iSimangaliso’s Trail Challenge gets you to the heart of wilderness

17 Jul 2017

Last weekend, the beach and bush paradise of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park felt the footfalls of 127 trail runners as the first iSimangaliso Trail Challenge took place in the southern parts of the marine and terrestrial World Heritage Site.

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Hosted by Andrew Booth and his professional team from KZN Trail Running, the magnificent weather and scenery created an unsurpassable setting for the three stage 82km event. Runners started off with a 6km full moon beach run on Friday night, followed by two days of trail through big game country and beach stretches at spring low tide. While a lucky few spotted leopard, elephant and antelope, the beach runs were highlighted by breaching whales and dolphins.

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An informative and entertaining ‘Dangerous Game’ briefing by Wilderness Leadership School (WLS) guide, Mandla Buthelezi, followed by the sterling support of WLS and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife rangers, ensured that there were no negative encounters with wildlife.
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The winner of the event was Pietermaritzburg running star Mdumiseni (Mdu) Zondi (pictured above), followed by Carla van Huyssteen in second place. Mdu was one of six runners sponsored by KZN Trail Running, and iSimangaliso sponsored another three development runners from areas neighbouring the Park.

“The inspiration for the trail run was born more out of a way to give people the opportunity to discover original wild spaces in the most natural way possible – on foot – and less about racing,” says iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis. “Without any white noise, trail runners experienced a completely authentic wilderness adventure – running across the Eastern Shores grasslands, amongst some of the highest vegetated dunes in the world, through lush coastal forest and on to endless stretches of pristine beaches and rock pools. On foot, it is a magnificent and rare way in which to explore iSimangaliso.”

“We thank our great team of organisers, sponsors – Wetland Water, Raidlight South Africa and Impi Security, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Wilderness Leadership School field rangers, and in particular, our participants – whose contributions raised around R125 000 for the iSimangaliso Rare and Endangered Species Fund, which is exclusively dedicated to the conservation of these marine and terrestrial species in the Park. This significantly aids the essential work done together with iSimangaliso’s conservation partner Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.”

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KZN Trail Running’s Andrew Booth said, “It was an amazing experience to be part of the team that put together the first iSimangaliso Trail Challenge. We aimed to create an incredible outdoor experience in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park that would be unforgettable to its participants, and we feel we did that. The event is a world class offering that should grow from strength to strength in the years to come.”

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Former iSimangaliso staffer Roland Vorwerk embraced the true spirit of the event, making the most of opportunities to thoroughly enjoy the beautiful beach weather and surroundings by taking “a little wallow here and there”, in the rock pools near Mission Rocks and in the waves near the wreck of the Jolly Rubino south of Maphelane.

Runner Con Roux, who travelled with fellow runners from Benoni for the event, said, “That was an experience of a lifetime; I wouldn’t have missed it for anything! If you love the outdoors and would like to make a meaningful contribution to conservation, it’s a must do, especially since it is run in South Africa’s very first World Heritage Site. The organising team did an amazing job putting together a world class event – I loved the detail and surprises along the way”.

Meet iSimangaliso’s sponsored ambassador runners

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iSimangaliso sponsored three runners from neighbouring areas in the iSimangaliso Trail Challenge. From left: Khumbulani Myeni, Langelihle Mfekayi and Philani Mthethwa.

Khumbulani Myeni works for Reefteach, one of iSimangaliso’s licensed scuba diving operators in Sodwana Bay, and trains with Amanda van Jaarsveld of ‘Training Sodwana’. He took part in the pilot run last year and has been training hard since then to participate in the main event.

Langelihle Mfekayi works at the local Mbazwana Library – he also trains with Amanda van Jaarsveld in Sodwana Bay and runs a gym class in Mbazwana. Langa was part of the pilot run in 2016. Sadly, an injury forced his retirement after this year’s Day 2 – but he showed an indomitable spirit!

Philani Mthethwa is a barista working in St Lucia and a previous competitor in the iSimangaliso Half Marathon event. He achieved an outstanding 4th place in his first ever run of this kind, saying, “It was phenomenal – I am speechless. I now understand what iSimangaliso is and will tell other people about the Park – because it is so amazing! My biggest dream is to go to the biggest races and compete with the biggest stars. My main purpose is to build a strong team from my own community to minimise the rate of youth doing drugs and crime – sport can be used to achieve this. Mdumiseni, Tarquin and Carla (the first three placed runners in this event) are my super-heroes. Mdu had good advice for me on running long distances and keeping a good diet. I felt so looked after and I will always say that iSimangaliso is my home.”

For more information on the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube, or visit our website at www.isimangaliso.com. A gallery of photographs of the event, as well as results, can be found at isimangaliso.com/event/trail-challenge or www.facebook.com/iSimangalisoTrailChallenge.

For media enquiries and photographs contact Bronwyn Coppola on 083 450 9111 or bronwyn@abetterworld.co.za.