Tokai and Table Mountain

Hout bay viewed from Silvermine Nature Reserve; Ebony Road, Tokai SCENES OF HOME

It's a fact that, although Capetonians live in what is arguably regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with the majestic Table Mountain offering numerous hiking routes through fields of rich, indigenous fynbos and stunning views of both Atlantic and Indian Oceans, many have never actually been up the mountain. I am fortunate to live but a stone's throwaway from the Tokai Plantation (since May 2001 I have temporarily relocated to Welwyn, Hertfordshire in the U.K.), which lies nestled in the southwestern corner of Constantia Valley on the eastern slopes of Constantiaberg, overlooked by Steenberg and Constantiaberg. These form part of the entire mountain range in the heart of the Cape Peninsula which includes Table Mountain. Table Mountain is in fact part of the Cape Peninsula National Park.

The plantation consists primarily of large tracts of coniferous plantation with stands of Eucalyptus. Through the years it has become a well-loved landmark in the Western Cape with many people visiting it each year for recreational purposes, myself included. The Arboretum at Tokai is world famous among botanists, horticulturists and silviculturists because of its staggering variety of trees. It has been part of Cape Town for more than a hundred years and adds to the rich historic and cultural diversity of the region.

The Tokai Manor House, built in 1796, is a well-known landmark to the people who live in the area, although few probably know much about its history. It is located very close to the South African Forestry Company Limited offices, who provided the information for this webpage, and has to be bypassed when accessing the Arboretum.

Tokai is an area to which I have become figuratively attached, enjoying it for its hiking and mountain bike trails, along with those on other parts of Table Mountain. I thought I might share some detail of the area with you! The information has been provided courtesy of the SAFCOL offices.

Tokai NEWS - February 2001

An encouraging conservational insert by the Friends of Tokai Forest to the Residents' Association newsletter 'Under Elephant's Eye', February 2001 - precisely what the policy on hiking and downhill mountainbiking activities in the designated areas around level 4 and 5 in future will be, remains to be seen.

" The Cape Peninsual National Park (CPNP) is to take over the Tokai and Cecilia Plantations from SAFCOL.   Negotiations are still taking place between CPNP and SAFCOL with regards to the lease agreement. As the formal legalities of a lease have to pass through six government departments which could take a year or two, it has been decided to implement the heads of state agreement to facilitate the process at ground level with almost immediate effect.

The intention is for CPNP to take over Tokai and presumably Cecilia in its entirety, including all assets and infrastructure e.g. Arboretum, Picnic Forest, Guest House and offices.  SAFCOL will be the agents to manage commercial plantation operations. CPNP will be responsible for all eco-tourism activities.  SAFCOL will hire any necessary buildings to carry on with its commercial operations.

CPNP would like to keep much of the lower plantations to act as a sponge for recreational activities and the upper slopes will be clear felled and allowed to revert to fynbos (a process which is currently being progressed).  SAFCOL will work under the parameters set by CPNP e.g. if CPNP decides that the plantation boundary line must be level 4 and not level 5, so be it.

SAFCOL is currently busy with rehabilitation work (primarily weeding) in the Groot Constantia block. Therafter it will move to Tokai to start rehabilitaton above level 5.  The lourensford team has been sent to assist as the time to tackle the serious weed infestation is now - before the alien growth spurts with winter rains.  They are also clear felling Vlakkenberg which will not be replanted.

On the Conservation side, SAFCOL and Project Chrysalis volunteers have assisted the Friends of Tokai Forest to clear pines from the Diastella area in the lower plantation, which has been declared as one of the core Cape Flats Flora Conseravtion areas by the Botanical Society.   We have identified other flora related projects for the lower forest in which SAFCOL have opened up various riparian zones between levels 1 and 3 and they are working with volunteers from Friends of Silvermine, the Mountain Club and CPNP to clear aliens from the Silvermine Cliffs."

Tokai NEWS - July 2000

The local Constantiaberg Bulletin dated Thursday, 13th  July 2000, reported the following:

" Tokai Manor House is falling down. The thatched roof is rapidly collapsing and conditions at the back of this stately old home, are bad.  deterioaration of the thatch is blamed on baboons who are pulling out the thatch and apparently damp is ruining walls and floors inside.  Now owned by Public Works, the building needs to be restored.

