I met Pauli in India in early 2011. We traveled together for a month as I introduced Pauli to cricket and we participated in the Jaisalmer Desert Festival. To each other’s friends, we’re ‘the other guy on the camel’!
As I’ve said before trekking is a great time to catch up with special friends. We had booked the Otter Trail before we left home and have done some wonderful trekking over the past seven months. We were now really looking forward to walking in South Africa and to seeing Pauli and Anna. We also felt in good shape having trekked for five days in Malawi’s Mulanje Mountains just two weeks before.
The Otter Trail is a self-guided, 45 km, five day trek along the Garden Route coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley in the Garden Route National Park. It is South Africa’s most famous hike and is named after the Cape clawless otter which occurs in this region (although chances of seeing one are slim).
We met up in Storms River Village and after a Mothers Day breakfast at Marilyn’s Diner with Ma Bortz and Bev, we set off for the start of the trail. It’s a short drive from the village to the national park and after checking in, watching the safety video and weighing our bags, we were off!
It was a short first day as we followed the rugged, rocky shoreline to Ngubu hut. The next four days were up and down as we boulder hopped along the coast and followed the trail up to the cliff top and back down again. These climbs were steep in parts but never very long, and there was always time to enjoy a leisurely lunch on the beach and a swim at the hut at the end of the day.
The beaches along the way are beautiful and while I enjoyed a swim in the crashing waves, Pauli befriended the dassies, Catherine made sand angels and Anna loved shell hunting. We were never far from the ocean and even in the shady forest parts you could hear the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
There are a number of viewing decks to enjoy the stunning views – jagged rocks protruding out the water and ocean stretching as far as the eye can see. The path is well maintained and clearly sign-posted with otter claw prints on the rocks. These markings were the closest we got to seeing an otter although we were fortunate enough to see dolphins.
The trek requires you cross a number of rivers and day four involved a pre-dawn start to ensure we crossed the Bloukrans River on an incoming low tide. Even at low tide the river can be waist deep, although by chance we were hiking at spring tide and it was barely ankle deep. We had met fire marshal James en route and being an expert in swift water rescue, he was particularly disappointed not to need the rope he was carrying!
One of the highlights of the trek was the quaint wooden huts. They’re wonderfully located right on the water’s edge so we fell asleep to the sound of sea. Accommodation is limited to 12 people in two huts so we felt as if we had the place to ourselves. Each hut has triple bunk beds with thick mattresses and a lovely porch with benches to enjoy the sunset, the crazy bio-luminescence that appeared one night and the bright starry skies. The facilities are also great with taps at each hut, an open dining hut with braai area and a separate shower and toilet.
The Otter Trail certainly lived up to its reputation with its stunning views, beautiful beaches and wonderful accommodation. We tend to often travel away from where we’re from so after traveling for seven months through Africa, it’s amazing to now explore South Africa. This county is beautiful and it’s incredibly special to show friends around.
Day 1: Storms River Mouth to Ngubu hut 4.8 km (2.5 hours)
Day 2: Ngubu hut to Scott hut 7.9 km (6.5 hours with long breaks)
Day 3: Scott hut to Oakhurst hut 7.7 km (5.5 hours)
Day 4: Oakhurst hut to Andre hut 13.8 km (8.5 hours)
Day 5: Andre hut to De Vasselot Rest Camp at Nature’s Valley 10.8 km (4.5 hours)
Bookings open 11 months in advance and because only 12 people are allowed on the trail each day, it is full very quickly. It may be possible to get a cancellation so it’s always worth enquiring. Further information can be found here.
An annual wild card gives you access to all national parks in South Africa for a year. Depending on how many parks you plan to visit, it may be cheaper to buy a wild card. You can obtain more information here.
Food and Water
It’s necessary to carry all your own food and water is available at all huts (no purification is necessary). You may be able to fill up en route too although the rivers can be empty in drier seasons.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the very friendly Dijembe Hostel in Storms River Village.
Transport is a bit tricky and expensive both to and from. Your best bet is to chat with the hostel and to hope you meet people on the trail who can drop you off. Otherwise, you can call a taxi in Nature’s Valley.
Other Things in the Area
The Storms River Mouth suspension bridge is in the same national park as the start of the trail and because the first day is very short, you could visit in the morning before you start walking.
Nature’s Valley is a beautiful beach and if you had the time, you could enjoy a night here after the trek.