From treacherous hikes to sun-soaked vineyards, professional mountain biker Sam Reynolds gives us a tour of his favourite South African spots.

From treacherous hikes to sun-soaked vineyards, professional mountain biker Sam Reynolds gives us a tour of his favourite South African spots.

A pink sunrise over the Hottentots Holland Mountains; shooting portraits of African penguins before noon; and an evening spent avoiding amiable but insistent pimps on Cape Town’s Long Street: it’s a solid itinerary to begin any week in Africa with. Throw into the mix South Africa’s top wineries, with their rows of grape vines ribbing the Cape Fold Belt, and the scalding white sand of Strand beach, and you feel that comforting “maybe I should quit my job and pursue aggressive inline/crystal healing” haze.

South Africa is stunningly beautiful and feels edged with excitement. A country portrayed in the recent news as tumultuous and even corrupt, far better than this is on offer across the Western Cape. From the hectic nightlife of Long Street to the world’s largest mountain bike jumps outside Skyview Manor, off Helshoogte Road, I seek out the best the region has to offer with the help of professional mountain biker Sam Reynolds.

Courtesy Monster Energy

Courtesy Monster Energy

Ride the jumps at Darkfest

“Stellenbosch is a cycling hotspot,” Sam tells me. “There are five world-class tracks within 15 minutes of here.” This February he invited the world’s top mountain bikers to Stellenbosch, a small university town just outside of Cape Town, for Darkfest (think flea circus on bikes). In essence, Sam and his friends are given license to build the biggest jumps they can down the side of a mountain. Backflips and the occasional slam ensue. Since he’s been coming to ride South Africa for the last five years he has got to know the place quite well, and has plenty of recommendations for visitors.
FullSizeRender 4

Swim with Penguins on Boulders Beach

When Sam mentioned that you could swim with African penguins on Boulders Beach it sounded like one of those activities you had to be super lucky to do – arriving at just the right time, in just the right conditions. Turns out you can just rock up at the little cove and walk merrily amongst the penguins. Apart from nipping at a few iPhones they seemed pretty relaxed about the whole situation. Some penguins even courted the cameras. The granite boulders that shield the beach from the elements are a lot of fun to explore, and climbing around them you come upon surprised covens of penguins.


Frolic on the beach at Strand

From Boulders Beach, looking inland across False Bay, is Strand. Named after the Afrikaans word for beach, Strand lies between Macassar and Gordon’s Bay and is a beautiful little seaside resort with plenty of Cape Dutch architecture. The beach is the real attraction here though, with white sand hot to the touch and plenty of open space to make footprints in. A funky purple jellyfish washed up on the shore is cause for excitement here: a crowd formed, iPhones came out, Instagram accounts were updated, and then it was back to calm shores.

Courtesy Monster Energy

Courtesy Monster Energy

Hike the Cape Fold Belt

Though the Cape Fold Belt has a rather humdrum name, bringing to mind laundry, rather than vast rock formations, the landscape itself is sublime. “All you see in the news is the poorer areas, but there’s so much green vegetation, forests, and huge lakes here in South Africa,’” Sam says. “It’s unbelievably beautiful and perfect for building jumps.”

There is no better way to view these ancient folds than to hike up the side of Table Mountain and look out over Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean. A perfect hangover activity, you can get up the mountain in flip-flops and shorts, feed your soul, and replenish your serotonin levels, all before midday. The first recorded ascent was by the Portuguese mountaineer António de Saldanha in 1503, though no doubt Africans climbed it way before this date. “The locals definitely like to play up the risks here, such as sharks and snakes,” Sam adds.
FullSizeRender 7

Drink Africa’s finest wine in Stellenbosch

The hillsides and mountains around Stellenbosch are lined with grape vines, rooted to the best soil in South Africa. Driving around the town you pass many of the best wine producers in the country, as every local restaurant is keen to point out. We sat in The Fat Butcher, beneath ornate parasols and tree vines, and listened to the waiter extol the virtues of the wine and meat (stress-free, hormone free, low mileage) at length. A few glasses deep and this information is soon forgotten.

FullSizeRender 9

Get lost on the Western Cape, as well

One of the most endearing things about the South African accent is the way that the phrase ‘as well’ is pronounced, by stressing both syllables. ‘As well’ comes up a lot in conversation, and seems appropriate in a country where so many rad activities are on offer – in a place such as this, there is always something additional to be said or done.

See more of Daryl Mersom’s work on his official website.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.