John Green, chairman of the Friends of Tokai Forest, said that two years ago a vision for the area included the Cape Peninsula National Park headquarters being centred in Tokai Manor House and Tokai becoming the the major gateway to the central portion of the Cape National Park.

Mr Green attended a cocktail party at the Manor House hosted by CPNP for the World Bank officilas who are overseeing the R12.3-m grant from Global Environment for the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Mr Green had hoped for an announcement during the World environment Week, but nothing has transpired."

In the interim, large scale felling of pine trees, damaged during the January fires, has commenced.  This has transformed the walk to Elephant's Eye lookout where sections of the pine forest have been cleared but does not detract from its overall pleasure.  Much of the fynbos landscape is showing obvious signs of recovery since the winter rains began.

Tokai NEWS - January 2000

TN00411A.gif (2245 bytes) I’d finally had to admit, on my walks in Tokai Forest up to Elephants Eye, upon seeing a mere trickle of off-road cyclists grow rapidly into a flood of enthusiasts within a year or so, that curiosity had got the better of me. I decided that I was missing out on something. A special offer came up on yesteryear’s model, so I splashed out on a Cannondale double suspension mountain bike. Before long and with the encouragement of office colleagues who had had become regulars, I’d begun flirting, tentatively at first, with the downhill mountain bike trail in Tokai Forest, designed "om jou gat af te val"!!!

Several weeks ago I went for a ride and the inevitable happened.  I fell. What I mean is, I fell hard!  It didn’t happen on the downhill section as such. Nothing broken but it hurt nonetheless. I was going too fast on the gravel, though this section of road had its fair share of larger stones. My front wheel’s forward motion was interrupted by an even bigger stone lodged firmly in the ground, the bike flipped suddenly and I flew over the handle bars, landing solidly on the hard surface on my chest, literally tasting the dirt in the process. How I managed not to break my jaw as well, I’ll never know. I almost passed out with shock but still managed, battered, bruised and bleeding, to negotiate a small section of the downhill track proper, to ensure that I wouldn’t lose my nerve completely.

On the Sunday morning of 16th January, I went on my usual cycle up to level 5 in the Tokai Forest Reserve, all along the meandering contour path, much of it through the pines below Elephant’s Eye. The gravel service road eventually leads up to the tarred road in Silvermine which extends upwards from the main entrance just off the Ou Kaapse Weg road joining Constantia Valley and Noordhoek.Silvermine is out of bounds for cyclists, so one has to turn around and ride back again. Little would I realise that this scenic section of the Forest would be a raging inferno two to three hours later, after I had returned home! Over the next two to three days, all hell broke loose!.

That Sunday afternoon, a fire broke out in Silvermine Nature Reserve and with the assistance of a terrifically strong south-easterly wind, spread across the saddle area of the reserve towards Constantiaberg TV tower, across the face of Elephants Eye and down into the upper regions of the pine forest where I had cycled. With thick clouds of smoke billowing into the sky, I simply could not sit at home and remain oblivious to the impending disaster, so I raced up to the SAFCOL offices and volunteered my services.

By late evening the fire had extended all the way down into Hout Bay to the Chapmans Peak road, threatening the Chapmans Peak Hotel, as well as the region above the road between Constantia Nek and Hout Bay. By Monday morning more than a dozen houses in Hout Bay had been gutted, including the historic home of Mike Hahn, just above Chapmans Peak Drive.  The area remained under threat throughout Monday evening and further homes were evacuated in the early hours of Tuesday morning.  Winelands.jpg (48840 bytes)

A separate fire broke out in Red Hill above Simonstown and spread through Scarborough (Misty Cliffs) down to Kommetjie, jumping the road above the lighthouse. Homes in the Scarborough area were being evacuated in the early hours of Monday morning. Residents of Goede Hoop Estate in Noordhoek were leaving their homes in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Firefighters risked their lives and fought the ferocious fires in an effort to save the homes and prevent the fire from extending into Monkey Valley by jumping the road which ascends from Noordhoek towards Chapmans Peak, as flames leapt tens of metres into the air. Helicopters were used extensively in attempting to put out the fires and more than a million litres of precious water was dropped on the flames, while communities rallied around those whose homes had been destroyed, damaged or threatened. The following day the fire flared up again over Constantia Nek and spread over into the Constantia area at midday. A number of houses were gutted, including the home and florist business of 81-year old Joan Pare, containing much in the way of memorabilia. All that was saved was a painting she had done of her husband.

Chaos reigned in Simonstown and Glencairn as homes were threatened and evacuated. Traffic jams ensued on the roads into Fish Hoek, Glencairn and Simonstown along the main road. It was mayhem! Several roads including Chapmans Peak and Ou Kaapse Weg were closed for long periods. A number of historic naval buildings in Simonstown were gutted by fires. The whole of the Cape Metropolitan area was declared a disaster area in the wake of the worst run-away fires in more than 50 years.  This came at a time that the Cape Peninsula Park was being assessed as to its eligibility as a World Heritage Site.

map1.JPG (15510 bytes) All in all, a total of over 8000 hectares were destroyed in these two fires alone. The Cape Peninsula and indeed, the Western Cape, faced a disaster of huge proportions. In fact, more than 120 fires, fanned by strong winds, had caused chaos in vast areas of the Peninsula over that weekend, destroying natural vegetation, hundreds of township shacks and homes in affluent areas!  Though old fynbos up to ten years old requires fire in order to assist in its regeneration process, younger veld suffers if fires occur too frequently, as there are fewer seeds to ensure fresh growth, thereby threatening the species.  While the fynbos burns speedily, alien vegetation burns hotter and slower, raising the intensity of the fire. Numerous small animals, such as tortoises, perish in the blaze as a result.  There are fears that the winter rains will cause severe mud slides where the vegetation has been denuded and the topsoil is exposed.

Click here for an enlarged version!

Chapman’s Peak is now permanently closed and has been for some time, owing to two incidents, one which resulted in a passenger being killed and the driver seriously injured on 7th January, when a huge 500kg rock fell onto a Honda Ballade in a tragic, freak accident.  It was decided to re-route the Argus Cycle Tour 2000, scheduled for 12th March, over Ou Kaapse Weg and Constantia Nek.  Subsequently this was altered yet again, when the organizers gave in to pressure from Hout Bay residents and decided that the Argus Cycle Tour 2000 would run its final course directly into Cape Town along a somewhat less interesting route, by incorporating a return via the outbound Blue Route and Eastern Boulevard stage. 

Tokai plantation

Tokai Plantation - History

Tokai has always had some form of forest whether indigenous or exotic. Jan Van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), who occupied the shore of Table Bay in 1652 and then established a settlement at the Cape, issued the first ever South African conservatory measure, in 1658. It made it illegal to cut down any Yellowood except for planks. Simon van der Stel introduced the first exotic forest in 1694 when he planted 4379 Oak Trees at Tokai.

The pine plantations were the idea of Joseph Storr Lister, who was the Chief Conservator of Forests for the Cape Colony during the 1880's. The Tokai plantation was established in 1884, making it the second oldest plantation in the country. Tokai was also the site of the first Forestry College in South Africa which opened its doors in 1906.

During the First World War heavy shipping losses occurred and consequently sailing ships were resurrected and brought back into use. Some of the masts for these ships were obtained from the Tokai Forest. At the end of the war, there was a timber shortage in South Africa and to relieve the situation, 163 acres of Montery Pines (Pinus radiata) were felled at Tokai. The sale of this timber yielded £64905 and was the first large sale of SA grown pine.

Tokai Plantation

The Tokai plantation has an area of 610 hectares. The Tokai plantation forms part an important green corridor through the suburban developed area reaching from a little above sea level to the bottom of the crags on Constantiaberg. It has a strong visual impact and is an important component of the cultural landscape of Constantiaberg. The land under plantation at Tokai has been under pines for more than 100 years.

