If you go, here’s what you need to know.
• Stellenbosch sees 11-plus hours of daylight in December, January and February.
• It rains an average of three days per month in summer. Average daily highs are 26 degrees C/ 79 degrees F, but the sun is strong and temperatures regularly crest 32 degrees C/ 90 degrees F.
Local customs to note:
• “Colored” is not a derogatory term here. It refers to an ethnic group with a specific and distinct cultural heritage: descendants of the Cape Malay tribes.
• If you hire a car or scooter, keep one or two rand coins on hand to tip petrol station attendants (pumping your own petrol is not allowed) and to pay for parking.
• You’ll hear Afrikaans, the official language of South Africa that is similar to Dutch, and Xhosa, a local language similar to Swahili, being spoken, but everyone can speak English. Add a simple “dankie” in place of “thank you” to your English and you’ll be fine.
• Roadways tend to have a lot of walkers and hitchhikers, the latter usually holding money and a sign with the license plate code for where they want to go: “CEM” for Hermanus, “PE” for Port Elizabeth, etc. Do not pick them up.
• Stellenbosch has numerous guest houses and B&Bs.
• If you’re interested in a short-term home rental, contact Simon or Helena Kneel at Capeportfolios.com.
• The serious athlete should also consider the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport’s all-inclusive residence facilities, which housed Emma Snowsill’s training partner “Tim” for two months. Sastraining.co.za/lodging
• The University of Stellenbosch’s SUSPI gym offers short-term memberships that include university pool access, starting at about $45 for a one-month pass. Suspi.co.za
• The best outdoor swim option is the 25-meter pool at Paul Roos Academy, an all-boys high school adjacent to the university. Purchase a 20-punch pass for 140 rand from the school on your arrival. Paul Roos Gimnasium, Suidwal, Stellenbosch, 7600 Tel: 021 887 0017
• Information on the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport’s gym and recovery facilities can be found at Sastraining.co.za.
What to buy locally rather than lug with you:
• Kickboards, pull buoys and the like—you can get them locally for less than $10.
• Sunscreen—you’ll definitely need it, but because South Africa has an “extremely high” UV index (whereas the highest rating in the U.S. is only “moderate”) it’s better to trust South African brands to protect you.
• A cheap phone and pay-as-you-go SIM card.
What to bring:
• Mountain bike—if you have one, bring it. The mountain biking in Stellenbosch is clearly superior to Boulder in terms of trail accessibility, variety and quantity, and you can rent a road bike locally from Olympiccycles.co.za.
• All your clothing needs—protective tariffs make clothing, especially spandex, expensive and limited.
• Camera—people are quite happy to be in photos, especially children, and the landscape and light are inspiring.
• A guided township tour
• Wine tasting at the Waterford Estate
• Consider planning your trip around a race. The athletic community is tight-knit and very hospitable.
• As for wild animals, there are reputable game farms, such as Aquila Game Reserve, as close as 95 miles from Stellenbosch that house the “big five”—lions, African elephants, cape buffalo, leopards and rhinoceroses—but if you’re seeking authenticity you’ll want to fly to Johannesburg and go on safari in Kruger National Park. Elephants are the only big-five species indigenous to the Western Cape, but they’re in an area that’s still half a day’s drive from Stellenbosch.
• Hit the trails at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. It’s six miles from Stellenbosch’s town center and has a wealth of trails for mountain biking and running. Admission is about $3 for a day pass or about $30 for an annual pass.