Otter Trail Adventure
The Otter Trail is a hiking trail along the Garden Route coast of South Africa and is named for the Cape Clawless otter which lives in this region. This trail is widely regarded as one of the finest in the world and stretches from Storms River Mouth in the east to Nature’s Valley in the west is 26 km long as the crow flies and 41 km as the hiker walks. Walking the trail takes 5 days, and 4 nights. The route is located entirely within the Tsitsikamma National Park, which protects an 80 km long strip of coastal mountains, forest and beaches.
Earlier this month we departed for our long awaited trip to complete the Otter Trail. Due to the high demand- the Trail has to be booked quite a bit in advance. We had to book a year ahead. The most important advise that I can give is to plan your trip according to the tides. We did not think about this when we initially made our booking, which made our trip more challenging.
We flew down to George and arranged with Fisheagle Transport and Tours (Contact information listed below). The transport services were great and the drivers were very welcoming. We had asked our driver if he could stop at a local Shopping Centre for us to buy gas for the trail. As you are not allowed to fly with the gas canisters you would need to buy this after the flight. I would recommend buying a smaller gas canister, as you will have to leave this behind before flying back home.
We stayed at the Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve for two days before we started on the trail. We highly enjoyed our stay here- the chalets are positioned just a few meters from the ocean, which guarantees great views.
There is also a great restaurant (Tsitsikamma Cattle Barron- Storms River) within walking distance from the chalets. The food is incredible with a few Vegetarian options; however the prices are quite high.
Risks: Lots of rocks and slippery surfaces
Highlights: Cave and Waterfall
Distance: +- 4.8 km
Duration: +- 4 hours (including stops and a leisurely pace)
Camp: Ngubi Rest Camp
We started our first day quite late (about 1PM) this is due to the distance being roughly 5km. The day started with a substantial breakfast at the Tsitsikamma Cattle Barron and took some time to finish up our packing. We had arranged for transport beforehand by Fisheagle Transport and Tours- this is also a great idea as we were then able to give them our overnight bags with clean clothes in for after we had completed the trail to be dropped off at the B&B that we would stay in at the end of the trail. I highly recommend having clean clothes for after, as everything will be smelly and damp after your walk.
Your walk will start with quite a big decent to sea level where you will eventually come across a pebble beach with two caves. We had a break here and took some time exploring the cave. The cave is a must-see, just remember to take your headlamp and look out for bats.
Next you will come across a waterfall- we stopped here to have lunch while some of the group took a swim.
Brave yourself for your first few hills before getting to the first rest camp. The first camp is located close to the shore. Take some time to explore all the rock pools – the water is very clear here and we were able to see some incredible creatures.
The huts are very well kept and clean with 2x sets of triple bunk beds- so 6 people per hut. The camp layout is very similar for all of the stops. There is a communal area, a cold water shower and a toilet at each camp (each with its own unique view).
Risks: Lots of inclines
Highlights: Skilderkrans Rock
Distance: +- 7.9 km
Duration: +- 7 hours (including stops and a leisurely pace)
Camp: Scott Rest Camp
We were a bit worried about Day 2 due to all the things we’ve heard about this being the most difficult day. Brace yourself for a challenge- however there are the perks of incredible views – take some time to enjoy this.
The day began with a steep ascent through the forest. After about 1.5km you will arrive at Skilderkrans Rock. This was the highlight of the day for me. The Suikerkrans rock features the perfect view where you will be able to see endless forest, ocean and beach views. This is truly spectacular.
There is also a small river that you have to cross on this day. We formed a line on the stepping stones where we were able to pass all the bags over to the other side. This is where our water shoes came in handy- I highly recommend these for the trip as they allow you to cross the rivers and give you lots of grip.
It started raining during our river crossing- at this point I was very grateful for my waterproof raincoat and bag cover. When buying your gear for the trip just ensure that you get a 100% Waterproof raincoat and not Water Resistant- I found it extremely difficult to find a waterproof jacket as most in store were water resistant which wont do much to protect you if you encounter a storm.
The rest of the day consisted of endless ups and downs. Your bag will still be quite heavy on the second day- just remember that each day this will get better. My bag was about half its weight on the last day compared to the weight of my bag on the first day.
Finally we arrived at the camp after about 7 hours of walking. The camp on this day is beautiful, surrounded by ocean and white Lilly’s everywhere.
Risks: River crossing
Highlights: Lots of cliffs and beautiful ocean views
Distance: +- 7.7 km
Duration: +- 5 hours (including stops and a leisurely pace)
Camp: Oakhurst Rest Camp
This day was by far my favorite day. This is rated as the most beautiful day, which I completely agree with. The fact that this is one of the easier days means that you are able to appreciate the beauty of your surroudings that much more. We were also lucky enough to see an Otter on this day- this was extremely exciting making the day that much better.
The day starts off with a few inclines through the forest. Around the 2km mark you will arrive at the Geelhoutbos River- this was a easy river crossing for us as we reached this point during low tide. We were able to cross the river carrying our bags on our backs.
