In search of the Fabled Otter

Words: Dirk van den Berg | Photos: Werner Janse van Rensburg


The Otter Hiking Trail is a celebrity among hiking trails, with a staggeringly long list of people who have walked its winding footpaths that is only trumped by the long list of people who still wish to do so. Its famed scenery is quite literally indescribable, and you can rest assured that your experience will be truly unforgettable. But don’t be fooled by the romance surrounding the Otter; it is, after all, a 42 km hike spanning five days and littered with hellish hills and river crossings. Make no mistake; this is no mere walk in the Tsitsikamma National Park.

In search of the Fabled Otter

So what is all the fuss about you may ask? Well, for starters, it boasts really astonishing vistas; just have a look at the photos. Normally on an adventure you can expect to see two or three truly beautiful sights a day. The Otter, on the other hand, is more like an Italian Mama; she just keeps dishing up the most incredible landscapes and just when you think you have seen it all, she serves up another helping. But then again, it’s also much, much more than just the scenery! It’s an opportunity to break away from the rat race, gather your thoughts, isolate yourself and experience nature in all its glory, thoroughly challenge yourself both mentally and physically, have a laugh and meet interesting people. The best part is that you get to do this five days in a row.


What to expect

Here's a brief summary of the general information normally covered in Otter reviews. The trail is five days and four nights, and is broken up into the following sections:
Day 1 = 4.8 km (± 2 hours)
Day 2 = 7.9 km (± 4 hours)
Day 3 = 7.7 km (± 4 hours)
Day 4 = 13.8 km (± 6 hours)
Day 5 = 6.8 km (± 3 hours)
Total distance = 42.5 km


The route starts at the Storms River Mouth and ends at Nature’s Valley. En route, you will encounter roughly 11 water obstacles, most of which are easily manageable, with the Elandsbos River and Bloukrans River crossings offering a more adventurous challenge. You need to have a tide table with you so that you can plan your crossings during low tide. If your timing is incorrect, you might be facing a terrifying crossing. Note that there are emergency exit routes that lead you back to the N2 if worse comes to worst. Lucky for us though, our timing was perfect and we effortlessly crossed these two main sections by floating our hiking packs across the rivers using emergency bags. Make sure you have tough, waterproof emergency bags that are large enough to cover your entire hiking pack.


The water in all the streams that you will cross is 100% drinkable and quite refreshing. It is perhaps a good idea to add water purifying drops to the water before drinking it. It would also be advisable to top up your water supply at every given opportunity as you'll be drinking a lot of water on the tougher sections of the hike and the water points are not evenly spaced apart. Running water is also available at the huts, but use it sparingly as there is only a finite amount of water in the tanks at the camps.


The camp facilities were definitely a pleasant surprise. At every camp there are two 6-sleeper huts with mattresses, a covered braai area, flushing toilets, running water and various benches to sit on outside and enjoy the magnificent views. Fire wood is dropped off at central points and hikers are expected to carry their share of wood to the camp site, but if you’re lucky there might be some dry wood already at your campsite. All the campsites are close to the sea and spectacular vistas come as a standard feature.


Cell phone reception is scarce, but then again why would you want to play around on your cell when you are surrounded by all this beauty. This is the perfect opportunity to disconnect from the chaotic world you've come from and I strongly recommend making the most of it. It is, however, a good idea to save the local emergency numbers on your phone; just in case.


It's no secret that the waiting list for the Otter can be anything from six to fourteen months, depending on the number of people in your group and time of year that you want to go. So, the first step would be to make a booking and secure your spot, as you will have more than enough time to plan the trip while you wait your turn. The Otter is pretty reasonably priced and will set you back roughly R860 once off, plus daily park fees of R32 per person.



There are various sites that tell you what to pack for the hike, just Google 'the Otter Hiking Trail'. My advice would be to read a few different opinions before you start planning and packing for your hike.


What the other sites don’t always tell you

Here’s the fun part of the article and where I get to convey my personal list of tips and essentials for the trip:
• Use common sense when packing; less is more. If you're uncertain whether to pack an item, then leave it.
• Make sure your valuables are waterproofed or they might just lose their value.
• Do a bit of research before you start the hike, as you will be more attentive to the fauna and flora and also better equipped to judge your progress on the route.
• Stay at the Storms River Mouth camping facilities the night before you start the Otter. The campsites have beautiful views and will enable you to start the trail in a relaxed fashion.
• Tackle the hike with a fun crowd and ensure that you take your best sense of humour along with you.
• Use bladders (camelbacks) instead of water bottles, because it makes it so much easier to take a sip of water without having to take out your water bottle each and every time.
• Stay hydrated! Don’t wait, hydrate.


If you are taking some alcohol to drink in the evening, then

• choose a concentrated liquor that can be enjoyed with water; whiskey is a good option.
• decant it into a separate bladder to save weight.
• package it in a spill-proof manner.
• Keep your eyes open and try to spot whales, dolphins and sharks. There is so much to see!
• Don’t rush; a slow and steady pace will get you through the race.
• If you have a 'runner' in your group who sets a pace that's a bit faster than the group average, contemplate adding a big rock to his hiking pack when he's not looking; this might just slow him down J.


What the other sites don’t always tell you


Enjoy all that the campsites have to offer and make the most of your free time at the end of each day by doing the following:
• having sundowners on the rocks at the shore line.
• having a bonfire on the beach (illegal I know, but oh so worth it). Just use common sense and be safe.
• swimming in the bay, snorkelling or taking a bouncing water ball to play with.
• Buy a proper poncho or rain jacket and ensure that your backpack has a waterproof cover, as it does tend to rain on this trail.
• Ensure that you leave the campsites in a clean and neat condition for the next group to enjoy.
• Don’t skip the beers and burgers at Nature's Valley when you finish because, by that time, you have more than earned them!
• Remember to plan your transportation from/back to your car. You don’t want to get ripped off by an opportunistic taxi driver.
• Bring multiple cameras and take as many photos as possible so that you can capture your amazing memories on film. Better yet, take a champion photographer with you. Thanks Werner!


In conclusion, the Otter is a truly amazing hiking trail with its fair share of ups and downs. I remember one of my fellow hikers telling me that when I write the article, I should not neglect to warn the people about the steep inclines on the route. Granted, his comment came just as we finished a steep climb. And to think that there are people who run the Otter in one day. Respect! Nonetheless, as with so many things in life, we tend to forget the tough times and only remember the good ones. My hike was filled with unforgettable memories, practical jokes, laughter and a strong sense of camaraderie. Thank you to my group (Johan, Dirk, Jaco, Werner, Wietsche, Chane, Divan, Riette and Garren) for making this trip so unforgettable.
If you are still undecided about hiking the Otter after reading this, then just follow the website link in the dinFO box and DO IT NOW.



For Otter Trail reservations email or visit for more information.


Issue 24 Apr'13
Dirk van den Berg