Gero Lilleike

The magnificent coastal scenery of the Tsitsikamma National Park makes me appreciate every second of life

There’s nothing like rounding up a bunch of friends and planning a trip into the wild.  When my friend, Gavin, invited me to join his hiking party on the Otter Trail, how could I decline?

Viewpoint from Andre Huts. Picture: Gero Lilleike

The Otter Trail is a five-day 42.5 km trail in the Tsitsikamma National Park, forming part of the Garden Route from the Storms River Mouth to Nature’s Valley. Preparing for a five-day hike should be done thoughtfully.

When filling your backpack, a checklist goes a long way in ensuring that essential items, such as whisky, are not forgotten. “If in doubt, leave it out” applies here as does “you pack it, you carry it”. I failed to heed these warnings and the result was hell.

View of Ngubu. Picture: Gero Lilleike

We arrived at reception, itching to get this adventure underway when a large man with an Afrikaans accent said: “The first part of the trail is closed due to rough sea conditions. A ranger can give you a lift to the first camp”. Excitement became disappointment. After a quiet word outside we decided to do what every self-respecting Otter hiker would do – hike anyway – but not before placing a beer order for our fourth day, a wise move indeed.

Ngubu Huts, the first of four overnight huts was 4.8 km away. One by one, we disappeared into the wild and surrounded by ancient Tsitsikamma forest made a steady decent to the thundering sea below. After clambering over rocks for an hour we stumbled upon a waterfall and had a blast jumping off the rocks into the cold water below.

Well refreshed, we got back on the trail towards Ngubu. We arrived to find quaint huts tucked away in lush vegetation overlooking a magical sea view. Soon a fire was burning and we spent the afternoon sipping fine whisky and watching six metre waves bombard the coastline. The scenery was wondrous. We were in paradise.

The next morning a throbbing whisky headache vanished at the prospect of hiking another 7.9 km to Scott Huts. We set off in the blazing sun hiking through forest for most of the day, encountering two Puff Adders, Seagulls, Oystercatchers and Knysna Loeries along the way.

This section of the Otter Trail is gruelling, with many steep inclines and declines. It’s on these hills where planning counts.

Blue Bay. Picture: Gero Lilleike

My backpack was insanely heavy and I felt more like a dying pack mule than a hiker. With sweat pouring off my chin, I hoofed it to Blue Bay where we stopped for lunch on an isolated beach. The hills wreaked havoc on my body for the rest of the day until I arrived at Scott Huts completely bushed. Just beyond our doorstep, lay the Geelhoutbos River Mouth, a view that replenishes the weariest of bones.  After a solid meal of two-minute noodles and biltong, I turned in early.

My nostrils twitched to the smell of fresh coffee on the fire and after breakfast I was ready to face the 7.7 km ahead of me. Thankfully my backpack was getting progressively lighter and walking became easier. Gavin and Craig decided to snorkel, a nice way to enjoy the sea life flourishing in the clear rock pools.

View from the Skilderkrans Quartzite outcrop. Picrure: Gero Lilleike

We harvested mussels and cooked them for lunch on the beach at the Elandsbos River Mouth, a prime spot to relax, swim and recharge. Two hours later, we crested a hill and stumbled upon Oakhurst Huts alongside the Lottering River Mouth with another spectacular view to lull us to sleep as we keenly anticipated the 13.8 km hike the next day.

With stiff legs and tender feet, we set off early to make it to the Bloukrans River in time for low tide. The even terrain allowed us to cover larger distances faster and by midday we reached the 10km mark at the Bloukrans River Mouth, the most dangerous river crossing on the Otter Trail. Crossing the Bloukrans River was easy and we settled for lunch on the rocks. We spent another two hours on the trail before reaching Andre Huts at the Klip River Mouth.

Elandsbos River. Picture: Gero Lilleike

Our camp erupted into elation as we spotted our beer runner making his way down the mountainside towards us. Within minutes we were sipping on the nectar and beaming from ear to ear. We constructed a bonfire on the pebble beach and watched the sun set over Plettenberg Bay in the distance, a beautiful ending to our last night in this amazing place.

The final stretch of the Otter Trail from Andre Huts to Nature’s Valley is only 6.8 km. Winding through Fynbos, the trail is mostly level, making it a reasonably easy hike. We arrived in Natures Valley in high spirit and visited the only restaurant in town for a tasty meal, more beer and many more laughs.

Due to its overwhelming popularity, the waiting list for The Otter Trail, considered to be one of the best in the world can be a year or more, but is certainly well worth the wait. The magnificent scenery along this stretch of coast is out of this world and makes you appreciate every second of life. Book now. You won’t regret it.