Near the end of the walk, we reached the Lottering river. Do not underestimate this river- we unfortunately reached this river at high tide which made it extremely difficult to cross. We decided to put our water shoes on, and put all of our bags in the waterproof dry bags and ‘float’ them across the river- this was an extremely bad idea. Most of the dry bags had holes in or broke at the seams, meaning that our bags got wet. Our bags were lined with waterproof liners and we had placed all of our clothing, valuables and food in zip lock packets- the water still somehow got into everything! This was an absolute disaster as it was now late afternoon, we were cold and all of our things were wet- including our sleeping bag.
Luckily for us the river crossing is about 1km from the rest camp so we didn’t have to walk that far with our drenched belongings. When we got to the camp we immediately unpacked our bags to assess the damage. Everyone soon lay all their wet items onto the rocks to get the last bit of sun. We made a bonfire that night where we all placed our shoes around to dry- this worked quite well.
We all had an early night as our low tide time for the next mornings Bloukrans River Crossing was about 8:30am. To get to the Bloukrans River it is about a 10km walk- we estimated that this would take us about 3.5 hours to do- meaning that we would have to leave the camp at about 5AM.
Risks: River crossing/ rock climbing/ lots of slippery rocks along the coast
Highlights: Otter spotting
Distance: +- 13.8 km
Duration: +- 7 hours (we did the first 10km at a very fast pace due to the time constraints- the last 4km we took very slowly due to pure exhaustion)
Camp: Andre Rest Camp
We woke up around 3:30AM to give us enough time to pack, have breakfast and get ready for the long day ahead. The day starts with a steep ascent and beautiful ocean views. At about 6:00AM we realized that we were in a bit of trouble with time as we were not even 4KM in to the walk at this time. The terrain is extremely difficult on this day and the fact that we had to do a lot of it in the dark before sunrise did not help much either.
We had to rush the entire 10km until we finally reached the river. By this stage we were all exhausted and some were a bit injured (blisters and knee pain mostly).
We arrived at the river mouth about half an hour after our low tide schedule, meaning that the river was already becoming too dangerous to cross. With no time to lose we all crossed the river straight away. The men all helped the ladies cross by carrying the backpacks above their heads. The water was not too deep (about waist high). Unfortunately due to the tide being high we had to cross a bit further up the river. We then had to take the “D” route, which is extremely dangerous.
There are 3 different route options for the Bloukrans River crossing:
A: at the slipway on the extreme left closest to the beach. This is the easiest route, this route can only be used at the lowest tide.
B: is between the slipway and the small cave. This route is to the right of the “A” route. The “B” route is used in mid tide conditions and is followed by walking on the rocks leftwards which meets up with the “A” route.
C: is more difficult and used during high tide conditions. This route is towards the large cave. You will have to walk leftwards on the rock and join up with the “B” route.
The “D” route is extremely dangerous- it involves climbing a rope which goes high (almost vertically) upwards above the small cave area.
We were forced to take the D route due to the tide being so high, which I do not recommend as it was extremely challenging and dangerous. We had to free climb the rock face with all our gear and backpacks. It was scary using the rope to aid our vertical climb to the top of the peak as the rope looked old and weathered. Due to the lack of crevices, you have to trust the rope to hold you up whilst climbing. A fall at this point could be fatal- this thought made the climb that much more mentally challenging. When we reached the peak we had to walk down to meet up with the route of the trail. To get down to this point was also extremely difficult as the paths are overgrown with dense shrubs.
The last 4km of the trip was extremely difficult as we were all very tired after a stressful and physically strenuous first 10km. By the time we arrived at the rest camp, I was beyond exhausted and could not wait to take a shower and relax.
There is a baboon that lives near this camp and often comes in to try look for food. The huts at this camp all have lock up security gates to prevent the baboons from coming into the huts. We had heard stories from previous groups where the baboon had come into their huts and stolen many of their belongings. Our security gate had been broken and could not lock- this scared us as baboons are notorious for being aggressive. The Baboon came close to our hut and had knocked the dustbin over, but luckily he didn’t try to come into our hut.
Our last night we spent around the fire and we enjoyed our meal together. Due to the challenging day that we had none of us were able to stay up very late and we ended up having an early night.
Risks: Steep downhill- lots of steps
Highlights: Finishing the trail
Distance: +- 6.8 km
Duration: +- 4 hours (including stops and a leisurely pace)
This is by far the easiest day – we were able to enjoy all the spectacular views. Most of this walk is flat/even ground, which by this stage felt like the ultimate luxury.
Most of this walk is nestled between the Fynbos, which makes for beautiful photography and a great difference in surroundings compared to the previous days.
Once you reach the end of the nature reserve and pass through the gate, you will complete your last descent to the Natures Valley Beach. After the beach there is another extra 3km walk to the official end of the trail. Here we were signed out and received certificates showing that we had successfully completed the trail.
Natures Valley- Post Otter Trail Hike:
We stayed at Face Tranquility B&B for the next 2 days. This was the perfect spot to relax and enjoy a bit of luxury after the trail. I would highly recommend staying here. The rooms are beautiful and the breakfast is out of this world. The lodge is situated next to the local restaurant where we had dinner each night- there is also a great bar here which we enjoyed quite a bit.
List of contacts: