The Winelands of South Africa are well known for their mountain biking culture, with a huge base of riders and an impressive network of trails cutting through the valleys. But there is also a growing movement of trail runners starting to take advantage of the impressive mountain passes, rolling jeep tracks and challenging technical single-tracks that are found throughout the wine regions.
From tough, technical events like the Otter Trail Run and Ultra Trail Cape Town and entry-level - yet no-less gruelling - races like the Jan Braai Marathon to impeccable reserves with a bounty of trails, there is plenty to explore in the SA Winelands. With the number of events and trails growing daily, we have listed just a select few that you can choose from, but be sure to keep your eyes peeled on the local racing calendar for more epic events.
Jan Braai Marathon:
Combining three quintessentially South African-themed pastimes - wine, braais and running - the Jan Braai Marathon is a three-day, 42km event run through the Slanghoek and Breedekloof Wine Valleys. Each day starts at the Goudini Spa and passes through as many vineyards as possible, with refreshment stations featuring braai and wine pairings for those looking for a little extra motivation. A beautifully scenic route, live entertainment every night and wine and braai throughout, makes the Jan Braai Marathon a unique inclusion to the winelands race calendar.
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve:
Home to the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge - a gruelling, but always popular trail running race with plenty of climbing - the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve is a trail running and hiking paradise. You could get ‘lost’ in the reserve for hours, whether you’re exploring the lower, less technical contours paths or are climbing as far up as Guardian Peak (the epic views of the Cape Peninsula are worth the effort). Just a 60-minute drive from the Cape Town CBD, the 9000-hectare reserve boasts a large network of trails, featuring an abundance of waterfalls, reservoirs and beautiful vistas.
Helderberg Nature Reserve:
While it may be smaller than Jonkershoek, the Helderberg Nature Reserve is no-less impressive, with a variety of flora and fauna on display. There are a number of trails to explore and offering everything from a casual walk to the more challenging Leopard Loop, which features plenty of climbing, and and little in the way of let-up. Located in Somerset West, a mere 45-minute drive from Cape Town, the reserve is also host to the Helderberg Mountain Challenge, an annual event sure to test even the hardiest of trail runners.
Otter Trail Run:
It sells out every year, and for good reason, with the Otter Trail Run one of the most iconic - and epic - races in the world. Usually completed as a five-day hike, the Otter Trail Run is tough and technical, with four river crossings, including a nerve-nerve-wracking scramble – or swim - across the Bloukrans River. It’s gruelling, but gorgeous, running through one of the most natural trails in the country. With jaw-dropping views, pristine white beaches and a coastline that stretches out as far as the eye can see, it’s small wonder that this race in known locally as the ‘Grail of Trail’. If you’re keen, get yourself onto the priority list early - it’s POPULAR.
Ultra Trail Cape Town:
Having recently celebrated its fourth anniversary, for a relatively new event, Ultra-Trail Cape Town has cemented itself onto the racing calendar with impressive speed. The 100km race is an eagerly-eagerly-anticipated fixture of the Ultra-Trail World Tour with its route covering some of the Mother City’s most recognisable landmarks, including Table Mountain, the Constantia Winelands, and the Kirstenbosch Nature Reserve. If 100km is a little too much for you to take on (we get it!) there is also a 65km, 35km and 21km route to sign up for, but be warned, none are easy with plenty of climbing and technical running in store for participants. It’s undeniably tough, and not for rookies, but if you’re game, the scenery is well worth the effort.
The Elgin Valley is quite simply gorgeous, with some of the most incredible terrain a trail runner - or any outdoor enthusiast - could hope for, and it’s quickly become a hot-spot for local enthusiasts and event organisers. From technical mountain routes to more expansive jeep track and beautiful forest trails, the Elgin Valley is tailor-made for trail running. Host to a number of events, including the Cape Summer and Winter Trail Series and XTERRA Grabouw, the valley is well known as a playground for weekend warriors.
The Franschhoek Valley is home to world class vineyards and restaurants and has become known as the gourmet capital of the Western Cape, if not the country. But while it’s famous for its gastronomical offerings, it is also a Mecca of trail. The Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve - around a 5-minute drive outside of town - is easily one of the most beautiful in the country, with lots of climbing, rocky single-track and incredible views waiting for trail runners and hikers. Franschhoek also hosts the Bastille Trail Run - an annual event made up of 50km, 35km, 25km and 15km routes. A wilderness adventure that embraces the rugged beauty of the valley, the race cuts through mountainous terrain and through icy-cold waters, making it a test for all runners, regardless of their skill or fitness levels.
With a name like ‘Heaven on Earth’, you know the trail running in this valley outside of the coastal town of Hermanus is going to be next-level beautiful. Running through the green, undulating hills of this magnificent region, with the mountains serving as your backdrop and the coast at your feet, will leave you feeling reborn. If you want to combine your love of the outdoors with your love of fine wine, be sure to check out the Vine to Valley series, which will have you running through some of the region’s best wineries from May through to December.