The Addo Elephant National Park Trail Run

Trail Blaze Through Addo Elephant National Park

With only 400 places on offer, this is not a race many people will experience in their lifetime. The lucky runners who get their names on the list start off amidst the citrus orchards of Kirkwood, from where they progress into dense riverine forest and sub-alpine ridges characterising the Zuurberg section of Addo Elephant National Park.

©Jacques Marais
Running trail, Addo National Park and 3 Rivers Trail.

Both running events start - usually at 06h00am sharp - at the new Kabouga Gate of Addo Elephant National Park, then wind their way over the hills and into the Sundays River Valley.

The shorter 44 km run meanders up a steep, gravel track to finish at the picturesque Zuurberg Mountain Village, whilst the 76 km runners continue into Addo Elephant National Park itself, to finish at the Main Rest Camp.

Enjoy the undulating jeep tracks in the cool of the morning. After about 25 km (12 km on the short route), you reach a series of drifts which, depending on how much rain has fallen, may hold a substantial amount of water.

None of these 20m submerged sections are more than knee-deep though. Some may be traversed with a bit of bundu-bashing, but keeping your feet dry is hardly worth the effort

Experience of a Lifetime

©Karl Svendsen
Kudu (Tragelaphus stepsiceros) Addo National Park, South Africa.

Single-track trail and gravel roads wind through the thick indigenous bush of the valleys at Addo Elephant National Park, and glimpses of duiker, kudu, warthog and eland sustain you as you soak up the beautiful ache that exemplifies long-distance running.

Completing the Addo Trail is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime, a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in this magical region of the Eastern Cape.

Both distances offer runners a mixed bag of valley and mountain running, which naturally serves up some conversation-stopping ascents and reciprocally technical downhills.

This is interspersed with long, flowing and beautifully runnable trail, traversing the broad fynbos-covered backs of the Zuurberg Mountains, and through the shady riverine forests hugging the valley floors.

The Route

©Jacques Marais
Mountain biking, Addo National Park and 3 Rivers Trail.

At Addo Elephant National Park you will experience everything from sand dunes to sea cliffs along the route, with a range of fascinating archaeological sites to explore along the way to the finish at Langvlakte Valley.

Once you clock in at the 32 km mark, you’ll tackle the first major climb of the day, and it is a mean one. The jeep track rises straight up out of the valley, and even the most stubborn runners will be sensible and walk this.

The main pitch is followed by a short contour which provides some respite, with the next hairpin signalling the start of the final 5 km drag to the top of the plateau. This is very taxing, but once you reach the top you have 15 km of relatively easy running and with uninterrupted panoramas all round.

After a steep descent down to a farm, you hit single-track for the first time as you begin the second major ascent of the day along the horse trail through a forested kloof towards Zuurberg Mountain Village.

When the terrain gets steeper, the zigzags begin, winding up until eventually you pop out above the tree line and into the lodge. The 44 km runners are now done, but the full 76 km route continues onto 19 km of gravel road en route to the Addo Rest Camp.

A gentle cruise down Zuurberg Pass is rather fun, but the final few kilometres are a slog. Be ready for one final sting in the tail on the approach to the finish along a few switchbacks through the dense Addo Elephant National Park thickets.

Every 8-10km you will also reach welcome refreshment stations, stocked with bottled water, energy drinks, cola, tea, coffee, soup, boiled potatoes, jam and peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, and sweets to help you on your way.

By Jacques Marais