Following winding dirt trails through pristine woodland. Pounding out the miles while sucking in breathtaking vistas, chattering birdsong and our legendary wide-open skies. Or tackling a hill that, once you've crested it, actually has a view. Oh, and definitely no traffic.
These are the kind of things dedicated trail runners dream about while dealing with more mundane matters – you know, like making time for family and earning a living. Happily, for most of us, the yearly slog's nearly over. With that in mind, here are 5 great trail running destinations where you can shed that accumulated stress and get yourself back to nature these holidays.
Location: 12 km from Krugersdorp.
GPS coordinates: S 26.04122, E 27.78629
Catering for both mountain bikers and runners, the trails at Kings Kloof will blow you away. Combining sections of vehicle track with rugged footpaths, its routes include beautiful valleys, stream crossings, testing mountain climbs and descents. You can also expect technical S-bends, not to mention the odd scramble. The good news is that the trail network is well marked, with several route options – making it a perfect location for all types and levels of runners. As facilities are basic at best, come well prepared.
Here's a brief breakdown of the 5 available routes:
7 km: Mixing vehicle track, footpath and a few climbs, this route's great for beginners.
14 km: Similar in technical level, but double the distance.
17 km: With river crossings and plunging downhill sections, this trail demands respect.
20 km: Boasting extremely technical sections and dangerous natural obstacles.
22.5 km: By far the toughest trail at Kings Kloof, approach with extreme caution.
How to get there:
Follow the N14 towards Krugersdorp, then turn right at the 4-way traffic light at Silver Star Casino (note Sasol garage on corner). After 6km you'll see Laurentia Farm Stall to your left. Park behind the farm stall under the trees, go in and get your day entrance ticket.
Location: 27 km north of Bronkhorstspruit.
GPS coordinates: S25.7084, E28.9297
The Ezemvelo Nature Reserve claims the crown for being one of the largest unspoilt grassland areas in South Africa – allowing you to truly experience the majesty of the African veld. The reserve also boasts spectacular cliffs, magnificent views over the Wilge River, ancient rock paintings and impressive rock formations. It's also home to various species of game, including kudu, impala, wildebeest, zebra, hyena and leopard.
Three trail options exist, the shortest being the 4km Ochna trail. Then there's the 15km Protea (an extension of the Ochna trail) and, finally, the 21km Burkea (an extension of the Protea trail). All three trails are circular, starting and ending near the main camp. Whichever option you choose though, your route will comprise a combination of single and vehicle track. You'll also encounter river crossings and some tough climbs – all while taking in the breathtaking views. The reserve also has comfortable self-catering chalets, hiker huts and camping facilities.
How to get there
From Pretoria, take the N4 towards Bronkhorstspruit, then take the second turn off to Bronkhorstspruit (just after the large Chinese temple on the right). Continue heading north on the R25, passing Bronkhorstspruit on the left. Pass the first Ezemvelo sign and continue towards Groblersdal. After 15 km turn right at the next Ezemvelo sign, then continue for a further 22 km.
Location: 25 km from Harding.
GPS coordinates: S 30.509628, E 29.406323
The up-market Ingeli Forest Resort sits in the misty belt below the Ingeli Mountain range – facing the highest point in the hilly countryside and surrounded by lush indigenous forest. Looking the other way, the land gradually descends, providing panoramic views across distant hills covered with indigenous forest, pine and gum plantations, and farmland. Basically, the place is a mountain biker and trail runner's dream.
Four dedicated running trails exist, although none of them are very long (the longest being 9 km). That said, its the numerous MTB trails – developed by Hylton Turvey and his team – that dedicated trail runners will most likely to be interested in. The routes cater to all experience levels and cover the following distances: 3 km, 3.5km, 7 km, 15 km and 30 km, with loopout routes available. Whichever you pick though, you'll be rewarded with waterfalls, streams, indigenous forest, serious switch backs and plenty of single track running. There's even a cool floating bridge spanning a dam for you to pound across.
The Ingeli Forest Resort also hosts the annual Ingeli Sky Marathon – a challenging mix of forest single track, climbing mountain paths, dirt vehicle tracks and cut grass paths – which forms one of the 9 South African Sky Running Series events that take place each year.
How to get there
Travel South on the N2 from Durban towards Port Shepstone. At Oribi Plaza take the Kokstad, N2 off ramp. Turn right at first traffic light and follow N2 road to Kokstad. Drive past Harding, at the T-junction (about 20km from Harding) turn left. From the T-junction, travel a further 7 km before seeing Ingeli on your left hand side.
Location: Outskirts of Port Elizabeth.
GPS coordinates: S 33.8905, E 25.3747
Hopewell Trails operates from the 3000 ha Hopewell Conservation Estate, a nature reserve stocked with indigenous game and boasting over 130 resident bird species. The diverse landscape ranges from grassy fynbos, open savannah to sub tropical thicket valleys. Two perennial rivers also cut through the property. This privately owned, secure nature reserve is specifically geared towards mountain biking and trail running, offering many trail options to accommodate various experience and fitness levels.
Here are your various trail options:
7 km: A great route for beginners.
20 km: For the intermediate or social user.
32 km: Distance and some technical sections for the fitter and more adventurous.
44 km: For advanced runners. Big climbs and descents, plus plenty of technical sections.
55 km: Only for the seriously hardcore.
How to get there
Follow the Cape Road from Port Elizabeth, passing the Wedgewood Golf Estate and continue for approximately 3 km. Turn right at the Hopewell Conservation Estate sign (R368). Follow the road for 3km until you get to the estate's entrance.
Location: Stanford, Overberg.
GPS coordinates: S 34.5424, E 19.4076
Typically hiked over two or three days, the Fynbos Trail is a veritable paradise that welcomes trail runners too. It meanders up and down the hilly terrain for 26 km through hidden pockets of indigenous forest alive with birds, tumbling waterfalls, streams and, you guessed it... plenty of fynbos. Starting at the Grootbos Nature Reserve, the trail leads through coastal strandveld into the Steynsbos Milkwood forest – one of only eight milkwood forests of its type in the world. At its height, it also provides magnificent views across Walker Bay to Dyer Island, not to mention the spectacular rolling hills of the Southern Cape. The trail ends at the upmarket Grootbos Garden Lodge, where you can relax, have a good meal and recover while checking out the whales in Walker Bay.
The Fynbos Trail also hosts an annual trail run event (with three different routes) every September as part of Gansbaai's spring Funky Fynbos Festival. The toughest, the 30 km King Protea Route, involves 3 steep climbs and an altitude gain of 1 229 metres.
How to get there
Take the N2 from Cape Town. You have two choices: Continue on the N2 over Sir Lowry’s Pass, turning onto the R43 after the Houhoek Pass. Or follow the R44 along the coast and turn onto the R43 towards Hermanus. You then drive through Hermanus, past Stanford and continue for another 13 km.
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