What goes down, must come up again

With a total distance of 42,5km over five days hiking, the Otter looks easy on the map. But a closer look into the trail’s topography reveals that it involves several steep parts (of more than 50 meters of elevation gain) with some climbs exceeding 100 meters which add up to a total elevation gain of over 2600 meters. The hike is a rollercoaster, set amidst the most beautiful and diverse coastal scenery imaginable.

The night prior to the hike was spent in the Diepwalle Section of the Garden Route National Park. Deep in the Knysna Lakes forests, SANParks have build timber camping decks with a built-in bar and braai area. In these forests, Outeniqua Yellowwoods, some of which are almost a thousand years old, and a myriad of small, clear streams abound. A magnificient stopover comparatively close to the Natures Valley / Storms Rivier area of the Otter trail.

Small stream in the Tsitsikamma Mountains

Small stream in the Tsitsikamma Mountains

Diepwalle Forest Station Camping Decks

Diepwalle Forest Station Camping Decks

60km east of Diepwalle lies Natures Valley, where we parked our car at the SANParks De Vasselot campground and used a local shuttle service to get to the trailhead in Storms River.

Day 1: Storms Rivier visitor centre to Ngubu huts

From the Storms River visitor centre, the hike starts easy as you descend through a nice patch of forest down to the coast. A short stroll on the coast leads to a beautiful spot where the Jerling River plunges several meters deep off the cliffs into a nice swimming pool.  That waterfall provides an excellent lunch spot as it is also about halfway to the first huts.

Jerling Rivier cascades on Otter Trail

Jerling Rivier cascades on Otter Trail

Jerling River waterfall, about halfway from Storms Rivier to Ngubu huts

Jerling River waterfall, about halfway from Storms Rivier to Ngubu huts

Beyond the waterfall, no dayvisitors are allowed on the trail and the real Otter trail experience begins. From here on, only yellow Otter prints mark the trail.

Otter footprints mark the path beyond Jerling River falls

Otter footprints mark the path beyond Jerling River falls

Ngubu huts is an impossibly scenic overnight spot, the huts are located among lush fynbos and Tsitsikamma gallery forest vegetation, overlooking a rugged coastline with plenty of rockpools to swim and snorkel in.

First home on the trail are the beautifully situated Ngubu huts

First home on the trail are the beautifully situated Ngubu huts

Ngubu huts: rockpools to cool down are only a stroll down the path

Ngubu huts: rockpools to cool down are only a stroll down the path

The path beyond Ngubu huts starts into tunnel-like, dense coastal gallery forest

The path beyond Ngubu huts starts into tunnel-like, dense coastal gallery forest

Day 2: Ngubu huts to Scott huts

The second day greeted with an overcast, misty morning that gave the whole scenery an interesting and almost eerie atmosphere. Dolphins were patrolling the coast and the trail led through beautiful forest and open quartzite outcrop with magnificient coastal views.

Skilderkrans is a massive outcrop of quartzite and provides an interesting view down the rugged Tsitsikamma coast

Skilderkrans is a massive outcrop of quartzite and provides an interesting view down the rugged Tsitsikamma coast

From open coastal scenery to thick moss-covered rainforest, the Otter Trail offers so much diversity

From open coastal scenery to thick moss-covered rainforest, the Otter Trail offers so much diversity

Kleinbos Rivier lunch stop

Kleinbos Rivier lunch stop

This part of the Otter offered some of the meanest ascends on the whole trail; peaking in heights of >160m. Some views were just spectacular.

Lookout above Blue Bay

Lookout above Blue Bay

Scott Hut on the Geelhoutbos River mouth around dawn

Scott Hut on the Geelhoutbos River mouth around dawn

Late light at the Geelhoutbos River mouth, Scott Hut

Late light at the Geelhoutbos River mouth, Scott Hut

The Geelhoutbos River “valley” has an almost primeval touch and is home to a nosiy troop of Baboons

The Geelhoutbos River “valley” has an almost primeval touch and is home to a nosiy troop of Baboons

Day 3: Scott huts to Oakhurst huts

Although hard to decide, the third day proved to be the most scenic part of the entire hike. Staggering views down the Tsitsikamma coast and splendid opportunities to go for a swim, not only during the two crossings of Elandsbos and Lottering river.

Day three between Scott huts and Oakhurst huts was one of the most beautiful sections with an ever-changing scenery

Day three between Scott huts and Oakhurst huts was one of the most beautiful sections with an ever-changing scenery

Elandsbos River is reached soon after the start and provides a lovely place for a swim (if you want or not)

Elandsbos River is reached soon after the start and provides a lovely place for a swim (if you want or not)

The beauty of the Otter Trail coast between Scott and Oakhurst huts – the sea was never calm but sheltered coves abound so lots of swimming was possible

The beauty of the Otter Trail coast between Scott and Oakhurst huts – the sea was never calm but sheltered coves abound so lots of swimming was possible

Before reaching Oakhurst huts, the Lottering River has to be crossed

Before reaching Oakhurst huts, the Lottering River has to be crossed

Veranda-view of Oakhurst huts

Veranda-view of Oakhurst huts

^The rocks at Oakhurst hut are a big playground for anybody loving the outdoors and provide nice sunset views

The rocks at Oakhurst hut are a big playground for anybody loving the outdoors and provide nice sunset views

Capturing the rocks of Oakhurst huts around sunset

Capturing the rocks of Oakhurst huts around sunset

Day 4: Oakhurst huts to Andre huts

This part is the longest stretch of the entire hike and – depending on the tidal times – can force people to start very early or even in the middle of the night as the notorious Bloukrans river is about 10km away and can only be crossed at lowtide. No issues for us though, as lowtide was scheduled at 5.30pm on our hike, we had an easy and relaxed walk to the mouth of Bloukrans.

