The iSimangaliso and KZN Trail Running Pilot Event
We were recently invited to take part in a pilot trail running event in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, hosted by iSimangaliso and KZN Trail Running. The purpose of the pilot was to assess the feasibility of holding a multi day trail running event within different sections of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. As I’m sure you know by now, this park is something pretty special. It was South Africa’s first proclaimed UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there literally is no other place like it on earth. The diversity of habitats and natural beauty were I think the allure of this region for the guys from KZN Trail Running in setting up a pilot route, and we were super excited to have had the opportunity to get involved.
Now I have to clear something up: Bevan and I are definitely not serious trail runners, at least not in the league of some of the other invited participants! When we heard that the route for two of the three days would have distances close to 40 km, we did question why we had been so quick to agree. Nonetheless, the idea of getting to be on foot through sections of the southern part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park that are usually inaccessible to the public was too much to turn down.
Day 1: Full moon night run on the beach
After meeting up with the rest of the team in the camp on Friday, the event kicked off with a full moon run on the beach at St Lucia. The spring low tide provided ample running space on the hard packed sand, and it was great to get a chance to warm up the legs and test out our gear. The full moon provided enough light that headlamps were not necessary, and there was something incredibly dream-like about being on an empty, silvery beach at night.
Day 2: Forest trails and massive head winds
Days two and three were the big ones distance-wise. Saturday’s run set out from the camp at St Lucia and headed south on the beach, past Maphelane and on towards the wreck of the Jolly Rabino. Unfortunately a strong headwind made for some difficult running conditions, but once the track headed off into the forested dunes the wind was no longer an issue. These dunes have some of the most spectacular coastal forest we have seen. The green, cool environment and echoing bird calls was a treat. The course met up with the dirt track to the Maphelane camp, from which point the runners rejoined the beach for the last few kilometres back to camp.
Day 3: Rifle guides and the eastern shores
Day three was the one we had really been looking forward to, because the course headed into iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s Eastern Shores where we would have the opportunity to run through some big game sections. The trail commenced at the Bhangazi Gate and the first few kilometres passed through the grassland and wooded natural area from which dangerous game have been excluded. The runners enjoyed the opportunity to view a variety of smaller antelope, zebra and wildebeest on foot. After this the course headed northwards on the beach.
Yesterday’s headwind was now at everyone’s backs which was a welcomed relief, although by this time the rain was bucketing down. Bevan and I joined the group where the course re-entered the wilderness area, at a spot called Perryer’s Rock. Because we were now in a big game area, precautions were taken to make sure the runners did not meet up with some of the dangerous game in this area such as elephant and buffalo. After some running on dirt tracks, we were escorted by an armed game guard onto animal tracks and up onto a line of ancient dunes that once marked the old sea level. The elevation of these dunes provided a spectacular panoramic view over the Eastern Shores of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. On a clear day, one could look east and see whales and dolphins in the surf, and then to the west over Lake St Lucia with its hippos and crocodiles. Even in the rain, this was an incredible moment and almost a bit too much to take in.
The trail then headed back down onto the beach for the last stretch towards Cape Vidal and the finish line. Or perhaps more importantly, towards a cup of hot chocolate, a very welcomed hot shower and lunch!
Next year's event?
Just like that, a very special run was over. Bevan and I really enjoyed it and feel very privileged to have been able to take part. For those of you who are trail runners, this is definitely one to look out for when it joins the KZN Trail Running calendar, hopefully next year sometime.
As for our trip, we are going to be spending the rest of this week in St Lucia. There is still more to do here if you can believe that, and we are looking forward to what is in store. Next up will be Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s big five Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Park and I am sure we will have plenty to share about that.