The Knysna Forest Half Marathon is one of the highlights on the running calendar. What better vehicle to explore it – and Knysna – than Ford’s Everest Sport?
By Catherine and Alan Valkenburg
I started running about seven years ago and have amassed quite a collection of half marathon medals. You might think me materialistic but each medal is a reminder that I got off my butt and did something. You see, I’ve never really enjoyed running. My runs are generally spent looking up the road and telling myself that ‘this will all be over soon’ or ‘You’re feeling good today. You can do this’ If you tell yourself a lie often enough, you start to believe it.
I’ve run in Stellenbosch, Durbanville, Gordon’s Bay. I’ve run in vineyards and along the coast. I’ve run in Mitchell’s Plain and completed the Two Oceans (half) wearing a yellow tiger onesie. But there was one run I’d never completed, the jewel in the crown: the Knysna Forest halfie.
Flu put a stop to my 2018 attempt and Covid ruined 2020, but when the organisers announced they were putting on a “virtual” run in 2021, I wasted no time pitching to the Ed: how about I run the not-quite-Knysna-halfie halfie?
The family had missed out on a Knysna holiday in 2020 and they wanted in. This complicated matters slightly. I needed a vehicle capable of seating my wife and three sprogs and all the accompanying luggage for a freezing Knysna July. The kind people at Ford stepped up and offered us an Everest Sport.
The biggest challenge of getting to Knysna was not speeding. Everest is so comfortable at high speed I had to continually slow myself. Until I figured out the cruise control. The spacious interior meant my kids – used to squashing on top of each other in my own car – now felt like royalty while the gigantic boot meant I was afforded the luxury of a large, clear view out the back. The five-hour trip flew by.
Once in Knysna, we headed to our digs just off Old Cape Road for the first two nights at Forest View Guest House, passing signs advertising the Simola Hill Climb. I’d heard of this event – a motorsport who’s who of the rich and fast. The Everest handled the climb – a 1:5 ascent in places – with ease, shifting through the gears comfortably, the ride so effortless we barely noticed the road turn to gravel at the top.
Let’s do this
My plan was to mimic the actual Knysna half marathon as closely as possible: same starting spot, same end, same route, same start time. Weeeell, maybe not exactly the same start time. Usually the race starts at 7am with runners being shuttled-in more than an hour earlier, then waiting around in the freezing forest, wrapped in blankets and standing around drum fires. With no crowd, there were no shuttles, blankets or fires and climbing out of the warmth of the Everest – even near 8am – was not easy.
A few months earlier I’d contacted Wayne Kidd, one of the race organisers mentioning my intention to run the real route. He’d got me in touch with a few runners who would take me under their wings and guide me along.
So it was that I met up with my friend Sandy, who’d run the race before, and members of the Knysna Marathon Club: Corinne, Danelle and Mike – a 78-year-old lesson in positivity. Once introductions were completed we set off.
Usually the route would be off limits to private vehicles so Covid meant some advantages: Cath was to play the role of support vehicle.
My concerns about getting lost were unnecessary. Things were brilliantly organised, with marshals along the way and even a few Covid-compliant water and goodie tables. The kilometres ticked over as we chatted to our hosts, who told us about their running group, Runners Inc.
Mike was the life of the group and he spent the next two and a bit hours running backwards and forwards between us and other runners, having a word here, a chat to the marshals there. ‘Aren’t you worried about Covid, Mike,’ I asked. ‘I just run,’ answered Mike, which seems was his answer to most of life’s problems. Feeling down? ‘Just run.’ Want to fight off a pandemic? ‘Just run.’
A run with a view
‘Just run,’ we did. We started with a decent climb. I’d been in two minds about whether to shed my warm top and opted to leave it in the Everest. While I soon warmed up, my fingers didn’t. Now I understood why some of the runners wore gloves. Next time.
We crested the climb and turned onto the Old Cape gravel road. Even with the damage wreaked by the 2017 fire, the route was beautiful, the views dazzling while the light made its way through the trees as the sun rose. At some point we made our way down a rocky twee-spoor track. Now we were in the real forest and it was this part of the run that I enjoyed the most. Truly immersed in nature, running didn’t seem so bad. After about 6km we eventually rejoined Old Cape Road, passed Simola Golf Club and began the run down to Knysna Town.
