After travelling to the Winelands of South Africa to celebrate the wedding of some great friends, I decided to stay in the area for another week to indulge in some wonderful running and delicious food.
Staying in the town of Stellenbosch for a few days it was only a short drive up through a valley to reach the entrance gate to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, so I went out there three mornings in a row to check out some of the trails it offered. The valley ends with a steep ravine, hemming in the lowest part of the reserve on three sides.
For day one I climbed straight to the end of the valley, past three waterfalls before the steep climb to the top. From the top I could gaze back in the direction of Stellenbosch, or forward into the adjoining Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve that I would run later in the week. I had considered a point-to-point traverse between the reserves but skipped it due to the added complexity in transport. From the top I followed the contour above the valley towards the west, gaining a view of the ocean below and the Cape of Good Hope to the south-west, before descending back into the valley. It was a beautiful run, but tough in parts due to overgrown trails often featuring sharp plants that continually scratched my legs.
Day two started with a climb directly from the trailhead, following a much easier route than the previous day, so I was able to slowly run the entire climb. Upon reaching the contour trail above the valley floor I started by heading in the opposite direction to my eventual destination. I ran until I reached a ravine featuring a waterfall, plenty of shade and some comfortable rocks, where I sat down to enjoy a relaxing snack. Then I retraced my steps, climbed to reach a viewpoint into another valley to the east, and then climbed even more to the highest point I would reach in the reserve. Then I made my way to the top of the route I had followed up the previous day, and descended the loose and rocky ravine as the day continued to heat up.
For my final day in the park I had arranged to catch up with some locals for company on the trails. Landie and Christiaan Greyling are a husband-and-wife who are both great trail runners, and really nice people. We would meet up at the gate where they could join me for an hour of running before work. We climbed up some mountain bike trails to reach the contour trail above the valley. I was then able to enjoy a fast descent down the technical trail feeling safer in the knowledge that I wasn’t out running alone. We reached the gravel road along the valley floor and briskly headed back towards the gate so that Christiaan could make it to work on time. We separated at a trailhead that would allow me to stay out for some more running, climbing up the other side of the valley.
The trail climbed up from the valley floor on meandering bike trails, crossing parallel jeep tracks that would each take me back down. I could choose how far up to climb, but the obvious decision was to head to the very top. I made my way up to a lookout at the top of the valley, before an easy descent back to my car on gravel roads.
It was a great start to my running week, but it was far from over.