The potholed road to paradise
The gentle ‘pitter patter' on the roof of our car cut into the joyful road trip chatter. Nervous glances passed between passengers and solutions were sought between the spaces that only silence filled. Nobody said the road to paradise would be luxurious and as the gentle spattering of rain turned to a ferocious downpour the roads were fast becoming a nightmare to navigate in the fading light.
Within minutes the once hard-caked mud roads were turned to slosh and the inevitable push-and-pull, slip-and-slide adventure of the Transkei had begun a few hours earlier than we had anticipated. Fortunately, James Chevallier (owner of Chev Transkei Trails and part of our convoy) has navigated these roads many times before and so, fuelled by his confidence, our group pushed on towards our Transkei trail-running adventure.
The sun peeked through a crack in the curtain and so I rolled from my bed to let the light in. Gobsmacked, I stood in awe of the luscious rolling hills that faded into the ocean. The only reminder of last night's adventure was the muddied cars that stood parked between me and my view of the ocean. Overnight and with a little help from the sunshine, this landscape had transformed into a paradise beyond my expectations.
Chev Transkei Trails prides itself on the delicious food they dish up each day and the aromas floating in from the kitchen were enough to get me out of bed to find out for myself. After a hearty breakfast it was down to business and the real reason behind our trip – a threeday trail-run to explore the untouched coastline of the Transkei.
Madakeni indigenous forest
Day one of the Chev Transkei Trail starts in the Madakeni indigenous forest. As you navigate your way through the luscious overgrowth the freshness of the air is a real reminder of the remoteness of this location, with only the sounds of the forest to guide your run. It is a 16km route and as you exit the thick foliage you sweep back in a northerly direction along a stretch of beach you might have to share with the local Nguni cows, although it is unwritten law here that these cows and their herders have right of way.
A fresh pot of coffee and an afternoon to relax is the reward for this group of runners who have endless stories of spectacular views, river crossings and forest findings. There is so much to do, and while some opted for an afternoon nap, others bathed in the glorious temperatures of the Indian Ocean, switching between kayaks and surfboards all while conversations continued to flow around the fire and early potjie preparations which would be
the evening feast.
One of Chev Transkei Trail's greatest attributes is the flexibility of its tour and ability to tailor it to meet the athletic needs of any group. If running is not for you there are some incredible walking routes which open up some spectacular views in this very unique part of the world.
On day two we tested this flexibility when we woke up to an offshore breeze and perfect swell lines rolling in from the point. We had a group of very keen surfers and so in a flash running was postponed and surf was up. This was arguably one of our best decisions as the weary running legs had some time to recuperate while the arms were exercised and we paddled into perfect wave after perfect wave in one of South Africa's best kept point break secrets.
The second day of running takes you deep into the homelands. Heartbreak Hill is a prominent feature along the route as you climb. Just as you begin to feel like you can't go any further, the local support rallies with cries of “Baleka! Baleka!” and the sound of trailing footsteps of small children from the village who follow, laughing in elation. If the scenic treat of rolling grass hills and river crossings are not enough the seafood extravaganza should certainly seal the deal. Oysters, crayfish, mussels and fresh fish are some of the aromas which fill the intimate dinner setting. The choice really is endless and a coastal treat that is rare for city folk.
Day three starts in Ntlonyana with a session of yoga on the deck to loosen up the stiff bodies before heading north along the beach. This part of the trip is the highlight of the Chev Transkei Trail, as you pass the Eco Lodge in Bulungula. Some may opt for a coffee break and chance to refuel, as the last 5km which leads to the finish at Hole in the Wall is tough going. However, the panoramic views are spectacular and well worth the incredible memory which draws to a close too soon. Runners then have the option of a return flight via helicopter, which offers both relief to tired muscles and an incredible insight into the landscape traversed by foot.