Hiking the otter trail is a bucket list experience that I have heard people talking about since I was young.
I never thought it would be something I would do until I really fell in love with hiking a couple of years ago. A fear of heights and the unknown had kept me too scared to venture out beyond my comfort zone. Once I broke the barrier and saw hiking in a different light I was totally addicted.
I did my first multiple day hike in 2015 on Reunion Island. I found it much less challenging than I thought and by the last day I wasn’t ready to stop. Hiking with a 20kg backpack was also a new experience but it soon become one with my body.
When I was asked a couple of months ago if I would be keen doing the famed otter trail I immediately said yes. Is a beautiful 5 day 4 night 45km hike through the Tsitsikama area of the Garden route and follows the rugged South African coast line. You sleep in huts, carry absolutely everything and to top it all off only 12 people are allowed on the trail per day. This way it feels like you are far away from any civilization and you can enjoy all that nature has to offer. It also means that there is usually a year waiting list so you need to book really far in advance especially if you want to secure a good date.
Ok so I am all for being prepared. I had the right shoes, a good bag and everything else that would make my journey easy and safe. I love being spontaneous and going with the flow but on something like this you don’t take chances.
You don’t just need to be prepared with your gear though. If you check out the route there are loads of ascents and descents. You should at the very least have a moderate fitness level and be a keen hiker to make the experience fun and not just barely tolerable.
Being mentally prepared is also a plus. When you know what you are getting into its so much easier to deal with and stop stressing the small stuff. I powered up steep hills with the thought of the rewarding views and a snack at the top! It really made it much easier and gave me a great sense of accomplishment when I got there eventually.
The only mental block I had was crossing the Bloukrans river mouth. There are a few river crossing but you need to cross Bloukrans at low tide and even then you might be waist high in water. I dreamt about being pulled out to sea so many times because I am basically crazy paranoid. In the end the the tide was so low and everything about it crazy beautiful and not scary at all. Everyone has a different experience though so be familiar with the tides and weather! There is an exit right by the river so if it doesn’t look safe to cross definitely take it!
Enjoy every day:
So there are five epic days of hiking that are all so wonderfully different. The first day is the shortest and easiest hike to get you into the swing of things. The next few days are going to be more difficult. You will have to check tides, cross river, and do a lot of hiking but the rewards are worth it. When possible stop and take in the scenery, listen to the quiet of the forrest and look out for dolphins and whales. We even saw an Otter on our second day and I am pretty sure the little guy brought us some luck!
Its also a big bonus if you go with awesome people like we did. Getting along with your hiking crew definitely helps. We have so many fun memories and stories to tell like eating toasted bread from the fire with chips and dubbing it choast.
Every day brings with it a new camp as well and the huts are all next to the ocean and all super pretty! We also experienced something cool at each camp. The first night we got to experience Bioluminescence under a blanket of stars and lightening in the distance. It was magical and set an awesome tone for the rest of the trip. Other camps offered swimming spots or driftwood fire spots on the pebbles next to the ocean. All of them unique and breathtaking!
There are two huts at each overnight spot sleeping six per hut. I was really impressed how well maintained they were! You had triple bunk bed with mattresses, enough wood for a fire and toilets with insane views. There is no electricity or hot water but you definitely wont miss it. Nothing like a refreshing dip in the ocean or a quick cold shower after a day of hiking right? I took a dip at one of the camps and it was glorious, well up until I spotted a purple jellyfish and promptly ran out.
The sound of the waves crashing mixed with being crazy tired everyday caused us to sleep for about 9 hours each night. It was more than enough to have us waking up feeling fresh and ready!
Things to remember
- The path is really clearly marked and you only need to look for a yellow otter foot print to find your way.
- There are exit routes all along the path that will either lead you to a rangers hut or to an area with reception and a dirt road.
- Take a walking stick with! No matter how fit you are this is great for balance or walking up steps. I didn’t take one but luckily we all managed to find a stick on the side of the path to use.
- Pack food wisely, there are loads of what to take guides in terms of food that you can check out if you are unsure.
- Don’t forget to pack pills for inflammation, headaches, nausea etc. Cataflams were definitely our best friend!
- Don’t overpack, they weigh your bag before you go and it needs to be under 20kg. Mine was 17kg so I was in the clear. At least it gets lighter right!
- Go at your own pace! No one should feel bad for being slower or faster but always try and stick in a group of two or more. In case something happens its not cool to be alone.
Check out the Sanparks website for more information about the otter trail.
This website has all the info you need on what to pack and what to expect from the otter trail.