The journey from Gaborone to my ultra-trail in Addo, South Africa was about 1,300km so we did it over two days. Bloemfontein was halfway so we stopped here for the first night and as it was a city we had never visited, we were keen to explore it on the run! Bloemfontein, means “fountain of flowers” in Afrikaans and its Sesotho name Mangaung means “place of cheetahs”. However, it is popularly known as the “City of Roses”. It is the capital of the Free State province but also serves as the judicial (and third) capital city of South Africa. The city is steeped in incredibly complex and difficult history, and the diverse architecture, especially in the city’s centre, often reflects that complexity. [Photo Below: Bloemfontein City Hall, built in 1935].
Given its rich history, Bloemfontein is home to numerous museums, including the National Women’s Monument, the Anglo-Boer War Museum, the National Museum, and the Oliewenhuis Art Museum. Bloemfontein also hosts the Supreme Court of Appeal, the Boyden Observatory, an astronomical research observatory, and the Sand du Plessis Theatre.
When I googled the best places to run in Bloemfontein, the internet was unanimous in its recommendation – Naval Hill in the Franklin Nature Reserve. Our hotel was downtown but only a 10 minute drive from Naval Hill. We arrived just before 7am as we had read the reserve opens at that time, but when we got there, we found several runners who looked like they had been at it for a while. The gate guard waved us through excitedly. We drove all the way to the top of the hill and parked close to the bronze statue of world icon President Nelson Mandela. We were first struck by how crisp the air was and then by the excellent views of the city.
I’d read that this is where the CityRun Park Run is hosted on Saturdays but I wasn’t sure the route would be obvious given how big the reserve looked. But we immediately saw signs of the CityRun and got started. The route was well-marked with each kilometre highlighted on a neat sign board with the encouraging hashtag, #LiveYourPassion!
The route alternated between road and trail, and varied a bit in elevation, but nothing too strenuous. The route was lined with lots of indigenous trees and shrubs and we saw a few paths that went into the more bushy areas. We stuck to the main trail and had such a beautiful run.
FIVE Things You’ll Love About Running Here
1/ You May See Wildlife! The Franklin Nature Reserve has several wild animals including zebra, blesbok, springbok, giraffe and eland as well as abundant bird life. Although we saw signs of wildlife in the form of droppings, for some reason as we were in the heart of city, I didn’t expect to see actual wildlife. I think it was 4km in, mid-conversation, that I looked up and said, “There’s a giraffe!” It was looking at us but as we approached it turned it’s back and continued browsing.
2/ Multiple Options To Choose From. We did the circular 5km CityRun Park Run but as we ran we realised you could vary your route and run in so many different directions and paths. There were several runners on the steep sections leading from the reserve entrance to the top of the hill. Some were doing a long hill run, whilst others were doing shorter hill repeats. There were also runners on the smaller paths we had seen leading into the bushier areas and although we didn’t explore those, they seemed to offer a run closer to nature. And next to the statue, there were a number of people with yoga mats and fit balls getting their workouts done.
3/ Awesome Views Of The City. As we were staying in the city centre, it really felt like a concrete jungle – a big difference from our city Gaborone! So being able to see the city from above offered a great perspective of the place. It provided a gorgeous panoramic view of the city, displaying its general layout but also how much greenery there is.
4/ Quiet and Peaceful. There were hardly any cars about and everyone was really friendly. It truly felt like a runner’s paradise. It was Thursday so it probably gets a lot more crowded over the weekend but it felt so spacious that even with more crowds, it may still offer a quiet and peaceful run, a far cry from the city’s busy roads.
5/ The Nelson Mandela Statue. Standing at 8m tall, this statue of Nelson Mandela is the largest one made in his honour. Created by the sculptor Kobus Hattingh and donated by a private individual, Mr Freddy Kenny, the statue was unveiled in December 2012 by then President Jacob Zuma. It faces the Methodist Church in Waaihoek, which was the location where the African National Congress was established in 1912 as the oldest liberation movement in Africa.
On the plaque is inscribed these powerful and inspiring words by President Nelson Mandela: “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” It goes on to say: “From the People of the Free State Province – Thank you Madiba for being a symbol of hope, nation-building and a brighter future.”
On the return journey from Addo, we stopped in Bloemfontein again and this time walked 5km in the city centre to see some of the buildings up close and personal. All in the next blog!
Have you been to Bloemfontein? Have you run in a place that offers panoramic views of the city? What’s the biggest statue you’ve seen?