The Oxpecker Trail Run is a two-day stage trail run over 16km and 21km covering some of KZN’s most beautiful scenery. If you haven’t done it yet, then don’t miss out on the next one, writes Doody Adams
pictures anthony churchyard
Something extraordinary happens once a year in the Central Drakensberg outside Winterton, when hundreds of trail runners gather to participate in the annual Oxpecker Trail Stage Race.
The Green family host the event and certainly make every effort to create a relaxed atmosphere coupled with traditional farm hospitality – including the most delicious and well thought-out meals.
An easy drive from Durban or Johannesburg, arriving as the sun sets over Spioenkop Dam, the excitement is tangible at Em’seni campsite where neat rows of hundreds of tents await the runners. The tractor and trailer shuttle service is a welcome sight to transfer luggage and bedding to the tents.
A variety of camping options are available – including a self-camping option and a snoring camping area. The Kudu accommodation is comfortable and ideal with two single beds and shared ablutions, while the Kingfisher accommodation offers something a little extra.
After registration on the Friday evening, a wholesome and delicious dinner is served in the central runner’s village. The area is scattered with hay bales and wooden tables and benches, a craft beer stand, gin and tonic on tap, and for caffeine addicts a 24-hour hot box offering tea and coffee. The Oxpecker shop is a highlight with a variety of branded goodies to take home.
The atmosphere is festive and relaxed as runners are briefed on the Friday evening for the day ahead, a 21km trail run through some of South Africa’s most beautiful terrain.
The race starts at 8.30 on Saturday morning, and within the first 10km runners are challenged with a steep climb winding up Spioenkop Mountain. The sound of singing ladies calling you to the first water station at the highest point of the race is encouraging – and welcoming. At this vantage point the views of the dam and far into the distance are spectacular and breath-taking – and well worth a quick stop before starting the decline home.
Along the route runners gather, chat, take selfies and share the struggle of the climb.
The final stretch is along the banks of the powerful Tugela River and through the “Garden of Eden” – a narrow path formed by poplar trees. The finish line is a welcome site, where runners gather to cheer each other over the line and enjoy a cold beverage or ice bath.
The Saturday afternoon trip to Spioenkop Dam to watch the sun gracefully disappear across the horizon, followed by the stiff-legged party on the river’s edge under the light of the full moon, added to the festivities and fun of the weekend.
It was a chilly start on Sunday morning, but the fires and hot coffee at the start keep the runners warm ahead of another challenging run.
This 16km leg of the trail is completely different – large fields of aloes, a corridor through maize fields, a cotton plantation, and a bridge across the river then back through the “Garden of Eden”. The elevation is much less than the first day, but the route is technical. As usual, the camaraderie along the way is memorable.
What a great way to spend a weekend – out in the fresh air with like-minded people, enjoying our magnificent scenery we so often take for granted, warm hospitality, and feeling energised. This is the life! *