I’m not sure how long the descent lasted but it seemed to fly by. In retrospect, this could be the perfect half marathon route: just as you start tiring, the route planners give you a long downhill to help you regain energy. After that, a short two to 3km of flat – including one mean little loop where we could see the finish but still had to circle it – took us to the end at Knysna Deli where we said our goodbyes and collected our medals. Knysna halfie klapped. Another medal for the wall.
Everest and other routes
The next day we headed to Fernhill Guest Farm for two nights in a treetop tent. We’d driven past the Phantom Pass once or twice and I decided to take a detour and explore it. It’s one of those narrow little passes that hardly anyone uses and I did tighten my grip on some of the twists and bends. If someone had come speeding around a corner things wouldn’t have ended well. It was along here that I attempted to get the back of the Everest to misbehave – while my wife shouted ‘Alan, no!’ but the Everest’s traction control wasn’t playing fair and corrected my ‘mistakes’ quickly and effectively. There was another dirt road near the treetop tents that when wet, could have been a bit of a handful but even packed to the brim, the Everest – after a tiny wheelspin – merely regained grip and forged on.
We’d thrown a lot at the Everest: we’d packed it full, we’d driven it on gravel, in mud, at 120km/h. We’d put three kids in the back and taken it offroad. It hadn’t blinked. Maybe it should have got the medal.
Forest View Guest House
For a spot really close to the start, we couldn’t have chosen better. The house was spacious and classy with a great social braai set-up outside. Just be careful of the cheeky monkeys – we lost a carrot to them.
From R2 400 (three bedrooms with double beds, sleeper couches in lounge, sleeps 10) R800 cleaning fee applies.
Fernhill Guest Farm and tented treehouses
Staying in the treehouse was the highlight of the trip for my kids. They loved the hot tub and the 3km forest hike. The ice cream and brownies were the best.
Treehouses from R1 200 pn for two sharing up to R1 600 for four
Farm cottages from R1 000 pn for two sharing
Kam’Bati River Resort, Swellendam
To break up the journey, we stayed at Kam’Bati in Swellendam on the way home. The cabins were basic but had everything we needed. Most importantly, we were warm.
Cabins from R990 for two pn sharing
Camping from R240 pp pn, children 4-17 R120
Glamping luxury hot tub tents from R1 340 for two pn
Motoring match up
Road trip vehicle
Ford Everest Sport 2.0 SiT 4×4 10AT
It’s a big beast for the school run and for doing your daily shopping, but it sure was fun driving around. We particularly enjoyed the ample storage space, increased by folding flat the rear seats to allow the kids even greater room. The transmission was smooth and it handled hills easily.
132kW @ 3 500r/min
420Nm @ 1 750 – 2 750r/min
Price: R718 000
Toyota Fortuner 2.4GD-6 4×4
Facelifted in 2020, it’s easy to see why the Fortuner is still a firm favourite – updated powertrains, impressive off-road ability, resale value and a new black interior (as opposed to the old brown one). Everest’s on and off-road ride quality is notably better, though…
110kW @ 3 400r/min
400Nm @ 1 600 – 2 000r/min
Price: R641 000
Isuzu MU-X 3.0 4WD
The MU-X seemed to be rather well-priced within its segment at launch; however, it now seems a little steep in this company. Interior materials aren’t great, either and the engine lacks oomph. Impressive NVH, though. It’s also worth noting that its replacement is due before the end of the year.
130kW @ 3 600r/min
380Nm @ 1 800-2 800r/min
Price: R770 000
What they had to say
Ran in Knysna
Henry Meyer (and Linda Brown)
‘The Knysna Forest Half Marathon was an amazing experience.We arrived at 8:30am and started with the mandatory selfies.We were cold but soon warmed up.The run was breathtaking and we stopped often to take pictures, soak up nature and felt blessed to do an event during this pandemic. Thank you Knysna for an amazing event.We will always remember this one.’
Bianka Ruhrmund (and Jayson Marriott, Lindse Tessendorf, Dieter Ruhrmund, Bianka Ruhrmund)
‘A most beautiful run through the forest, enjoyed with great friends… what more can one ask for?’
‘The race was absolutely stunning. The Knysna Marathon Club was incredibly organised and had three well-stocked water tables. The route was perfectly marked and it was a perfect day out.’