The Otter Trail is one of South Africa’s most well-known hiking trails, popular with both locals and international visitors thanks largely to its incredible scenery. The trail starts at the Storms River mouth and ends at Nature’s Valley in the beautiful Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve on the Garden Route.
The Otter Trail meanders mostly along the rocky shoreline, but changes in elevation from sea level to about 150m above, laying out the spectacular Eastern Cape coastline on a platter for your viewing pleasure. Sound good? Don’t underestimate the 41 advertised kilometres – the Otter takes experienced hikers a total of five days to complete.
Still keen? Why wouldn’t you be? This hike has been touted as a life-changing experience. It’s not often you get to put your physical endurance to the test like this, And as far as introspection goes, the five days and four nights are bound to teach you a little bit more about who you – and your fellow hikers – are.
Your trail accommodation consists of four overnight stops with two six-sleeper huts each. Mattresses are provided for the triple bunks, and the amenities stretch to a table and a toilet, but everything else – sleeping bags, food, pots and gas burners for cooking – you’ll have to carry with you.
Braai facilities are available, and firewood is left along the trail (to add to your load) but it’s strongly advised to bring the aforementioned gas cookers along too.
Water is available throughout the route from the reserve streams and from rainwater tanks at overnight stops (don’t rely on these if rainfall has been sparse), though purification tablets might be necessary if your system’s not used to roughing it.
If you were wondering about the trail’s title, it’s named for the Cape Clawless Otter, a species that occurs in and around the area. And it’s easy to guess why this particular name was chosen – the trail is most well known for its river crossings. Yes, that’s plural. Be prepared to get wet, there are eleven crossings in total.
Two of the larger rivers (Elandsbos and Bloukrans) are really only manageable at low tide, so you need to plan ahead and keep an eye on tide schedules and rainfall measures.
But don’t worry, because time to plan is one thing you’ll have plenty of – the immense popularity of this trail means that it’s not unheard of to have to book a year to sixteen months in advance. Bookings can be made through the South African National Parks. (contact details below).
Heavy packs, steep inclines, long all-day slogs, the river crossings and more than a little rock scrambling preclude anyone under 12 or over 65 from doing the trail, and for anyone in-between a reasonable degree of fitness is required (you’re obviously looking at more than a walk in the park).
But whether you do it for the incredible scenery, the physical challenge or simply the post-hike bragging rights, the Otter Trail should definitely be high up on your hike-before-I-die list.
Otter Trail Reservations:
Telephone: +27 (0)12 426-5111
Fax: +27 (0)12 343-0905
Visit the SANP website for bookings.