Recently I had fallen in with a bunch of crazy trail runners. It seems that running on trails can sometimes lead to visiting some very unexpected places. Enter Execution Rock. The place of the Qiko people.

I first heard of this mystical place last year when the same group of runners had set off to find this massive granite rock in the middle of the Umkomaas Valley. Umkomaas is the Anglicised name after the isiZulu called the river uMkhomazi meaning “the place of cow whales”.

Not much is known about the history of the KwaQiko Execution Rock. Local legend has it that a Zulu chief executed his delinquent warriors on this rock.

KwaQiko Execution Rock, from this South Coast Tourism and Investment Enterprise report.

Local dive center owner Brett Louw has arranged this expedition. We meet at dawn at his lodge, Agulhas House just a stone’s throw from the world renowned Aliwal Shoal, a top 10 diving spot. After a quick coffee, we are dropped off some 25km from our destination. Having previously figured out the route, the rest of the crew knew what was coming so we opted for a shorter distance with lots of up- and downhills.

Our driver drops us off. Along with Brett, Neal, Lindsay and Musa my fate is sealed. There is a rather ominous looking dog standing next to the road. It looks like mostly Siberian Husky but dark in colour. A nice blend of every township variety dog imaginable. Despite its looks, the dog comes for a sniff and a pat. Seems that looks can be deceiving.

At last, we set off on our journey. Eventually the tar road becomes a dusty farm road. A passer-by’s face lights up when he sees us. He says what sounds like: “I’ll remember you.” to each of us. I get chills down my spine. Is this a bad omen? Is the place where we are going so bad that we might not return? Why is he already writing an obituary in our remembrance? I ask Musa what the guy meant. He says, no, I’ve misheard. The guy remembers us from a previous run. It was “I remember you”, “Not I’ll remember you”. Big difference. Very relieved I fall back into the lull of the undulating dust hills calling us.

Further along the road, we pass a big compound. It looks like a big hall with adjacent buildings. People are entering a small rondavel at the back of the property. They take their shoes off as they enter. I can see them standing facing the walls. Sounds of very old and traditional Zulu hymns fill the air. The sanctity of the moment and their absolute devotion is awe-inspiring. This makes an imprint on my soul. Some moments are hard to forget.

Many people pass us on our journey. The taxis that transport people are also more scarce the further you go inland so many people are on foot. The further away you get from the city, the friendlier the people become. There are many small houses and shacks built on rural compounds. This is all tribal land belonging to the Zulu Ingoyama Trust.

Trail running is self-sufficient and since we do not know where our journey might take us we are stocked up on supplies. Normally on a 25km run we’d have about 1.5 litres of water, 2 energy bars, some nuts, fruit or trail mix and a packet of sweet jellies. We do pass the odd tavern or tuck shops. At least we are sill in civilisation.

The journey is tough. There are many steep hills which we walk and then run the flats and downhills. There is a saying in running – “never waste a downhill”. Eventually we can see a massive rock face in the distance. It’s very big, and ominous and dominates the hill. We are almost there.

By now the sun is shining with full force. Even though we are high up on the hillside, the mist still rises to the right of the valley as we descend on Execution Rock. It’s a short burst and we are standing on the rock. It is a massive granite structure with a 360 degree view of the Umkomaas River and the valley below. The view is overwhelming, the air is fresh and sense of accomplishment in the air. We take many photos and videos. Not long after our transport arrives with a cooler box to take us back to our normal lives.

As we drive home, we sit back and enjoy the views for one last time while sipping on cold drinks and a celebratory beer.

Now I am even more intruiged by this mysterious rock. To complicate matters, there is hardly any information on the internet about this place. If you ask the locals, they do not know much about the history either. There was some attempt by the Ugu South Coast Tourism to try and develop the area as a tourist attraction in 2019. There is even a tweet about a story of a warlord massacre between ANC and IFP supporters during the 90’s.

The only confirmed history of this location is what fellow runner Stellio Coutsides managed to find in a tourism brochure: “A short distance from Dududu, standing sentry over the expansive Umkomaas Valley, is the imposing Execution Rock, a distinctive natural feature shrouded in myth and legend. A climb to the plateau is rewarded with spectacular views into the Umkomaas valley and an opportunity to spare a thought for the Zulu warriors who were said to be despatched from the rock promontory for errant behaviour!”

The enigma of Execution Rock lingers. It feels as if we went on a spiritual journey to an other-worldly place. The quest to find out more about the rock remains. Hopefully, one day, someone will be able to tell the full story of this magnificent rock and the pain and sorrow that it has brought to many.

Local trail running legend, Mez Kennedy has made an amazing video of the previous expedition to find Execution Rock:

Our stats from this run:

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