The Otter Trail is probably the top hiking trail in South Africa and one of the most beautiful in the world. Along the coast of the Tsitsikamma National Park from Storm’s river to Nature’s Valley, it is just 42.5kms long but challenging. From densely-forested slopes, to fynbos-clad cliffs, tannin-stained rivers and a stunning coastline, the trail weaves through all of the park’s habitats.
It is multi-day and follows the rugged, rocky shoreline ranging in elevation from sea level to a height of 160m. Most of the trail follows cliff tops plunging to sea level to enable river crossings.
Apply ahead to go on the trail as just 12 people are allowed to start per day. Be patient as it may take 12 to 18 months to get a place. It is worth it!
If you cannot get onto the trail, or you do not want to do the entire route, a very pleasant option is to do the fairly easy Day 1 up to the waterfall and return the same way. (see details below)
Named after the shy Cape Clawless Otter, inclines are steep, terrain is rough and you have hours of hiking each day.
The trail is divided into five days and four nights. At the end of each day, hikers arrive at two rustic huts in lovely settings, which are equipped with outdoor braai facilities, dustbins, benches plus one toilet and one shower. Each of the huts has six single bunk beds with mattresses. Bring your own pillows, linen, biodegradable soaps and shampoos, plus any additional gas stoves, pots or pans. Each hut also has its own rainfall tank, well-filled if rains have been good.
There is no cell phone reception but hikers should bring their phones as they will get reception at the top of the escape route in case of emergencies. Include in your backpack: rope, a map, first-aid kit, emergency food, a thermal blanket, hat, high factor sun screen, insect repellent against ticks and a dry pack for river crossings.
You can expect to see Rock dassies, Cape Genet (who will nick any food left out!), many forest birds incl. Knysna Loerie, various sea birds including African Oyster Catchers, Vervet monkeys, baboon, dolphin, sharks, whales (at certain times of the year) and, if you are really lucky, bushbuck or even an otter or leopard! If you allow time, you will see many many insect species.
Age range 12 to 65, older with medical certificate. Book online.
Details of the Trail
Day 1 – Otter House to Ngubu Hut (4.8km) 2- 2.5 hours.
Check in at the Storm’s River Mouth, Otter House Reception by latest 12.30 to allow time to register, pay conservation fee, get your map, ask about tides plus watch a video of route details and changes.
Head downhill through forest and onto the coastal trail with a bit of rock hopping and stunning scenery. Dense, lush fynbos covers non forested areas and quartzite rocky outcrops give height for views along the entire trail. Yellow otter paw prints mark the trail.
1km from the overnight hut, you will come to a gorgeous waterfall with a lovely pool to swim and relax in.
Close by the Ngubu Hut are some lovely rocky pools to swim in.
Day 2 – Ngubu Hut to Scott Hut (7.9km) 4-5 hours.
A day with steep inclines within the coastal rain forest.
1.9km along there is a huge rock called Skilderklip. If you climb to the top, you are rewarded with wonderful coastal views.
The Kleinbos River crossing has nice pools for swimming.
After about 5kms of hiking, you’ll reach the pristine Bloubaai or Blue Bay beach scene below you. Take a 6km detour down to the lovely beach for a swim.
Scott Hut is perched on a lovely river mouth bank.
Day 3 – Scott Hut to Oakhurst Hut (7.7km) 4-5 hours.
Possibly the most scenic day of all. There are less steep inclines than day 2. Hike through forested sections and 2 river crossings and walk along beautiful stretches of coastline. In-season, wild flowers are everywhere.
There are many places to swim. At the lovely indigo tidal pool you can snorkel to enjoy the marine life: colourful fish, sea anemones and starfish.
The first stream crossing is Elandsbos with very slippery rocks. The next, Lottering River, should be crossed at low tide if possible so you can just walk across. Otherwise, it will be a swim.
The Oakhurst Hut is beautifully situated for your overnight stop.
Day 4 – Oakhurst Hut To Andre Hut (13.8km) 6 hours.
This is the most challenging day as it is the longest day of hiking (with forest and coastal scenery) plus an infamous river crossing!
The first 10km is up and down through forest and along coastal stretches. Scenic little waterfalls allow you to replenish your drinking water.
The first view of the Bloukrans river estuary is simply stunning! It can also be intimidating, even at low tide.
Time this crossing carefully even if you have to leave camp before sunrise. Aim to cross the Bloukrans River within an hour of low tide. Do not cross alone and roping hikers together for safety is a good idea. There are strong undercurrents and hidden rocks. This is where you need your dry packs/survival bags to allow your back pack to float across and keep dry.
If the river is in flood or you miss low tide, there is an escape route (E6) to the right of the trail. At the end a rope assisted rock climb… so timing for low tide should be the timing for your entire trip!
A very steep rock climb to get back to the plateau and another 3.8kms before your overnight stop. Andre Hut is on a beach with lovely outlook. Even the toilet has a great view!
(For a few, as this is the last night and a yearning for a real braai celebration, with icy drinks started a tradition of arranging a Runner to bring meat and drinks in. Unsure if this is still possible.)
Day 5 – Andre Hut to De Vasselot (10.8km) 4.5 -5 hours.
A big climb gets you back up to the plateau and the rest of the day is moderate hiking.
Enjoy the landscape covered with pretty fynbos, which grows nowhere else in the world beyond the Cape, and you may also see beautiful King Protea.
A lovely view of Nature’s Valley and its long beach signals your last descent.
A brilliant sheltered swimming cove and 4km walk on the beach will get you to De Vasselot where you must check out! Park staff then know you are safe and you can get a certificate… well deserved!
Enjoy Arno Pouwels video of a group on the trail
Conservation: Adult SAfrican: R70 per day. International Adult: R280 per day - Over night in huts: Adult South African R1500 per day