of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (NEMPAA) govern all visitors and users of the park. These regulations cover various management aspects within National Parks aspects including, but not limited to;
pets and permitting activities.
In order to minimise impact and ensure the sustainable protection of the natural environment, regulations and permits are implemented for certain activities. These are largely based on Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) which are conducted by authorities in consultation and collaboration with interested parties and stakeholders. In TMNP, current regulations are based on research and EMPs dating back to at least 2002 and permits have been in place for over 10 years already.
Why do permits receive so much flak?
Whilst there may be a perception that natural spaces should be ‘free’, invariably people dislike permits because they feel that they do not see the benefit of them or that they are a scam. Users are reassured when they see that their money is being spent wisely, although not being aware of what one’s money is going towards negatively affects perceptions. It is important to bear in mind that permits are in place primarily to protect the environment and allow conservancy managers to carry out that mandate. All that is very well but ongoing crime incidents within the TMNP as well as outrage over a local who was fined for not having a My Activity Permit for their dog, pit park users against authorities, disenchanting people to pay to acquire permits.
Whilst there may be a perception that natural spaces should be ‘free’, invariably people dislike permits because they feel that they do not see the benefit of them or that they are a scam.
What informs Mountain Biking and Dog Walking permits in TMNP
A significant challenge faced by TMNP management is to provide for and administer these diverse recreational activities without compromising the experience of other visitors and users whilst conserving the integrity of the unique biodiversity and heritage resources of the Park. A key issue for TMNP is the need to accommodate reasonable access to the park for responsible mountain biking without compromising the ecological integrity and heritage value of the park or the experience of other users of the park. TMNP is one of the few National Parks in South Africa where recreational dog walking is permitted. Following a comprehensive visitor survey conducted by the Park during 1999-2000, it is estimated that some 78 000 dog owners use the Park for recreational dog walking.
The tables (screenshots from the linked EMPs) below, state the potential environmental impacts of both mountain biking and dog walking respectively, which management, with permits as one method, seeks to minimize or mitigate:
Access Fees and Permits
At certain access points to TMNP, you are required to pay. This is a cover charge as a ‘Daily Conservation Fee’. This fee can be paid via three methods, either simply with cash on entry, through a Wild Card, or a TMNP My Green Card. These cards exclusively cover the ‘Daily Conservation Fee’.
Should you wish to participate in other activities (e.g. dog-walking, mountain biking, horse riding and sport climbing) you further require a valid My Activity Permit or a My Activity Card. Once-off day activity permits can be bought for Tokai and Silvermine on location.
It is worth noting that the Constantia Greenbelts do not fall under SANParks and it is free to cycle there. Just make sure to stick to cycling paths as many do not permit cyclists and are reserved for walking and running.
Good to know: Wild Card and the TMNP My Green Card only cover the daily conservation fee and not activities.
SANParks revised their tariffs in 2021 and are in fact now more local-friendly. The prices are tiered according to nationality - South African citizens, SADC Nationals and Standard Conservation Fee (for Foreign visitors). In order to qualify for the appropriate tier, you need to have the qualifying documentation, i.e. South African citizens need to have an ID and SADC Nationals need to have their passports.
It is important to remember that My Activity Permits are required for all areas of TMNP where the activity is permitted, and not just access points where entrance fees are payable. My Activity Permits do cover the cost of entrance fees within TMNP only.
Spot checks can and do occur, even in some of the most remote areas in the Park. Additionally, there are areas where dog-walking and mountain biking are strictly prohibited and these can be viewed on the Forge Mobile App and website.
Special Permit for Orange Kloof
Entrance into and hiking in Orange Kloof (including access to Hell’s Gate and Disa Gorge) requires a special permit. It is a restricted area and accessing it without a permit is a criminal offence and offenders will be liable for a fine if caught.
The permit, which is free of charge:
Must be obtained from SANParks ahead of time.
Covers a group of a minimum of six people and a maximum of twelve people, per permit.
Only one permit is issued per day and your group needs to be accompanied by either a member of the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA), a Western Cape (WC) Tourism Member or a registered mountain guide. The leader/guide must have a valid membership number with the respective entity. When applying for the permit, a copy of the back and front of the membership card must be attached.
If no member of the party matches the above requirements, a guide will be allocated to your group by SANParks. This guide may charge you a stipend or gratuity fee but this is to be agreed upon between yourself and the guide. SANParks takes no responsibility for this.
Permits are in high demand with weekend bookings often filled months in advance, so be sure to plan your hike well in advance.
Permits can be obtained from SANParks by email, at email@example.com, or telephonically at +27 21 422 1601/+27 21 741 2371.
Mountain Biking Map
Where you can cycle (permit required).
Where you are allowed to walk your dog and limited to trails that we recommend as being suitable (permit required).
Summary of the Wild Card, My Activity Card and My Green Card:
Annual fee and validity
Level 1: R320
Level 1 additional member: R122
Level 2: R480
Level 3: R660
Level 3 additional member*: R285
Valid for 1 year. Renewable.
*In order to be able to add an additional member, you must have a copy of their ID and 2x ID photos. This has to be done on the purchase/renewal of a My Activity Card.
R175.Valid for 1 year. Non-renewable.
Benefit/What the card covers
Unlimited access to Wild Conservation Partner Parks, Reserves and Resorts (Parks)/Covers conservation fees.
Access to participate in specific/variety of activities:
Level 1: Dog Walking (maximum 2 dogs)
Level 2: Hangliding, paragliding and sport climbing
Level 3: Mountain biking, horse-riding, line fishing and transport
Level 3 permits cover levels 1 & 2 and can be used to hang- and paraglide, sport climb and walk two dogs.
12 free entries into any of the TMNP’s
· Cape of Good Hope (Cape Point)
· Boulders Penguin Colony
Where to apply
At the regional office:
Tokai Plantation Office, Tokai Road, Tokai (Mondays to Fridays 08:00-12:30, 13h30-15:45)
Local tourism offices:
· Cape Town Intl. Airport
· City Centre