THH Otter on the Otter Trail

The Otter Trail Experience – Garden Route National Park, Tsitsikamma

The OG of hikes at the Southern tip of Africa! The Otter Trail is located along the stunning coastline of South Africa’s Garden Route. Within this pristine wilderness area lies the legendary Otter Trail, it is an exhilarating and picturesque hiking trail that beckons outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.

We would encourage you to take on the challenge, as this multi-day trek promises awe-inspiring views you wouldnt find in a 5-star lodge. With diverse ecosystems and unforgettable encounters with the region’s unique flora and fauna. In this blog post, we discuss our experience hiking the trail having completed the trail twice, once in 1013 and the second time in 2019. We will dive deep into the allure of the Otter Trail, covering its distance, duration, and the experiences that await intrepid hikers.

Distance and Duration:

The Otter Trail is a challenging five-day hike spanning a distance of approximately 42 kilometres. It starts at the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp, the trail winds its way along the rugged, and we mean rugged, southern coastline, meandering through indigenous forests, across rocky coastal outcrops, and through pristine riverbeds.

The Sanparks website lists the following distances and duration details below, we had slightly varying results during both our Otter Trail hiking experiences.

The trail is 5 days and 4 nights. The following distances and durations are as follows:

  • Day 1 = 4.8 km (± 2 hours)
  • Day 2 = 7.9 km (± 4 hours)
  • Day 3 = 7.7 km (± 4 hours)
  • Day 4 = 13.8 km (± 6 hours)
  • Day 5 = 10.8 km (± 5 hours)
  • Total Distance = 45km

Distances are indicated per kilometre for each day on the Otter Trail Map that is available on sale in the park.

We tracked our distance using an eTrex garmin in 2013. Our distances where slightly shorter than indicated exdcept on Day 2 because of our detour to Blue Bay! For this blog, however, we will use the official distances as a guide.

These were our stats from 2013

Day 1: Start of Trail to Ngubu Hut (approximately 5 km)

The day had arrived for our second time on th trail, and the four of us were eager to get going and headed up the hill from our overnight huts to the reception area. The friendly staff welcomed us and let us know that we had to watch a short video presentation of what to expect and safety procedures etc, we thought it was a bit long, but we dutifully watched the dated scenes in excited anticipation.

We then headed over to the start of the trail where we wrote our names in the history book of all those who have attempted the Otter Trail.

And finally, we begain walking and the realisation that I should have done those Westcliffe-stairs-saturday-morning-training sessions dawned on me. I wasn’t as fit as the first time round. The 1km section of gumpole steps heading down towards the shoreline give your legs and knees a wobbly wake-up call!

Once down at the shoreline we were greeted by the resident troop of baboons and turned westward for a short, but invigorating hike along the shoreline, giving us our first real glimpse into the spectacular beauty we would be gifted over the next 5 days. The day concludes at the Ngubu Huts, a serene campsite nestled amidst the dense forest.

2019 – Day 1 – Ngubu Huts – Rene, Diane
2013 – Start of the trail – Nondwe, Lindsay and Dom
2019 – signing The Book – Lindsay, Diane
Otter Trail Elevation Profile_Day1
Day 1 – Elevation Profile recorded on an eTrex Garmin 2013

Day 2: Ngubu Hut to Scott Hut (approximately 10km)

The second day was a slightly longer day through indigenous forests and rocky terrain. There is an option on the trail to walk down to a small bay, nicknamed Blue Bay by the old-guard hiking community. We had learned the name on our first hike in 2013 from an older copuple, Andre and Margie. They had hiked the trail over 30 times and were still going strong!

The path down to Blue Bay is not marked, at least not when we have hiked the trail, and is a very steep descent, so choose this option carefully as you will need to get back up to the trail again! Having said that, it is well worth it if you love taking the road less travelled. The bay is beautiful and secluded and perfect for a dip in the ocean.

The Scott Huts await weary hikers at the end of the trail, providing a very comfortable and scenic resting place. While we were basking in the sun in the Geelhoutbos river mouth, we were blessed with an otter sighting that will forever be etched in our memories.

The little creature was making a good show of fishing in the waves directly ahead of us. It payed little attention to us, although it was accutely aware we were staring and commenting at it’s cuteness.

Then, just as quickly as it arrived, it was time to say goodbye and it dissapeared between the rocks and surf. After being blessed by the Otter Trail gods with a lovely sighting of it’s namesake, we had a lovely early evening and fell asleep to the sounds of the ocean.

2019 – Our friend the Otter at Scott Huts
2013 – Blue Bay is a little beach off the main route of the Otter Trail on day 2. It is a steep descent to get there.
2019 – Another resident at Scott Huts, the genet, visited us at our fire that night.
Otter Trail Elevation Profile_Day2
Day 2 – Elevation Profile recorded on an eTrex Garmin 2013

Day 3: Scott Hut to Oakhurst Hut (approximately 7.7 km)

This is a tough day, its the middle of the hike and your legs are still aching from the descent on Day 1. I found this day the most difficult to navigate and there are long sections that hug the coast with tricky rock fields and narrow trails. It does open up in sections, however, like the river crossing at Elandsbosrivier.

Oakhurst Huts are situated right next to a river mouth, it is a very rough mouth and the waves are felt through the night, crashing and lulling you to sleep. The next days river crossing, however, is the main topic of conversation that evening.

