THE OTTER TRAIL
Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park, Eastern Cape
Undoubtedly the best known and most popular of the South African hiking trails, the Otter trail must rank alongside the best trails in the world. The trail follows the spectacular Eastern Cape coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park.
The trail is 42,5kms long and takes 4 1/2 days to complete. It follows the rugged, rocky shoreline ranging in elevation from sea level to a height of more than 150m. Most of the trail follows cliff tops returning to sea level to cross rivers.
STORMS RIVER MOUTH
On arrival at Storms River Mouth the hiker reports to the park reception which is situated close to the park entrance. Here one books in and settles the conservation levy before seeing a video presentation on the trail.
STORMS RIVER MOUTH to NGUBU HUTS
The trail starts from the South African National Park's Storms River rest camp. The first part of the trail to Ngubu hut is 4,8kms long and normally takes about 3 hours to accomplish. This section contains quite a lot of boulder hopping and with full packs, care must be taken to prevent injury. After a while the hiker reaches a large cave and it is worth taking a break here to explore this natural feature. Beyond the cave the trail continues to the base of a majestic waterfall. After heavy rains, the crossing of the bottom of the waterfall can count as the first real obstacle on the trail. At the waterfall the Otter hikers leave behind any day hikers that have venture along the trail from the rest camp and walk the short remaining distance to Ngubu overnight huts. For those hikers who arrive the day before the trail is due to start, there are excellent camping facilities and chalets to rent at Storms River Mouth.
NGUBU HUTS to SCOTT HUTS
The second day of the Otter trail is probably the most varied and beautiful walk of the whole trail. It starts with a steep climb away from Ngubu and then follows a walk through a beautiful area of virgin forest. Eventually the hiker reaches the solid quartz outcrop of Skilderkrans. Here it is time to take a break and have a look to see if one can see any Dolphins or Whales from this incredible vantage point. After Skilderkrans the trail descends to cross the beautiful Kleinbos river before reaching the sandy shores of Blue Bay (an ideal place for lunch). From Blue Bay a steep climb awaits the hiker but it is not long before Scott Hut comes into view and the end of the second day's walk is accomplished.
SCOTT HUTS to OAKHURST HUTS
The third day of the trail starts of with the crossing of the Geelhoutbos river which flows next to the huts. The trail follows the rocky coastline until the Elandsbos river is reached at about morning tea time. This is a good place for a swim either in the brown river water or in the sea. The trail continues along the shore, passing through beautiful Fynebos until the Lottering river comes into view with the Oakhurst huts situated on the far bank.
OAKHURST HUTS to ANDRE HUTS
The fourth day of the Otter trail is also the longest. The need to reach and cross the Bloukrans river at low tide makes this day probably the most difficult depending on the time of the low tide. The distance to Bloukrans from Oakhurst is about 10Kms. This section of the trail is particularly well marked to help the hikers who may have to start out before dawn. The estuary at Bloukrans is deceptive when first seen from the cliff top by the approaching hiker. The estuary is wide with the dark hint of the river on the far side. It is important to cross the river within half an hour of low tide unless one wants a difficult swim followed by a dangerous rock scramble. Once across the river, the hikers can take a well earned rest in the pebble cove adjacent to the Bloukrans estuary before completing the last stretch to Andre.
ANDRE HUTS to NATURE'S VALLEY
The final leg of the trail is a relatively easy walk to Nature's Valley. It start off with a boulder hop across the Klip river before a steep climb up to the top of the cliff. From here the trail continues along the edge of the cliffs through fynebos before dipping briefly to cross the Helpmekaar river. Eventually Nature's valley comes into view and all that's left of this incredible trail is a steep decent followed by a walk across a sandy beech to the trails end.
The Otter Trail is justifiably considered by many to be the top trail in South Africa. It is only 42.5Kms long but it is not an easy trail. Bookings for the trail can be made through South African National Parks
Central Reservations +27 (0) 12 426 5111. Fax +27 (0) 12 343 0905
This is a very popular trail and more applications are received for bookings than can be accommodated. It is however, well worth the perseverance needed in obtaining a booking.
Hikers Haven at Natures Valley offer a transport service for hikers to the start of the trail. Please contact them (Telephone +27 (0) 44 531 6805) for the latest costs of this service.
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