Otter Hiking Trail
To have this trail on your "to do" list is understating it - this is a "must do".
A pure gem, that's the Otter trail. Indigenous forest, fynbos, stretches of pristine beach, hidden coves, secluded forest pools, breath taking views, mysterious-looking rock outcrops.
You must come and experience this one for yourself, the mother hiking route of South Africa. No exceptionally beautiful photograph or anyone sharing their experience can quite substitute the real thing. To be able to do it is a dream come true.
Storms River to Ngubu Hut, 4.8km (3 hours)
Visit the information centre at the gate to the Tsitsikamma National Park at Storms River. Get a tide chart and take time to look at all the spectacular photographs taken on the Otter trail.
Don't despair, you'll get used to the moral of this story, up the hills and down the other side. I have great respect for the people who carted in all the poles to create the hundreds of steps.
Less than two hours later you'll arrive at a beautiful waterfall which makes a good lunch stop. Beware of the seemingly tame seagulls. They are opportunists who will pinch anything. Before long the Ngubu Hut, named in honour of the ranger who helped develop the trail, appears amongst the trees.
It's a good idea to take a juicy steak or "boerewors" for the first night as each camp consists of a social braai area with grids, wood and benches for exchanging the days' events, while enjoying a well deserved meal. Each overnight stop has two six-bedded huts. They have bunk beds with mattresses and a table. There are flush toilets and showers, some of which are enclosed and others will take your breath away, either by the view or the cold water! Remember to tell someone when you have your shower so they can look the other way, as this one consists of a pipe, gushing cold water, in a clearing in the forest. You are one with nature!
Ngubu to Scott Hut, 7.9km (6 hours)
It starts with a steep climb but after two kilometers the rewards are the stunning cliffs of skilderkrans - a great place to stop for tea. Do take time to walk upstream at Kleinbos River to view the pools and waterfall, and do make time to climb down to Blue Bay. It's a good idea to leave your backpacks next to the path otherwise you have to carry them all the way back again. Make sure to close all the zips securely because of the ever present vervet monkeys and crows who eat everything.
Plus minus two hours later and after a very steep climb you reach the Scott Hut - particularly beautifully situated amongst arum lilies at the mouth of the Geelhoutbos River gorge.
Beware of the spotted genets, they have the audacity to pinch just about anything. Keep an eye out for dolphins who sometimes swim in pods around here.
Scott to Oakhurst Hut, 7.7km (4 hours)
After about an hour of steady walking, you reach a wide sandy beach at Elandsbos. The rocks on the far side of the river are ideal for drying feet and donning socks and boots again and of course for tea - and the view.
To make the most of your Otter experience, take your time. Take time to explore hidden paths, let the serenity of the surroundings seep into your soul. Be quiet and look up to see the colourful Knysna loeries graciously gliding through the near ancient trees. See if you can identify yellowwoods, Cape beech, blackwood. Be on the lookout for the elusive otters. If not so lucky to spot any, check out their gorgeous round toed footprints in the sand.
The view of the Oakhurst Hut from a height is really pleasing. Crossing the Lottering River isn't to difficult, just be aware of slippery rocks.
Oakhurst to Andre Hut, 13.8km (8 hours)
Wonder why this is the longest day and has the notorious Bloukrans River crossing? The ideal is to reach the river at low tide, but this isn't always possible so come prepared for some adventure.
The sand that used to be in the river mouth has been washed away and it is now much deeper and filled with stones. It looks daunting when you stand at the top of the 75 steps leading down to the river, but this is the time when the sort of camaraderie which develops on trails comes into action. Take all the help you can get. If the tide is in, swimming is the thing to do - or the escape route.
1) Swim to the gully (sloep) to your left and climb out.
2) Swim straight across and climb over the small hill, mind the waves.
3) Swim through the most narrow part, but it involves a dangerous climb using ropes up a steep gorge. Not recommended for people who don't like heights.
4) If in doubt of your abilities, take the escape route and phone 072 917 4474. There is cell phone reception and SANParks will fetch you and drop you off near the next hut.
The following are necessary; survival bags (use double), cable ties zip-lock bags for cameras and cell phones, a long nylon rope will help the weaker swimmers. Don't put your hiking stick in the survival bag but in your back pack as they pierce holes through them.
Beware of the waves as you reach the other side as they can knock you off the rocks. Wear sandals or likewise to negotiate the rocks when you climb out. Enjoy the adventure!
Take time to look at the plentiful variety of shells on the stretches of beach once you are over all the rocks. Before long you arrive at the last hut on the Otter Trail.
Andre Hut to Nature's Valley, 8.3km (3.5 hours)
Thought the ups and down were finished? The day starts with a set of steps just to remind you that the end isn't in sight yet. Stop at the lookout for some photos before you continue on the even contours until the exceptionally breath taking view of Nature's Valley unfolds before you. Don't be in a hurry down the steps, savour the last moments before you descend onto the beach.
Remember to visit The Nature's Valley Inn for your well deserved certificate and that longed for burger and chips. Look at the shoe-tree and also wonder how people could finish the Otter in such hiking shoes.
Useful info: This hike is a one way hike and you need transport at both the start and the finish. There is a specific parking area at Storms River for Otter trail hikers. At the finish, in Natures Valley, you can park at the De Vasalot camp site or at The Valley Inn (the shop/restaurant in Natures Valley).
If leaving a vehicle at both ends is a problem the Natures Valley Guest House provides transfers between the start and finish.
Tsitsikamma Storm River Headquarters - 042 281 1607
Tranquillity Lodge +27 (0)44 531 6663, +27 (0)83 264 5221
The Valley Inn +27 (0)44 531 6835
Natures Valley Guest House +27 (0)44 531 6805
Distance: 43km, 5 days.
Permits & Costs: Permit obtained from SAN Parks.
Bookings: Central Reservations - 012 426 5111 or mail BridgetB@sanparks.org
General: Hikers must be aged 12 - 65, over 65 must provide doctor's certificate
12 hikers allowed per group.
Directions: Access to Storms River and Natures Valley by taking their respective turn offs from the N2 east of Plettenburg Bay.
Click images to enlarge.
Please preserve our environment for our posterity by not littering.