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.

Arrival at

 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.

DAY 1

STORMS RIVER MOUTH to NGUBU HUTS

4,8Kms-3Hours

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.

     

The trails starts at the far western side of Storms river rest camp where cars can safely be parked.

 
Camping at Storms River Mouth The Start of the Otter Trail
The walk begins The rocky coastline that will be with us for most of the trail
     
Looking back towards the start The exploration of rocks and rock pools begin
View from Guano cave Turbulent surf
 

The first day's walk consists of mainly rock scrambling. Guano cave is worth spending a few minutes exploring.

     

The next feature along the trail is the Waterfall which is situated just before the 3km mark.

 
     
 

The waterfall is really very beautiful and a good place for a well earned break.

     

Ngubu Huts are a short distance from the waterfall and although the first day of the trail is short the terrain makes it not as easy as it might seem from the map.

 
Outlook from Ngubu Hut in daylight
At Dusk

DAY 2

NGUBU HUTS to SCOTT HUTS

7,9Kms-5,5Hours

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.

     
View after the climb Approaching Skilderkrans
On top of Skilderkrans View from Skilderkrans
 

After the climb away from Ngubu, Skilderkrans provides an ideal opportunity for a break.

     

Skilderkrans is a massive outcrop of Quartzite that juts out into the sea

 
On top
     
Picture taken during drought times Picture taken after heavy rains
 

At Kleinbos river it is well worth taking your time to explore a little way upstream.

     

Upstream there are some beautiful pools to explore and swim in.

 
     
 

Blue Bay is the ideal place for a swim and a relaxing lunch.

     

Scott Hut is situated on the Geelhoutbos River mouth. It is a lovely setting.

 
     
Just a little way up the Geelhoutbos river
 

To witness the sunset is one of the highlights of each day of the Otter Trail.

Just a little further along the coast there are some lovely rock pools to explore.

DAY 3

SCOTT HUTS to OAKHURST HUTS

7,7Kms-6Hours

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.

     

Elandsbos River is reached soon after the start. It is a lovely place for a swim.

 
     
 

The trail continues along the coast varying between the shore and the cliff top until Lottering River comes into view.

     

The climb down to the Lottering river crossing is quite steep while the river crossing is quite simple except when tides are exceptionally high.

There are some rare rock exposures at Oakhurst. Have a look at our page on these

www.footprint.co.za/ottergeology.htm

 

DAY 4

OAKHURST HUTS to ANDRE HUTS

13,8Kms-7Hours

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.

         
 

Along the way the flora is varied and beautiful

 
     
Along the trail the hiker can sometimes see the Cape Clawless Otter, Seal, Caracal, Genet, Leopard, Duiker, Bushbuck, Bushpig, Badger, Vervet Monkey, Baboon, Dolphin, Whale and a host of Bird species.  
A Seal on land is a fairly unusual sight
A deep freshwater pool to swim in
     
 

Crossing Bloukrans at Low tide is generally fairly simple but to cross it at other times can be quite a challenge and should be attempted only with the help of strong swimmers.

Survival bags are a must and make sure that all water sensitive items such as cameras are suitably protected.

     

Although only reportedly just under 4Km, the remainder of the walk to Andre Hut is quite strenuous and should not be underestimated.

 

DAY 5

ANDRE HUTS to NATURE'S VALLEY

6,8Kms-2Hours

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.

     
Taking it easy at Helpmekaar River
 

The climb up to the top of the cliff looks a lot worse than it really is and shouldn't take more than half an hour. Once the Helpmekaar river is reached the trail is almost over.

     

The final part of this trail is a stroll along the beach and maybe a dip in the ocean.

 

CONCLUSION

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

e-mail reservations@sanparks.org

 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.


Footprint Hiking Club

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