Revealing this flagship hike South Africa
“Embark on a life-changing experience and book yourself a place on the famed Otter Trail where the Tsitsikamma forest meets the Indian Ocean in the heart of the Garden Route National Park. It’s an experience that will last a lifetime.” – South African Tourism
Colossal cliffs, waterfalls, rugged beaches & monstrous whopping waves thunder along the Eastern Cape coastline. In fact, they crash just metres away from us. Lush indigenous forests actually bump into oceans and this absolute allure brings us to the flagship hike: Tsitsikamma’s, Otter Hiking Trail. Tsitsikamma is a khoi word and translated it means “place of abundant or sparkling water”. This territory located on a 200m high plateau stretches from the Bloukrans River in the west, to the Tsitsikamma River in the east, whilst the dramatic Tsitsikamma Mountains border it to the north, and the Indian Ocean to the south.
Now, while I can certainly recognise why it is considered a global flagship hike – beautiful to the beholder of any eye… I can also understand why most post Otter hikers when they are asked “How was it?”, they simply reply “Amazing”! Even when in reality it’s considerably challenging at times. And I say that with a big smile… because it was indeed, amazing!
We embarked on the 42km, 5 day trail, encapsulated by the Kouga, Kammanassie and “Groot Swart” Mountain ranges mid-winter and also branded the ‘rainy season’. Miraculously we had blue skies and warm days as we navigated from Natures Valley to Storms River’s Mouth, escaping knowing what mud-slide hills could entail.
The first day did not seem very long at 4.2km’s but it wasn’t so much the distance as the difficulty that the first day presented. After careful clambering a narrow ledge across Waterfall River (each of us helping our fellow hiker behind us across), our 65 litre backpacks jammed to the brim we maneuvered down harsh slopes to our first night’s accommodation – Ngubu Hut!
Footslogging up severe hills we looked out from mountain tops over lands and seas under the midday sun, & scrambed down the other side. Rarely we walked a straight path as we traversed many rivers, rocks and peaks. Day 2 was a steeply climb with knee high stairs to Sildekrans, after which it descended to a pretty little stream. Once across, we couldn’t resist yanking out our copper camping kettle and brewing a cup of tea. Absorbing our surroundings we silently sipped from plastic cups!
Probably not the best move because much motivation was needed to get strolling again, and especially once seeing that the trail ascended cruelly. From the Kleinbos River the trail returns to the plateau and what goes up must go down, and we began to lose height on our descent. After a final steep climb we made our way down to Scott’s Hut on the banks of the Geelhout River.
Departing on day 3 to Oakhurst Hut, we set off in the dark of dawn encapsulated in a stream of fog to make the Lottering River crossing at low-tide. Crossing at high tide may require a rough swim! En route the rolling course followed forested slopes, stretches of the wild coast line and the plateau. With a few whale sightings under our belt we were delighted to arrive at camp before lunch and chill in the shadows of the mighty mountains looking down on us. This while furious waves broke metres away against battered looking rock faces.
On day 4 the great big Bloukrans River was in flood when we were owing to cross it (due to inland rains) and we were advised by rangers to take the ‘Escape Route E6.’ Now don’t be fooled by an escape route! This very route was nicknamed by our group, “The Never Ending Staircase” sung to the theme song of ‘The Never Ending Story…!’ Once atop the mountain we were appreciatively collected by SANParks in an open air white Toyota Hilux 4×2 vehicle and sped off to be dropped at our last camp – Andre’s Hut.
Shortly after arrival at our hut we celebrated our last night with a good old ‘braai vleis’ and beer! (We had been pleasantly surprised on night 3 at Oakhurst Hut by a menu to place our orders for the following evening). Spirits were high as we reminisced over all the realities that characterized a surreal journey.
No matter what challenges each of us faced and there were challenges, what stuck out most was that as each day drew to a close happy souls were embellished by the warmth of camp site fires. Each night tired bodies lay down to sleep in a very basic bungalow, but each one highlighted by its own prime solitary location & unique earthly elements. Our bedtime story was to the beat of the Indian Ocean breakers…
Our very exploration was blessed with phenomenal people equating a great team which included barrels of laughter and sincere encouragement. Each person helped paint pristine forever memories in these mighty mountains & beyond perfect scenery. Long live the memories of Otter Trail!
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Distances and approximate durationsThe trail is 5 days and 4 nights. The following distances and durations are as follows:
- Day 1: Start – Nguba Hut = 4.8km (± 2 hours)
- Day 2: Nguba Hut – Scott Hut = 7.9km (± 4 hours)
- Day 3: Scott Hut – Oakhurst Hut = 7.7km (± 4 hours)
- Day 4: Oakhurst Hut – Andre Hut = 13.8km (± 6 hours)
- Day 5: Andre – End = 6.8km (± 3 hours)
- Total Distance = 42.5km