The mighty Otter Trail is near the top of the wish lists for most us who own an adventurous heart. The 42-km hike traces the incredible Eastern Cape coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park and I’m thrilled to claim that recently I ticked it off my list.
There are backpacks full of reasons why this is deemed one of South Africa’s favourite and most famous trails, which boasts a year’s waiting list. Expect five days and four nights of simple living immersed in one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful natural areas of South Africa. The hiking is challenging in an addictive way and there are rewards at each up or down.
There were a few things we didn’t expect on the Otter Trail though:
1. Ups and Downs
“The steeper the mountain the harder the climb, the better the view from the finishing line.”
This quote by an unknown author sums it up. The trail does nothing in half measures. When it goes up, it does it properly and though most of the inclines are “staired” with wooden beams they seemed cruelly unending and we cursed them. But once we were up, the views afforded by such heights softened us again. Every single time. When the trail decided to go down, it didn’t mess around either. Ask our knees. The downhills were steep and pretty technical, and usually another uphill waited nearby. But, oh the views, the views, the views!
2. Loos with a view
Have I mentioned the astounding views yet? They were that good. We were pleasantly surprised to find that each camp boasted a “loo with a view” too. There is a bathroom at each overnight spot sporting a single loo inside it. From the throne you can look out towards the horizon and watch the ocean through one way glass. It’s fabulous and I even enjoyed a dolphin sighting from one such viewpoint.
3. Cabins on the beach
Each night, hikers arrive at a new “home-away-from-home” to recover in a setting of untouched wilderness. Accommodation is in 2 raised, wooden cabins, each enjoying sea views from a balcony of course. These cabins have prime location. This was unexpectedly special. Each is set just steps away from the shoreline and the sound of the waves is an effective sleeping pill. It’s magical.
Each cabin sleeps 6 on triple decker bunk beds. Brave the top bunk if you dare! We didn’t.
4. Dolphins and Whales
With all those striking sea views, came the luck of spotting dolphins frolicking in the surf. We saw them almost every day, conveniently from our base camps. I think the Dolphin Coast has some stiff competition. We were also spoilt to a sighting of a mother and calf whale duo from our perch on one of the high look out points on the trail. (Remember your binoculars to capture these moments better).
5. Snack Attacks
You will never truly appreciate the value of a snack bar, trail mix or a gulp of Game juice until you’ve been on a proper hike like the Otter Trail. My daily snack packs became a site of much envy in our group as its one thing I didn’t skimp on and man, did those little burst of energy from a sneaky snack help. Biltong, peanuts and raisins and liquorice were amongst our gang’s favourites.
6. The Worth of Wet Wipes
For the very brave, there are cold water showers at every rest camp along the trail, but for those of us who prefer to avoid pneumonia and a case of chronic goosebumbs, wet wipes saved the day. These were our chosen product of cleanliness. Quick, refreshing and effective after an active and sweaty day with a heavy backpack as very close company. I swear by them.
7. Walking on Water
Bloukrans was not the only river crossing we encountered along the trail. There are a few other smaller crossings, and depending on the tide, some may require tactical means to get to the other side too. At any crossing that demanded us to be thigh-deep or more we protected our backpacks in waterproof bags and floated them across with us. A dry backpack makes for a happy camper. At every single water negotiation, water-shoes (like strops or aqua-socks) were a Godsend and I stick by my opinion that we couldn’t have crossed as injury-free as we did without them. We ended up sharing pairs to make sure that everyone walked on water easily. They were so useful.
The worth of half a mug full of wine, sherry or Amarula after a strenuous and exciting day’s hike is priceless. Its powerful stuff and us “heroes” who thought we could do without just to lighten our load were the first begging for alcoholic donations come sunset. Besides, socialising around a campfire reminiscing about a good day in the outdoors without a dop doesn’t quite fit.
9. Cable ties and duct tape can fix anything
Yes, these two items are on the “absolute necessities” packing list and yes, they can fix anything from hiking boots to holes in waterproof bags and much more. Don’t tempt fate. Have cable ties and duct tape handy.
10. Your Own Troop
The most valuable thing you can pack for this trail is a solid group of like-minded and adventurous friends. Memories of experiences like the Otter Trail are best shared and we’re going to be reminiscing about them at every braai and get together for a long time to come.
Otter Trail booking
For more information on the Otter Trail and prices, and to book click here for the SanParks website.
Otter Trail blogs