The Otter Trail, between Stormsriver and Natures Valley has always been one of those things I have wanted to do, but booking in advance, often with a lead of a year or so, and well, I guess being distracted by life has always stopped me from getting myself into gear.
But that all changed a few weeks ago, when a spot opened up and I was given the chance to finally experience this epic hike for myself.
Stormsriver to Ngubu (Day 1) (4.8kms)
The first day of the trail is a fairly easy walk to just beyond the Waterfall. We stopped for lunch as the falls rushed pass us into a very angry ocean. It really is a killer start to the hike and you should give yourself an hour or two to just relax and enjoy it.
Then it was onto the overnight stop, a braai and the lightening of the packs. It also gave us a first look at the accommodation offered on the trail. Simple huts with six bunk beds, three to a stack. Hard as rocks we hiked across but more than sufficient for a good nights sleep.
Ngubu to Scott ( Day 2) (River crossing – Kleinbos River Mouth) (7.9km)
The trail on day two was a good reality check to the ‘wander’ of the first day, steep ascents and equally steep descents punctuated with startling views over the coastline. Be sure to stop at Skulderkrans, a buttress of Quartz that stands out in defiance of the sea and the scramble to the top will reward you with a panoramic view of the coastline of where you have come from and where you are going.
Then its was down to the Kleinbos River for lunch, with beautiful rock pools and a glimpse down to the mouth of the river. Crossing was really just removing your shoes and the shock of the cold water and a little balancing act.
The remaining 3 kilometers was a tough walk with back on back ascents before descending to the hut via a look out point over the beautiful Blou-Baai. The hut is situated on the river mouth of the Geelhoutbos River Mouth and is a sweet as setting to rest weary feet and warm up by the fire.
Scott to Oakhurst (7.7km) Day Three
Day three is about startling change, from hiking across sandy beaches, walking in tunnel like paths through indigenous forests to skirting the cliffs through fynbos.
The next river crossing is truly beautiful, the Elandsbos River Mouth. Wide open sandy beaches and the river snaking its way to the ocean.
The trail heads up-stream to a crossing point but in hindsight we could have easily crossed where we first walked on the the beach near the mouth. But I suspect each trail group experiences totally different hikes, so check conditions before taking my word for it.
After the halfway point is a long and steep climb, which is the penultimate challenge of the day, and then it’s onto the final crossing at the Lottering River.
When the tide is low, there are visible stepping-stones. At high tide, it’s at most a waist deep wade across a rocky and at times sharp bottom. Its worth carrying some sandals for this alone. Dry bags and some spare garbage bags come in handy too.
Then its just a short walk to the overnight stop. The hut is situated at the mouth of the river and it’s mesmerizing to watch the ocean and the river push against each other as the sun sets.
Oakhurst to Andre (13.8km) Day Four
This is the longest part of the trail and involves crossing the Bloukrans river which is the biggest of all the river crossings. The first ten kilometers traverse along the coastline with scrambling along boulders and walking the narrow gap between ocean and cliffs.
This hike is all about timing to arrive at Bloukrans at low tide, which we achieved with aplomb, but don’t miss too much as there are some great landscapes as you make your way along the coast.
A swim, lunch and a spectacular gorge with Sandy beaches, towering cliffs and the reddish-brown of the river diluting with the blue / green of the sea water. It’s almost a shame that you cannot overnight here as it is a remarkable location.
The last 4 kms of the day are not to be baulked at and it comes after a pretty strenuous 10km hike. The overnight stop is at the Klip River mouth. A scenic spot to say the least with access to swim in the sea and rest some seriously tired legs.
Andre to Nature’s Valley (6.8km) Day Five
After the previous days exertion, the final day shaped up to be a more relaxing affair with the promise of cold beer at the end, the legs were energized and we set off on the final day towards our destination of Natures Valley.
The hike is not challenging and traverses along the cliff tops before descending to the beautiful Natures Valley Beach. Where any sane persons immediately walks to the nearest bar and orders a beer and something to eat.
It was super cool to meet the folks I hiked with … Ilan, Callan, Caryn and Paul our pick up who joined us on a whim the night before – next time leave me off the mailing list. My legs will thank you. A special thanks to Caryn who had the foresight to book and organize the entire mission.
So a few things to consider …
Do the Otter Trail, it’s worth it! It was harder than I thought it would be but it was an experience that’s pretty hard to regret.
You start everyday with a steep climb to invigorate your sore muscles and question your sanity. When the trail ascends. It goes up. No half measures here.
You appreciate the length of a kilometer a lot more when hiking this trail.
The toughest 2km’s were the ones to the bar in Natures Valley.
Check out panorama’s of the Otter Trail here
About the Otter Trail
The Otter Trail is a hiking trail along the Garden Route coast of South Africa and is named for the Cape Clawless Otter which occurs in this region. This trail is widely regarded as one of the finest in the world and stretches from Storms River Mouth34°01′15.5″S 23°52′47.5″E in the east to Nature’s Valley 33°58′56″S 23°34′36″E in the west, is 26 km long as the crow flies and 41 km as the hiker walks.
For more information, visit www.sanparks.co.za