Lion’s Head is so named because the Dutch circa the 17th century christened it Leeuwen Kop. Yonder stands the flat-topped Signal Hill, known also as Lion’s Rump, as it resembles the shape of a lion’s crouching.
The mountain’s ascent starts right off the bat, leaving zilch time for you to warm up your legs. Unforgivingly and unrelentingly it climbs to its peak of six hundred and sixty-nine metres. The first part of the skyward slope is paved with Cape Granite and the Malmesbury formation, which are older Precambrian rocks. Not five minutes in and I already felt the searing burn in my thighs and calves. Ostensibly I stopped to appreciate the cityscape stippled with street lights, like fireflies in a meadow. I did not tarry for long, for it was still a long way to reaping my reward: sunrise on a mountaintop.
Chasing sunsets has become a personal travel must-do. Back in Singapore, I’m used to sunrises against skyscrapers and building façades: soft golden rays falling on hard steel and slick glazing. No less is their beauty, proud and magnificent. But watching the sun rise while scaling Lion’s Head was an entirely surreal experience. Blooming proteas of iridescent colours, at first shrouded by the dark, came into view as the first light entered the sky. Rows upon rows of houses hugging the mountain’s slopes greeted me. The day’s first vessels began traversing the endless sea. Along the way, Eric also pointed out an incongruous tarp: the launching pad for paragliders.
The hike had hitherto been manageable. However, Eric’s words echoed in my head. The final part of the hike, also the most gruelling, involves scaling ladders, scrambling, clutching onto chains and clambering up metal steps drilled into sheer rugged rocks. This being my first hike — and being very unfit — I chickened out, settling for the short passageway before a series of gigantic steps to set up my camera and tripod. By now the mountain was teeming with hikers, some huffing and puffing, some stopping for a respite. And as they passed me, they wished me a good morning — I’d never been good-morninged so many times in a single day in my life. One couple, whom I did not regard at this time, would be part of the Earthstompers tour group running alongside my private Garden Route tour.
I watched the sun climb to its zenith, its red-hot glare beating on my face. Three months later, the memories of Lion’s Head would be my salving companion during my Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike.