It’s been about a year since we took on the mighty Otter Trail Hike in the Eastern Cape, but the memories of the experience live on in our minds as fresh as the taste of sherry around those campfires at night.
“Those views just seemed to get awe-inspiringly better and better as we strolled along.” © Kelly Kidson
There were 9 of us friends with adventure in our bones, aching to throw ourselves into the most famous of South African hiking trails- The Otter Trail. It was September 2012 and we conquered that trail and relished every step of it. In retrospect we even loved the seemingly endless inclines that punished our legs to the brink of collapse and made us complain and curse like a waddle of ducks in single file being “shoo’d” up a hill. But the views from the top of each of those vistas were reward aplenty and we began to look forward to what was in store for us after the next bended climb. Those views just seemed to get awe-inspiringly better and better as we strolled along.
“There were 9 of us friends with adventure in our bones” © Kelly Kidson
Marathon of a hike
The Otter Trail traverses over 42 kms of Tsitsikamma wilderness. It’s quite literally a marathon of a hike in its distance. So basically I can tick “doing a marathon” off my to-do list too. Well that’s a relief.
It follows the intensely- glorious Eastern Cape coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park. The 5 day hike took us under its spell, lead us through diverse environments and showed us natural beauty unbounded. We were absolutely amazed by the untouched wild setting we found ourselves in each day. Each night, we rested at a new camp with accommodation is in 2 raised, wooden cabins, each boasting sea views from balconies. Cabins are set just steps away from the shoreline and the sound and smell of the sea was part of the magic.
We only needed to pack sleeping bags as beds were provided in the cabins. Triple decker bunk beds in fact. Everything is extreme on the Otter Trail.
I have to mention the loos at each camp too. They’re not just ordinary loos. They’re “loos with a view”. From the throne we looked out towards the horizon and watched the ocean through one way glass. That’s something I’ve definitely never done before and I was even lucky enough to see dolphins swim by from one such viewpoint.
“Everything is extreme on the Otter Trail.” © Kelly Kidson
“Cabins are set just steps away from the shoreline” ©Kelly Kidson
Zig Zagging Route
During our hike we were shown mercy by the weather fairies and ambled on through clear, mild days made for walking. It was perfect. The route zigzags up and along the coast. We were constantly standing in wonder at the heights we were at and the views they afforded. The plateaus reach elevations of up to 200m and those cliff tops we stood on plummeted straight into the ocean below. A contrasting, dramatic and an incredible landscape to be part of. We walked through Fynbos dominated sections, coastal forest and inland indigenous forests as part of the ever changing route. I still remember that feeling of sheer freedom and wonderment at being immersed in that scenery.
“We were constantly standing in wonder at the heights…” ©Kelly Kidson
“I still remember that feeling of sheer freedom and wonderment at being immersed in that scenery.” © Kelly Kidson
Every day is a highlight
I’ll never forget what my fiancé Graham said when we were half way through the hike. He said, “I had thought the only thing to look forward to about the long hike was the Bloukrans river crossing. But once we got going I realised that every day is so different because the trail and scenery changes constantly. Every day is a highlight.” I think this puts the essence of the Otter Trail in perspective. It has the power to surprise and showed us an experience we couldn’t have expected, no matter how much we read up about it beforehand.
Even now, when our happy hiker group gets together around a braai, at a wedding or even on email, we can’t help ourselves. We reminisce about our journey through rivers, up staired, steep inclines, through forests and absorbed in that cuttingly-crisp fresh air of the Tsitsikamma National Park, with backpacks bigger than us as company. There are even mumblings amongst a few of us that it might be nearly time to do it all again. The Otter Trail seems to have us in its claws.
“The Otter Trail seems to have us in its claws” ©Kelly Kidson
“Every day is a highlight…” ©Kelly Kidson
Some more things you may like to know about the trail:
Some of the wildlife you may come across on the hike include, lots of dolphin and whale sightings (we saw them daily), genets (that visited our braai areas at night hoping to score a snack) and the Cape Clawless Otter (which eluded us but we did see their footprints). There are also honey badgers, bush pigs, duiker, baboons and even leopard in the area so you might be lucky.
Some of the birds you could tick off include the rarely seen Narina Trogon (which we heard and 2 of us saw as it flashed past in flight), cuckoos, cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, sunbirds, Knysna Woodpeckers, Knysna Loeries and many more.
There are a few river crossings to conquer on the route. Bloukrans is the biggest of them but not the only one. It’s exhilarating to get across these and a big part of the adventure. Bloukrans is not as difficult to cross as you may think so don’t let the thought of it stop you from doing the hike. With proper planning around the tides and team work it’s really one of the highlights.
Tip: Take water-proof bag covers so you can keep your packs dry as you swim them across the water. Also bring aqua-shoes or strops along to wear as you cross. These are life-savers once you scramble up the rocks on the other side of the rivers.
“With proper planning around the tides and team work it’s really one of the highlights.” © Kelly Kidson
Hikers need to take everything they may need for the 5 day hike, except for shelter. All food and water needs to be carried from camp to camp. Snacks will be your best friends while hiking. Don’t skimp on these. Fill up your water bottles at every water source you find as it’s not guaranteed that there will be water available in the taps at the camps. We found this out the hard way one night. Also don’t forget the booze. You’ll cherish that cup of sherry, wine, whisky or Amarula around the campfire at night as you recall the stories of the day with your mates.
“So basically I can tick “doing a marathon” off my to-do list…” © Kelly Kidson
“There are even mumblings amongst a few of us that it might be nearly time to do it all again.” ©Kelly Kidson
Book your Otter Trail hike directly through SANParks.
For reservations and more info click here: