Hike South Africa


Otter Trail

Otter Trail

This hike is probably the holy grail of hikes in the country. The reverence relates not the remoteness or severity but more along the side of elusiveness. The trail is notoriously difficult to secure a booking, as the 12 person limit is usually fully booked about 2 years in advance. However you can apparently ask to be put on a short notice list, as many advance group bookings cancel a couple of their numbers close to the hiking date, so if you are a party of one or two you may get lucky. My advice, if you have a party of 3 or 4, use the SANParks website to check the availability for any date, and you might find something open in the next month or two, depending on the season. (Just get your work deadlines done) I booked in May for a spot at the end of July.

With that said, the trail is well worth the logistical problems overcome to secure a booking. The trail traverses the rugged Tsitsikamma coast line for 42km as a 5 day/4 night hike in an east to west direction. The trail starts at the Storms River rest camp In the Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve and ends in Natures Valley. The scenery includes stunning sections of indigenous coastal forest on the lower ground and fynbos higher up as path ascends over headlands, providing awesome viewpoints of the coast. The four overnight spots consist of two 6-sleeper huts with bunk beds and mattresses, with a braai spot outside each hut with grids, and an alternative sheltered braai spot for wet weather braaing. I last did this trail in 1989; my only memory being is that the chemical toilets have now been upgraded to proper flush toilets. There are taps as well that provide running water, but it should still be used sparingly. Otherwise most of the streams and rivers provide fresh water. There are now showers included, and the last night’s open shower provides a spectacular view to get wet n’ wild with Mother Nature.

The difficulty of the trail really depends on your hiking experience and the amount you want to carry. If you are fairly fit and experienced then it is one of the easier hikes to do, which gives you some leeway to splash out on 500g steaks for supper and lots of chocolate, beer and other alcoholic companion (For me its Obies). There is no need to over do it, but it’s nice to enjoy a good meal and a lager to celebrate a scenic day. However, the hike caters for a lot of inexperienced hikers and not being properly prepared could make it an unpleasant experience. The idea is to find the balance to make it the most enjoyable time for you. There was another party of four on the hike with us who had one member sprain an ankle on the first day, and they all accompanied her off an escape route the next day. I don’t know if they were experienced enough or not but either way it’s a most unfortunate thing to have to pull out the otter trail. That left the remainder four days of the trail to just the four of us.

map

One of the highlights of the otter trail is the number of rivers that are crossed, including the Bloukrans. A lot of people are unsure as to the difficulty of crossing this river and the whether inflatable survival bags are needed. Generally at low tide and in good conditions this is not needed. For us low tide on that day was about 13:15, and it took us a leisurely 4 hours to get there. The water was about shin deep to cross, and then a short scramble around some rocks and a short section where the water was waist deep which required only one of us to be in the water to pass the packs across. However I can’t speak for the crossing at high tide, and after heavy rainfall the river can be impassable and dangerous, and hikers should take the nearby escape route out. Rather hike the 10km in the dark with torchlight to get there at low tide in the morning if you are unsure about a high tide crossing.

Day 1 Storms River to Ngubu

4.8km ± 2h

After signing in at Storms River the trail begins from behind the entrance gate, and heads for the coast through forest vegetation. At the bottom of the decent there is a cave just before you start a short section over rocks to the waterfall, which makes for a good lunch spot before arriving at the hut.

About a Km from the waterfall you hit the Ngubu huts. There is an open shower just around the corner from the second hut.

Day 2 Ngubu to Scott

7.9km ± 4h

The second day starts with a short climb up from the hut. The first couple of km’s are along the top with some great viewpoints and whale watching opportunities.

Just before the 4km mark you cross the Kleinbos River for an excellent break spot. There is a brilliant pool for swimming about 100m upstream, if you can handle the cold.

There is a bit of uphill climbing to do after the Kleinbos River, but nothing major. A detour just after the 5 km takes you down to Bloubaai, if you have the energy to come back up. The route to the hut provides some dramatic scenery. Scott is situated at the mouth of the Geelhoutbos River. Be on the lookout for the elusive otter, their tracks were abundant.

Day 3 Scott to Oakhurst

7.7km ± 4h

This day is one of the more scenic days in my opinion, as much of the trail hugs the coast. Otter tracks were plenty. The Elandsbos River is crossed at the 2km mark. Although the path takes you a couple of hundred meters upstream before crossing, it is easier to walk over the mouth as there is a sandbar that channels the river no wider than a meter or so. Just stay away from the dunes as Oyster Catchers nest in that area.

The trail continues as earlier on in the day, with a lot of minor ups and downs along the coast. Eventually the Lottering River Mouth and the hut are in sight. To collect fresh river water from the Lottering you may have to go upstream a hundred meters or so, depending on the tide.

Behind the Oakhurst Huts is an interesting geological feature of twisted rock formations caused by (something sciency/geology related) The Gods had a creation after party and things got rowdy when this section was made.

Day 4 Oakhurst to Andre

13.8km ± 6h

This is the longest day, with 10km needed to be covered before the Bloukrans River crossing. It is about 4 or 5 hours to cover that section, so if you plan to cross the river at low tide plan your day accordingly. We left at about 7:30am and arrived at the river at noon, and low tide was around 13:15.

There is still another 4km to go after the crossing. Andre hut is on the banks of the Klip River.

Day 5 Andre to Nature’s Valley

6.8km ±3h

The last day is a quick and easy one, after the short and steep climb up from the hut. Most of the day along the top among the fynbos, with views of the Tsitsikamma Mountain range in background and Plettenberg Bay to the West. A short walk along the beach ends up at the lagoon mouth at Natures Valley.

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