Words by: Deborah Schäfer
Photos by: Hugo Vincent
The Otter trail is a 45 km long coastal hike in the Garden Route National Park. Five days walking on South Africa’s most beautiful trail through incredibly diverse nature with a feeling of complete wilderness.
Before starting we weighed our packs at the rangers’ office – 16kg and 18kg. Not extreme, but we would carry it for five days with a lot of up and downs!
Tip 1: Pack wisely, stick to light clothes and essentials! To enjoy the trip, chose the right backpack and carry less than a quarter of your bodyweight.
Full of energy we began our journey in a dense indigenous forest and soon got a first glimpse of the blue Indian Ocean. Before long,we reached a first wonder, a waterfall dropping in a big freshwater pool and dolphins playing in the waves in front of it!
Tip 2: Bring your swimsuits! Next to the Ocean, the coast offers many tidal pools and rivers, perfect to refresh and relax.
Following painted otter paw prints, we hiked along beautiful rock formations shaped by wind and sea until the first huts. There wasof course wood and a fireplace: barbeque or “Braai” is a national sport in South Africa!
Tip 3: The first day is short, bring something to braai!
The next day, woken up by the first lights, I headed to the beach to admire the sunrise. To my amazement I spotted an otter in a tidal pool – after a few seconds the elusive animal disappeared in the waves of the ocean…
After a steep walk up to the coastal plateau, sweating from the heat and humidity, we stood on Skilderkrans, an outcrop with plunging views on the Indian Ocean and the long way still to come.
Tip 4: Bring trekking poles! They help carrying the heavy packs and are handy for slippery river crossings.
The Otter trail is famous for its river crossings, which must be done at low tide. On day three, with the low tide at 7.20am and a four hours hike to the river crossing, the alarm rang early! We walked under a beautiful starry sky, with the sound of the crashing wavesbelow, and felt all alone on the planet. As the night gave way, the rising sun painted the landscape golden and warmed our faces.
We reached the shore where the Lottering River meats the sea. After the stories we had heard, we were relieved to discover a small, knee-deep stream. However, going back at high tide, we realized these were not just stories. Crossing the river then would involve swimming in deep, cold water!
Tip 5: Be at the river crossings before low tide. Plan extra time for breaks and to choose the best sunrise spot!
Arriving at the huts our afternoon routine started: sleeping, eating and exploring. Later we enjoyed the most beautiful sunset of our lives! The sun turned into a glowing ball of fire, the sky started to burn. Between beautiful reflections in the tidal pools and breaking waves, this was an incredible show.
Gear and breakfast ready for another “alpine” start, we slept early. In the middle of the night, a loud Bang! Our breakfast, carefully packed in sealed bags? Gone! The thief? A genet with a nest behind our hut… Guessing from the amount of food packagings, one making a living from naive hikers!
Tip 6: Store food in your closed backpack at night!
After a 3.30h hike, we reached the infamous Boulkrans River – it looked harmless but would again be a different challenge at high tide! We began the crossing shortly before low tide, sending someone without a backpack to check the waterdepth first. Lucky, we could walk across easily and even enjoyed a swim!
Tired after a 14km hike, we were happy to reach the last huts! At night, we saw the first signs of civilization: the lights of PlattenbergBay on the horizon seemed to belong to a different world.
On day five we took it slow, enjoying every second. While having a break on the cliffs before our last descent a large school of dolphins suddenly appeared in the waters below, and many others joined the show. Over a hundred dolphins feeding, jumping and surfing in the waves – what a goodbye!
Tip 7: Bring binoculars to get the full wildlife experience!
Until today our hearts are filled with memories of a wild nature, incredible landscapes and some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets we have ever seen …
Tip 8: If you ever have the chance to do the Otter Trail, take it!