Huge pieces of driftwood have been washed ashore near Cold stream, Otter Trail

Huge pieces of driftwood have been washed ashore near Cold stream, Otter Trail

On this particular section of the hike, there are so many small streams and waterfalls that you wouldn’t have to carry a camelbag / bottle at all. Just take your cup and take a sip of the clear stream waters whenever you feel thirsty. On the whole trail, there are only about three watersources that SANParks advises you not to drink from (those streams usually run through villages further upstream). Other than that, the tannin-coloured water is perfect to drink.

Small waterfalls are plentiful along the entire hike and usually provide good sources of drinking water

Small waterfalls are plentiful along the entire hike and usually provide good sources of drinking water

Waterfall between Oakhurst and Andre huts, Otter Trail

Waterfall between Oakhurst and Andre huts, Otter Trail

The weather during the hike was ever changing but – despite sometimes threatening us with evil looks – the sky kept it’s gates closed

The weather during the hike was ever changing but – despite sometimes threatening us with evil looks – the sky kept it’s gates closed

A stunning natural infinity-pool made a superb stopover on the way to the Bloukrans river

A stunning natural infinity-pool made a superb stopover on the way to the Bloukrans river

The Bloukrans river mouth looked pretty intimidating when first seen from the escarpment. Even at lowtide, this wasn’t an easy crossing, especially due to the sometimes heavy underwater currents and submerged rocks. Drybags have been essentail as the water in parts was chest-deep and you had to jump with the waves in order not to get swept all over. The exit spot is a small “beach”, visible in the middle of the photo below. Definitely the most fun river crossing on the Otter trail.

Even at lowtide, the Bloukrans greeted us with rough waves crashing in

Even at lowtide, the Bloukrans greeted us with rough waves crashing in

Battle-scared Bloukrans River sign

Battle-scared Bloukrans River sign

Being happy on a rough trail after having crossed a rough Bloukrans

Being happy on a rough trail after having crossed a rough Bloukrans

After climbing some rocks right after the Bloukrans, it’s an easy stroll to the last huts of the Otter.

Late afternoon, looking down the last kilometers to Andre huts

Late afternoon, looking down the last kilometers to Andre huts

No sunset but an impressive scenery at Andre huts

No sunset but an impressive scenery at Andre huts

These huts definitely have the most scenic loo-with-a-view (+ shower) on the Otter trail, probably the best we’ve ever seen.

Loo with a view at Andre huts

Loo with a view at Andre huts

Day 5: Andre huts to Natures Valley / De Vasselot

All good things must come to an end, but we would’ve been comfortable to extend the hike for 2-3 more days. On the other side Natures Valley promised a decent meal + beer (unfortunately, the beer-runner service of Andre huts has been ceased..), so we started the last stretch with mixed feelings. Knowing that we’d face a moderate walk with no major ups + downs (at least when comparaed to the previous days), we took our time and enjoyed the sunshine.

One of the last Otter paws that mark the trail exiting the beach at Andre huts

One of the last Otter paws that mark the trail exiting the beach at Andre huts

Inland-scenery after the ascend from Andre hut

Inland-scenery after the ascend from Andre hut

Looking back at the stunningly set Andre huts on the banks of the Kliprivier

Looking back at the stunningly set Andre huts on the banks of the Kliprivier

Just one of the exeptional lookouts on the last stretch of the Otter trail between Andre huts and Natures Valley

Just one of the exeptional lookouts on the last stretch of the Otter trail between Andre huts and Natures Valley

Looking back at Andre huts and Kliprivier mouth

Looking back at Andre huts and Kliprivier mouth

Soon, Natures Valley comes in sight and five magnificent days of hiking come to an end.

First glimpse of Natures Valley and the Grootrivier lagoon

First glimpse of Natures Valley and the Grootrivier lagoon

“Hidden” spot at Natures Valley, sheltered from the moody seas – an excellent place to take a last dip

“Hidden” spot at Natures Valley, sheltered from the moody seas – an excellent place to take a last dip

Well-deserved relaxing on Natures Valley beach after a five day’s hike

Well-deserved relaxing on Natures Valley beach after a five day’s hike

Natures Valley beach scenery

Natures Valley beach scenery

The crossing of the Grootrivier lagoon marks the end of the Otter trail

The crossing of the Grootrivier lagoon marks the end of the Otter trail

The Otter trail must be one of the most interesting hikes of South Africa; we’ll probably never forget this stretch of coastal beauty.

Otter Trail trip report