Written by Marike Cronjé
I was lured into hiking the Otter Trail to experience its scenic beauty and revel in its historical acclaim as the oldest hiking trail in South Africa. Wait… that’s a lie, let’s start again. I was lured into hiking the Otter Trail to get far from the madding crowd of the city and to experience the challenge of carrying 20 kg’s of supplies on my back. I wanted to know what it felt like to go back to basics whilst traversing 43 km of ever-changing remote coastal stretch – a journey that would see me and my group cross rivers, explore caves and coves as well as venture into the dense, untamed Tsitsikamma forest.
Our adventure began at the iconic Storms River Mouth and stretched westwards as far as the Groot River in Nature’s Valley. The trail is made up of a series of gruelling, physical challenges interspersed by thundering waterfalls, freshwater pools, and crystal clear tidal pools. Opportunities are offered on the fly to cliff jump, snorkel or swim in your pick of salt or fresh water and, although I would not admit it, we were all in search of the elusive otter after which the trail was named in 1968.
The end of each adventurous day was rewarded with a comfortable night, as we stayed in 4 different huts along our route – Nguba, Scott, Oakhurst and Andre. These rustic huts are tactically built in coves which would offer us shelter (emotionally more than physically) from the raw elements as well as come with some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever come across.
Barring the bombastic baboon which dominated Scott’s hut and the inquisitive mongooses that stole a visit to my hut in the middle of the night, we had ample time to relax around the fire, take in the beautiful African night sky and enjoy well-deserved night caps before another day of exploring indigenous forests and remote beaches.
The pinnacle of our journey was the crossing of the Lottering River Mouth where the rushing waves from the Indian Ocean met with thunderous force. We dared to make the crossing with no backup strategy should things go south. We waited for the tide to drop, as life is all about ebbs and flows, in the hope of an easier crossing. The “smaller waves” proved to have more strength than expected, which made maneuvering through the waist-deep water all the more tricky. Luckily, all we had to show for this unnerving crossing was water-drenched gear.
Five days of hiking through moss-covered forest floors, criss-crossing between indigenous trees, scaling rocky terrain and wandering across remote beaches came to an end on the Nature’s Valley coastline. Ice-cold beers awaited us at the iconic beach bar where so many other like-minded adventurers had been before us. Leaving our mark on the Otter Trail was more of an honour than an accomplishment, and it’ll never be forgotten.