On our recent long weekend in Gibraltar we spent a day exploring the amazing Upper Rock Nature Reserve. Looking at Gibraltar from out in the Bay, the nature reserve starts about half-way up the Rock – where the buildings end and the greenery begins. It’s also where the famous Barbary Macaques live freely!
We started our exploration with a fantastic one-way cable car ride. The cable car station was a 15 minute walk from our accommodation. It cost £37.00 for the four of us to whizz straight to the top of the Rock in around 6 minutes. The views were absolutely stunning. However, the most memorable bit of the journey came courtesy of a fellow cable car traveller. Three quarters of the way up the Rock she looked down and spotted some macaques. They looked to be sitting on top of small bushes, to which she added, “ooh look – monkeys! Three, Four of them – they are sitting on their nests. I wonder if they are on eggs?” … Even my children found it difficult not to giggle …
At the top of the cable car (where there’s a good observation terrace, shop and café) there are several feeding stations where you can get up close and personal with the macaques.
Upper Rock Nature Reserve: Ape’s Den
Ape’s Den is probably the most visited tourist attraction in Gibraltar. Here, rangers leave food for the apes (fruit and vegetables mainly). The monkeys are incredibly opportunistic. We were told to move all bags from our backs to our chests and to make sure everything is zipped up. Well one lady left her rucksack on her back … within seconds an ape had jumped onto her, and was unzipping the backpack like a pro 🙂 They know what they are doing – they put the Artful Dodger to shame with their thieving skills! We managed to help get the monkey off her and she was lucky not to lose anything. We learned a valuable lesson there though.
The macaques (tailless monkeys) live wild on the Rock. While roaming throughout the nature reserve you can come across them at any time. And we saw lots and lots of them. They are fascinating, but they are wild and vicious too so you ideally need to keep a respectable distance from them.
Upper Rock Nature Reserve: O’Hara’s Battery
From Ape’s Den we strolled along the single-lane road all the way up to O’Hara’s Battery.
This is located at the highest point of the Rock. Built in 1890 on the site of a former watchtower, from here you can ‘patrol’ the whole of the Straits of Gibraltar. A 9.2” gun, installed in 1901, was used throughout WWII. With a range of 16 miles, shells could reach the coast of Africa some 14 miles away.
The gun was last fired on 7 April 1976 during a training exercise. The exhibition and visitor centre wasn’t open during our visit, but we looked around and inside the gun, and took in the incredible views, all the way to Africa.
Upper Rock Nature Reserve: St Michael’s Cave
St Michael’s Cave was the next attraction on our adventure. Lucky for us, this time we had to walk DOWN the steep hills to reach it! Before entering the cave we took some time out to get a nice refreshing drink in the bar/café (and the children perused the shop, as children do!)
The Cave was incredible – nothing like we expected it to be. It is a natural grotto, used as a hospital during WWII. These days it is a totally unique theatre/auditorium. The most amazing concerts and events must take place here … or the ‘wedding of the year’! The sound that the recorded music made was beautiful and the light show made the cave look totally different with each colour change. You can walk through the cavern; down and up steps – a sort of ‘backstage’ – a truly awesome space. Would have loved to stay longer (also because it was lovely and cool inside!)
The Cave and Ape’s Den are very popular tourist sites. On the day we visited a cruise ship was in port and so many, many minibuses full of visitors ploughed up and down the single track roads. You are not allowed to enter the nature reserve by car unless you are an authorised tour bus, which is good. But it would be even nicer if we didn’t have to keep stopping and cling to a wall to let a minibus squeeze past us. However, once we left St Michael’s Cave and walked down towards Windsor Bridge, the tour buses dispersed and we were all alone again with the apes!
Upper Rock Nature Reserve: The Windsor Bridge
After St Michael’s Cave we started to head from the southern end of the nature reserve to the northern end, where the famous tunnels are located. This is quite a long walk, but a pleasant one, and the views are amazing – there are viewpoints along the route to stop, rest and admire the scenery. Along the route we diverted off to try Gibraltar’s newest tourist attraction. The Windsor Bridge is a suspension bridge along Royal Anglian Way.
It is 71 metres in length and spans a 50 metre deep gorge. The kids loved it!
Along the route we came across a few signs that confused, and scared, us in equal measure …
Upper Rock Nature Reserve: The Great Siege Tunnels
By the time we reached The Great Siege Tunnels we were hot and starting to get very tired. But it was worth the effort as the tunnels were amazing. They were excavated during the Great Siege of 1779-1783 using just simple tools and gunpowder.
Walking through the (lovely, cool) tunnels there are lots of information boards and exhibits explaining how the tunnels have been used. What I loved was looking out the ‘windows’ that overlooked the north of Gibraltar, and Spain. On this Spanish/UK border you see the airport runway – fantastic view of planes arriving and taking off!
Upper Rock Nature Reserve: Moorish Castle
After the tunnels we agreed that we had seen an awful lot for one day, so we said goodbye to the last few monkeys, and started the descent back down towards the old town. We passed the entrance to the Moorish Castle – so felt compelled to have a really quick look around! We would have loved to have explored in more detail, as it looked fascinating. It is predominantly a tower, the Tower of Homage, dating back to 1333 AD when Abu’l Hassan recaptured Gibraltar from the Spanish.
We couldn’t fit every attraction into our one day adventure. The World War II Tunnels, ‘Gibraltar, a City Under Siege’ Exhibition and the Military Heritage Centre all had to be missed as they had closed for the day when we reached them.
By the time we returned to our accommodation my FitBit had clocked up 22,000 steps – and they were steep hill steps, so a good workout! We ordered in Pizza that evening … we were too tired to move!
Disclaimer for Gibraltar: Exploring the Upper Rock Nature Reserve
We received a Complimentary Pass to The Upper Rock Nature Reserve attractions from the Gibraltar Tourist Office, in return for an honest review.