The Tokai plantation, along with the Cecilia plantation near Newlands, have been managed and controlled by the South African Forestry Company Limited (SAFCOL) since 1993. The rest of the former State forest (the fynbos mountain slopes of the Constantiaberg) is under the control of the National Parks Board and forms part of the Cape Peninsula National Park, along with the Cape Point Nature Reserve. The timber plantations are predominantly Pinus radiata and this species supplies some of the best quality pine in the Western Cape. Several thousand cubic metres of timber are harvested annually, thus making it an economically viable concern. These trees are currently grown on a forty-year rotation.

Recreational activities

The Tokai and Cecilia plantations are both heavily used for a wide range of recreational activities by the Cape Town public. These range from informal leisure walks and braais (barbeques) to more strenuous day hikes, mountain biking and horse riding. Although Tokai and Cecilia are commercial plantations, SAFCOL believes the plantations should remain accessible to the public for recreational purposes.

Tokai Recreational Map

Click here for an enlarged version!


There are numerous trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The most popular is the Elephant's Eye Trail, which leads to an open cave from where there is a spectacular view over the southern and northern suburbs of Cape Town, False Bay and beyond. The walk up to the cave takes about 1 to 2 hours. There are also longer walks to Constantia Nek and to Hout Bay, taking between 4 and 6 hours to complete.

Mountain biking

A section of the upper forest has been available for mountain biking since 1993. Trails offer great fun to the experienced as well as the weekend biker. The newly developed downhill track is said to be of extremely high standard and is the proposed venue for the a world-championship downhill race in the year 2000.

Horse riding

The Tokai plantation has a wonderful network of roads that are used by many horse riders who viit the plantation. Various trails in the forest offer horse riders the perfect venue to exercise their mounts, or simply to enjoy a lazy walk or trot in amongst the trees.

Mushroom picking

There are a number of species of mushrooms that occur in the Tokai plantation, some of which occur naturally and others have been introduced there. Every year after the first rains of winter people pick mushrooms from the wide choice available.

Fauna and Flora

The Tokai Forest is home to a number of medium to small mammals, the most well known being the Chacma Baboons (Papio ursinus). Predators that are sometimes seen include Caracal (Felis caracal), Black Backed Jackal (Canis nesomelas), Bat-eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis) and the Small Spotted Genet (Genetta genetta). Other mammals include the ubiquitous Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Porcupine (Hysterix africaeaustralis), Grey Mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta), Rock Dassie (Procavia capensisi) and the Cape Molerat (Georychus capensis).

From a birding point of view, the Tokai Plantation is a very good place for spotting raptors. The bird count to date is 106 species and this number includes the Honey Buzzard, Olive Woodpecker, Forest Buzzard, Jackal Buzzard, Peregrine, Falcon, Black Sparrowhawk, African Goshawk and Redbreasted Sparrowhawk. A Forktailed Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis) was recently also seen for the firt time at the Tokai Plantation.

Presently, there are about 274 tree species that can be found in the Arboretum, and there are also 15 fungus species that occur here, some of which are edible. Bird, mammal, tree and fungus lists for the Tokai Plantation are available from the SAFCOL office at Tokai.


Tokai has a very popular picnic area situated in a mature section of the pine plantation along the Tokai road. Braai and toilet facilities are provided and it makes a peaceful setting for a family picnic.

The Wood Owl Cottage is a beautifully restored and fully furnished old forestry house. It has three elegantly decorated en suite bedrooms and spacious living room and dining room. It is fully self-catering and it is perfect for a family group.

The Arboretum is described in a separate section on this page. Toilet facilities are available at the entrance to the Arboretum. A tearoom aptly named Lister's Place, has been open since 1999. It is situated at the Information Centre and  serves light refreshments to visitors.

Tokai Arboretum


Joseph Storr Lister was the Chief Conservator of Forests for the Cape colony in the 1880's and the idea of planting exotic species for scientific reasons was his. In 1895 he started the systematic planting of 150 species of trees from warm temperate climates in order to determine their silvicultural characteristics. These same trees now form the nucleus of the present Arboretum and declared a National Monument in August 1985.

The experiment proved that conifers were better suited to the area than broad-leafed species, although Eucalyptus did well in parts with rich deep soil.

Purpose of the Arboretum

The Arboretum with its peaceful surroundings and various walking trails, while offering more than a pleasant meandering walk through the shady woods, also provides an introduction to forest ecology which includes the fascinating bird and animal life that can be seen. There are a number of trails up the Constantiaberg that begin in the Arboretum. The Elephant's Eye Trail is the most popular and leads up the mountain to a cave of the same name. A group of Californian Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) can be seen along a watercourse above the Arboretum.

Tokai Manor House

The lands around the Tokai Manor House once formed part of Simon van der Stel's grazing rights. In 1792 the estate was sold to Johan Andreas Rauch, who had been head of Armoury and since 1775, superintendent at Groote Schuur. Only five months later, the German "burger chirurgijn", Andreas Teubes, became the new owner. When the Teubes bought the property, it was described as situated "under the so-called Prinskasteel". Early maps also refer to this area as Prinskasteel, after a river which runs through it. The name is a corruption of the feminine Prinseskasteel, a cave high up in the Constantiaberg, now called Elephant's Eye, which is reputed to have been the stronghold of a Hottentot chieftainess.

Whilst Teubes was owner, an additional grant of land was made to him in 1795 and this is the first time the estate as referred to as Tokay. It is named after an area in Hungary which produced a sweet, mellow, aromatic wine, famous in Europe in the 18th century, called Tokay Essence.

The Homestead

In 1795 Teubes engaged the gifted architect Louis Michel Thibault to design the Manor House, a building which has been described by Desirée Picton-Seymour as "perhaps the most outstanding homestead in the Peninsula". Its pedimented, square front gable bears the unmistakable stamp of Thibault's work. It is considered by many to be one of the earliest of its kind at the Cape. Cook and Fransen describe the gable as "a masterpiece in its own right". The homestead is raised well above the customary ground level, having a very high front stoep, with massive round pillars. Unusually, too, the stoep seats face inwards, towards the manor, and not out over the view.

The Manor House was completed in 1796, in time for the marriage of Teubes' daughter, Alida, to Nicolaas Roussouw of the next-door farm, Steenberg, now a golfing estate. The cost of building this splendid house may have ruined Teubes, for, in 1799, he became bankrupt and was forced to sell the estate. From this date, the property had two hardworking, though short-term German owners: Jan-Frederick Herwig, followed by Johan Casper Loos. Robert Brown, the world- famous botanist, spent two nights at the Manor House in 1801, during a plant collecting trip on foot, while his ship H.M.S. Investigator was being revictualled at Simonstown. Brown was on his way, as part of a British expedition, to circumnavigate and explore Australia. In 1802 a new master, of another ilk, took over. This was Petrus Michiel, son of Hendrik Oostwald Eksteen, of nearby Bergvliet Farm.

The Ghost of Tokai

During the tenure of the gregarious, spendthrift Petrus Eksteen, Tokai Manor House cquired its famous ghost. AT one of Eksteen's festive New Year's Eve banquets, a young gentleman, thought to be the son of the house, mounted the precipitous stoep steps of the Manor House on horseback for a wager. On their descent, to the horror of onlookers, horse and rider slipped and fell to their deaths. Now, on New Year's Eve, some say, the pair can be heard cantering through the forest to repeat their foolhardy bet.

The Spendthrift

Petrus Eksteen gradually squandered his patrimony and built up debts on all sides. He even approached Lord Charles Somerset for a loan. At last, in 1849, he was declared insolvent and the estate put up for auction. Sebastian Eksteen, a relation, bought the farm, thus helping to keep it in the family for just over eighty years.

By the 1880's, the Eksteens, like many a Cape wine-farming family of the time, may have been feeling the pinch, for vineyards were being decimated by the dreaded disease phylloxera. In 1883, for example, there were 'one thousand voluntary surrenders and 127 compulsory insolvencies'. Whatever the reason, that same year the Eksteens sold Tokai to the Cape Colonial Government for a mere £7500. two years later, the Government paid £5000 for Groot Constantia! The Government planned to turn Tokai into a lunatic asylum, but a vigorous protest by neighbouring farmers halted this scheme. Today the lovely Manor House, which was proclaimed a National Monument in 1961, forms part of the estate of the Porter School and houses some of its staff. It is not open to the public.

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