The Otter Trail

Posted on 18 May 2010

The Otter Trail is a five day, 42 km hike in the indigenous Tsitsikamma Forest by a breathtaking untouched coastline. You sleep in wooden huts with no electricity or mobile phone reception and for five days all you hear is the sound of the ocean and the incessant insect hum of the bush. Only twelve people per day can take part in this hike and it is booked a year in advance. However, there are sometimes last minute cancellations. When our friend, Gil Bauman, told us that two of their group members had been forced to pull out of the Otter Trail, we jumped at the chance! Hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful hikes, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Unfortunately, Bow Wow had to sit this one out as no dogs are allowed. He spent the week with our good friends Liz, Wayne and Eddie and was thoroughly spoilt!

42 km over five days does not sound like a lot of ground to cover, but there are plenty of steep ascents to climb and Lucie found it quite tough at times. However, you are richly rewarded along every step of the way with epic views, rivers to swim in, cascading waterfalls and pristine sandy beaches. The trail takes you through an incredible variety of different landscapes and environments. One minute you can be walking through the thick of a seemingly enchanted forest, covered in vines with a floor of woodland flowers and the next you may be scaling jagged rocks by crashing waves and surrounded by driftwood like enormous white elephant bones. On the very same day you can swim up a narrow river canyon with sunlight streaming through green vegetation and lace-like cobwebs and then later on dive into a turquoise ocean on a deserted beach.

The wildlife is plentiful here; we saw genet cats, deer, monkeys and a puff adder! Watch out for these deadly poisonous reptiles sun-baking on the path. They will not move out of your way and may attack. In the event of an emergency, like a snake bite for example, there are escape routes dotted along the trail, but unless you’re at the top of a hill (and this only works very occasionally), there is no mobile phone reception and the escape routes usually involve a steep climb and it will take you a while to get help.

You hike everyday to the next camp. The wooden huts that you sleep in are wonderfully basic with just bunk beds, a few hooks and a wooden work top for preparing breakfast and dinner. There is a tap outside so that you can stock up on fresh water, a cold water shower (brrrrrr) and an immaculately kept loo with ocean views! You are also provided with firewood but apart from that you must carry EVERYTHING that you may need for the five days; your sleeping bag, clothes, cooking paraphernalia and food.

Our friend, Gil Bauman who led our group, has kindly allowed us to publish his definitive Pack List which has been expertly honed over many years hiking the Otter Trail. If you want to enjoy the hike, it is essential that you pack light and this means leaving any unnecessary items behind (like make-up, for example!) and living off a schoolboys dream diet of powdered food stuffs and noodles! Even so, you will not believe how delicious everything tastes on the Otter trail because you get so hungry. After walking all day, warm lumpy custard may as well be caviar, the ultimate luxury becomes putting on a fresh pair of dry socks and just lying down beats any massage you’ve ever had!

(Girls note: You have to accept that this will not be your most alluring hour. Your skin may glow without a scrap of make-up due to arduous climbs, sea winds and frequent dunks in cold rivers, but by day three your normally silken barnet will have formed one tangled dread lock and you may smell faintly of eau de sock. In these unkempt times, a hat can only help so much. For this reason, we would strongly recommend carrying the majority of the food in your back pack, just in case your boyfriend even thinks of leaving you lagging behind.)

Every day brought yet more beauty, fun and exciting challenges but the penultimate day was our favourite. It is on this day that you must tackle crossing the mighty Bloukrans River which has claimed the lives of hikers in the past. In order to cross safely, you must wait for low tide which was 17:30 for us. However, this happened to be a very high low tide and so we still had to swim for about 10m in strong currents in order to reach the other side. Once past this exhilarating obstacle, there is a steep ascent and then a pathway that hugs the edge of the cliff with spectacular views. The last huts lie at the bottom of a valley and here you can finally lay down your heavy back pack and rest your weary pins! This is the most arduous day being 14km but the best reward is waiting for you. Just 5-10 minutes walk to the west of the huts along the shore, is a spot where you can watch the sun paint the sky and listen to the sound of giant powdered almond pebbles clashing together as the tide sucks them out. We sat in awe for an hour or so, mesmerised by the scene before us. Like a beast breathing in and out, the sea swallowed whole rock masses, exploding onto the shore and turning everything white – so powerful, you wouldn’t stand a chance! As Gil put it so beautifully ‘You get the impression it’s been here long before you and will be here long after you and it’s just always magnificent, forever”.

As for an otter, we saw plenty of their tracks, but it is very rare to catch a sighting of these shy creatures. Especially if you have someone in your group with a voice as loud as Lucie’s.

You can find all of our photos on our Facebook page.

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