Finally it was time to hike the Madiba of Trails, the Otter trail. One has to make a booking a year in advance to get on this 5 day / 42,5 km long trail in the Tsitsikamma National Park. It doesn’t seem a lot but I promise you, 42,5 km in 5 days is more than enough! Up and down and up and down, carrying a 20 kg backpack, burning sun and sometimes not enough sweet water around. Here’s my story of an unforgettable experience.
Undoubtedly one of the best trails in the world, the Ottertrail follows the breathtaking Eastern Cape Coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley in the Tsitsikamma National park. The elevation ranges from sea level to a height of more than 150 m, most of the trail follows the cliff tops returning to sea level to cross rivers.
We were a group of 11. My friends Manja & Nadja, Kobus, Gerdie and their 3 kids and Henk with his son and daughter who were smuggled in because they were a bit too young (minimum age is 12 yrs).
Day 1 Storms River Mouth – Ngubu Huts 4.8 km
My best memory from the first day was the beautiful waterfall that we came across. Until this point day hikers are still permitted. They have to return. For us it was only the start. The first day is about a 3 hour hike so we took it quite easy and had a lovely swim in the rock pools.
Early afternoon we arrived at Ngubu Huts. All the camps have 2 huts with each 6 bunk beds. There’s 1 toilet and a shower and 2 ‘braai’ areas. In case it rains, there’s a boma to ‘braai’. Firewood is provided at most camps. Hikers need to provide their own gas stoves and pots for cooking (Thanks Sean, your gear was GREAT and much appreciated!!)
Day 2 Ngubu Huts – Scott Huts 7.9 km
Somehow day 2 I found a really tough day. We had about 3 steep climbs. The steps sometimes are quite high that it was difficult for a short person, like me, to hop onto the next one. Jee! I was absolutely exhausted and was asking myself: Why was I doing this again? Day 2 you walk through beautiful indigenous forest which was nice and cool. A beautiful place for lunch and a swim break is Blue Bay. It takes a little bit of scrambling over the rocks but it’s worth you’re while and not to be missed. Diving into the waves and being thrown on the beach.
Day 3 Scott Huts – Oakhurst Huts 7.7 km
The distance today was about the same as yesterday but everything just went much smoother. I got used to my backpack, the scenery was out of this world. Day 3 was definitely my favorite day of the hike. The day started of with the crossing of the Geelhoutbos river which used to flow next to the huts. This time it was dried up which was a bit of a problem because we needed drinking water. The rain water tanks at the huts were almost empty and only provided very brown water which needed to be cooked and purification tablets and then still tasted horribly. We improvised a bit by making tea the night before and drank that as water (at least the brown color could have been from the tea…). The only little luxury that I allowed myself was an apple for each day. I love apples and they just keep me going. On day 3 my apples were my saviors. The next river, the Elandsbos river was also dry so we missed out on our morning swim and were very grateful for the ‘tea’. Although this hardship my spirit was up and day 3 was a fantastic day.
Day 4 Oakhurst – Andre huts 13.8 km
Day 4 I will remember for the rest of my life. This is the longest day with the most obstacles. One has to cross Bloukrans River at low tide. Bloukrans is about 10 km from Oakhurst. We thought we were lucky because on our day 4, low tide was at 4pm so loads of time to walk the first 10 km. We arrived already around 12h30 at the crossing point. Again we were struggling to find drinking water but Kobus and his son swam / walked a bit more land inward and found a little sweet water stream. The swim to that point was absolutely stunning and we were so grateful to find this delicious water and filled up all our bottles. I felt like a real McGyver!
4pm came but no low tide. What to do? White waves from the sea were rolling in. It all looked very hectic and we didn’t know what to do. Christiaan was so brave to swim across and check out the other side which was cliffs and only a few spots to get on land but with the chance to be smashed against the rocks by the waves. This was not looking good. I was panicking a bit and thought we should choose for the escape route, especially because there were 3 small kids who could not swim that part by themselves. Then Henk, Kobus and Christiaan kind of considered all pro’s and con’s and Henk decided to bring his little daughter across first. WoW! Little Clara was so brave and writing this and thinking of that moment, I was so grateful she was safe and sound on the other side. Now, we girls, Manja, Nadja and me felt a bit useless and decided we must swim across as well so we can help on the other side with the guys. So we did. Somehow, once I make a decision like that I just GO, which in this case was the best. Manja managed to help the guys a lot while I could comfort Clara a bit. All luggage had to go in survival bags and brought across on a rope. The guys did an amazing job, swimming across I don’t know how many times. After that it had to be carried over the mountain to the other side as quickly as possible as there was not really space on the rocks for all luggage.
By 6pm, I think, we were all safely across including all our luggage. Nobody hurt, nothing lost. No time really to think about anything because we still had a few hours of hiking ahead of us and didn’t want to hike in the dark so off we went over the cliffs, scrambling up and down, boulder hopping. One very steep climb, I thought I couldn’t anymore but of course one can always bare more than initially believed so yes, also that steep uphill I overcame. Then close to the camp we saw a sign that said: Please take here your firewood because there’s no firewood at the camp. What?? Anyway, again no time to think just filled up with wood as much as I could and then there was still one steep down hill to go and we would be at the huts. This day really was a bit too much.
Day 5 Andre – Nature’s Valley 6.8 km
The last morning of the trail is an absolutely stunning hike through Fynbos along the edge of the cliffs until the beautiful view of Nature’s Valley enormous beach. Once you finish the steep descent, a walk across a sandy beach is the end of the trail.