We are nervous about what state the crossing will be in, although we have done our research and if all goes well, we should have no issues! Watch out for whales and other seal life while you have sundowners on the rocks at Oakhurst Huts, it is magical!

2019 – Rocky and uneven terrain
Get used to the gumpole steps!
View of Oakhurst Huts. The final section to the huts is longer and trickier than it seems!
Otter Trail Elevation Profile_Day3
Day 3 – Elevation Profile recorded on an eTrex Garmin 2013

Day 4: Oakhurst Huts to Andre Huts (approximately 13.8 km)

The Bloukrans River crossing day has arrived! We leave at 5am, before sun-up to ensure we make low-tide. So far we have had lovely weather, which means no rain, so in all likelihood the river will be tame.

This is another challenging stretch and leaving before sun-up makes it all the more nerve-wrecking. We all had headlights, so were well prepared and when the sun breaks you really feel your prescence on the southern tip of Africa, spectacular! Be prepared for breath-taking vistas of the rugged coastline, the view towards Bloukrans, as it comes into view, is stunning.

As we overlook the river crossing, we breath a sigh of relief that our early morning wake up and our steady hike was timed well. It is a good 10km to the river crossing, which is the longest we have hiked in one go so far and we did well! After the crossing is the most tricky section of the entire trail, in my opinion. You are required to climb sheer rocky outcrops with only a toe hold grip between you and certian injury!!

The Otter Trail is not for the inexperienced hiker, it best to have a good sense of your skill and your balance, especially with a heavy backpack. The day concludes at Andre Hut, we made it. The end of the hike is now in site. Bitter sweet feelings are the order of the day.

2019 – The view of the Bloukrans River crossing. Some hikers are lucky enough to see the Otters playing the river!
2019 – We made it across the river without getting our bags wet!
2013 – Getting back ontrail after the river crossing takes nerves of steel!
Otter Trail Elevation Profile_Day4
Day 4 – Elevation Profile recorded on an eTrex Garmin 2013

Day 5: Andre Hut to Nature’s Valley (approximately 10.8 km)

The final day of the trail is an invigorating hike through fynbos-covered hills, on the way to Nature’s Valley.

This day is the easiest of all the days, and as Murphy would have it, your legs are no longer as achy and you feel stronger than you have over the last 4 days. This is the final leg and you must take it all in and remind yourself that you have conquered this extreme trail with a scenic beauty you will not encounter any time soon, until the next time that is!

Natures Valley is a small coastal village that serves as the trail’s endpoint and rewards us hikers with a sense of accomplishment and the opportunity to relax on pristine sandy beaches. In 2013 we walked across the beach to reach the pub, but this is not necessary, although it is beautiful!

On our second time out we followed the official trail which took us through a forested area towards the Tsitsikamma Hike trail head and the De Vasselot Restcamp.

2013 – The long walk across the Natures Valley Beach
2019 – The climb at the beginning of Day 5 is intense, but the views at the top are epic! Andre Huts in the background.
2019 – Look out point after the steep climb from Andre Huts!
Otter Trail Elevation Profile_Day5
Day 5 – Elevation Profile recorded on an eTrex Garmin 2013

Time Considerations:

Completing the Otter Trail typically takes five days, allowing hikers to immerse themselves fully in the natural wonders along the route. It is important to note that this trail is very physically demanding, requiring a moderate level of fitness and stamina.

The duration of each day’s hike depends on factors such as individual fitness, weather conditions, and group size, but most hikers spend approximately 6 to 8 hours on the trail each day.

River crossings are an important consideration on the Otter Trail. The trail runs along the ocean and there are many river crossings that may be affected by the ocean tides.

Bloukrans river crossing is the river that experiences the most significant changes during high tide, so much so, that you will have to swim across if you do not plan the timing of your crossing with the time low-tide is expected.

Rainfall also has an impact on the river water levels, so pay attention to the weather, know the time of year you have booked for the hike and plan ahead.

Tips and Recommendations:

1. Booking: Due to its popularity, it is essential to book at least a year in advance to secure a spot on the Otter Trail. Reservations can be made through the South African National Parks (SANParks) official website. I recommend calling reservations to make your booking. Be sure to be courteous and flexible with regards to the dates you want to book as you are not guaranteed a spot!

2. Fitness Preparation: Undertaking a training regime before embarking on the Otter Trail will enhance your experience. Incorporate cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and endurance activities into your routine.

3. Packing Essentials: Pack lightweight but sturdy hiking gear, including comfortable hiking boots, moisture-wicking clothing, a waterproof backpack, a good quality sleeping bag, a compact tent, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a water filtration system.

4. Safety First: Familiarize yourself with the trail’s challenges and adhere to safety guidelines provided by park authorities. Inform someone of your hiking plans, carry a first aid kit, and be mindful of changing weather conditions.

Embarking on the Otter Trail in the Garden Route National Park is an adventure that promises unforgettable moments and unsurpassed natural beauty.

As you traverse the rugged coastline, immerse yourself in the splendour of indigenous forests and discover hidden treasures along the way. With proper preparation, a sense of adventure, and a respect for nature, the Otter Trail will reward you with an experience that will stay etched in your memory for a lifetime.

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