After an intense but wonderful hike into the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa and Lesotho, we had one night to relax in a glorious (and insanely cheap) lakeside cabin at Gariep Dam before making our way back to the coast to begin the scenic 5-day Otter Trail with sore legs and lighter backpacks.
The Otter Trail is a 45km coastal path that crosses numerous rivers, gives you endless ocean views of crashing waves and rewards you with wonderful log cabins to sleep in. You’ll have the chance to spot southern right whales, dolphins and seals so pack binoculars or a zoom lens, but I doubt you’ll be lucky enough to spot an otter.
Day One – 4.8km from Start to Ngubu Huts
Day 1 is the shortest and can be started any time before 4pm. It’s only 4.8km and two hours of easy walking downhill through lush green forest towards the crashing waves, along the coast for a short while until you reach the Ngubu huts, close to the ocean. You have no rivers to cross so just enjoy the short walk.
Day Two – 7.9km from Ngubu Huts to Scott Huts
Day 2 is a little longer, a 7.9km walk that will take around four hours. The first incline of the day is pretty savage, but it’s an easy undulating trail almost all the way to the Scott huts, will one more terrible incline to reach them. Along the way, you’ll find a few lookout points, keep an eye out for whales and dolphins, and a beautiful beach you can spend some time on. You’ll cross the Elandsbos River but it’s pretty easy compared to the others, it was almost dry.
Day Three – 7.7km from Scott Huts to Oakhurst Huts
Day 3 is very similar to the day before. You’ll have a relatively easy 7.7km walk that will also take around 4 hours. The inclines aren’t as big for this day but you’ll still be constantly changing elevation as you follow the cliffs along the coast. You’ll cross a wide beach with a narrow river running down to the waves, it’s another great place to relax around lunchtime. The Oakhurst huts are just across the Lottering River which was an easy one to cross for us, still no getting wet.
Day Four – 13.8km from Oakhurst Huts to Andre Huts
Day 4 is a big day, you’ll cover 13.8km which will take you around 6 hours, but you need to time it correctly so that you arrive at the Bloukrans River to cross at low tide, no more than an hour before or afterwards. It’s 10km to the river so give yourself around 4 hours to be on the safe side. Afterwards, you have a big climb to the top of the cliffs before making your way back down to the Andre huts on the beach. When we crossed we only had an ankle-deep paddle through small waves, all that worrying for nothing!
Day Five – 10.8km from Andre Huts to End
Day 5 is another long one, with a 10.8km hike taking you around 5 hours. It’s the final day and you’ll have an absolutely killer climb to the top of cliffs which you’ll follow along until you reach the beach at Nature’s Valley. You can either walk straight into town from the beach, but the real finish will take you through the forest alongside the Groot River, with a surprise two-foot deep river crossing, before you reach the road, and eventually the De Vasselot Rest Camp where you will check out and pick up your certificate!
The tradition after the hike is to get back to The Valley Inn and get yourself an epic burger, a thick shake, and an Otter’s Arsehole shot, which will earn you another certificate. People decorate the tree in the garden with broken equipment so you’ll have a view of broken boots and a few too many pairs of dirty old underwear.
We had an absolute treat after the hike, a night at the luxurious (and very pricey) Storms River Mouth Rest Camp, back at the start of the hike. After 5 days of dirty, sweaty hiking and 5 nights of camp beds this wonderful cabin facing the ocean was pure luxury, and well worth it. Time to shower, relax with a glass of wine, eat some food not boiled in a bag and psych ourselves up for the world’s highest bridge bungy jump the next morning.
This was my favourite hike in Africa for a number of reasons. I love being by the sea, the sun was always shining and falling asleep to the waves is wonderful. The trail itself was well marked, easy to follow and almost a walk in the park (except for a few killer inclines, stairs will be my downfall).
Being able to stay in huts was the best part of this hike. They were wonderful, beautiful wooden buildings with balconies, an outdoor cooking and seating area, a larger covered cooking and seating area for rainy days, proper toilets and even outdoor showers! Firewood is provided and rain tanks can supply drinking water, but pack iodine tablets just in case.
The river crossings
The river crossings are an essential part of the hike and good timing is crucial, check the tide times before you go and be prepared to leave when it’s still dark in order to make it to the Bloukrans River for low tide. Pack water shoes, a towel, something to wear in the water and something dry to change into on the other sides.
It might be a good idea to pack a dry bag or survival bag to keep your whole backpack dry. Depending on the time of year and the tides you might be walking through an ankle-deep stream or wading through waist-deep waves. If you’re unable to cross any river or get into trouble you can take one of the six well-marked escape routes.
Before you go:
- There are age restrictions on this hike, you need to between the ages of 12 and 65, however, we met two older women doing it with a doctors note to prove their good health.
- You need to check-in at the Otter Room at the Storms River Reception before you begin the hike, here they will give you a comprehensive map and information booklet, along with important information regarding tides.
- The trail will take five days, four nights. Only 12 people a day can start the hike and must move onto a new hut each day because there is only space for 12 people. No camping is allowed. Book well in advance.
- Check out at De Vasselot Rest Camp is also compulsory, and you need to pick up your certificate!
For up-to-date information and maps, check the SANS Park website.
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