Lizzie Williams
South Africa ZA
May 19, 2014 May 19, 2014

Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Categories: African Hotspots, South Africa

Hiking on the Otter Trail

Covering a beautiful stretch of forest and beaches where the Indian Ocean meets the Garden Route, South Africa’s popular five-day Otter Trail offers hikers a marvelous wilderness experience.

The Cape clawless otter

South Africa’s favorite hike, the Otter Trail, is named after the Cape clawless otter.  The creatures live in dense vegetation beyond the high-water mark of rivers and sometimes scavenge along the beaches and hunt in shallow surf. These otters have partly webbed and clawless feet, from which they get their name. They only emerge in the early evening, to hunt for crabs and fish. These elusive and fascinating creatures may sometimes be seen along the Otter Trail, hence the name. They are totally protected since the scenic route falls entirely within the Tsitsikamma section of the beautiful Garden Route National Park.

The Otter Trail

This five-day/four-night hike follows the spectacular coastline –from Storms River Mouth in the east to Natures Valley in the west. And whereas the trail is 26 kilometers as the crow flies, it is 42 kilometers in length as the hiker walks. Marked with painted otter footprints, this trail never strays far from the rugged, rocky shoreline. Additionally, it ranges in elevation from sea level to a height of more than 150 meters.

The South African National Parks (SANParks) manages the Otter Trail very carefully. It is so phenomenally popular with locals and foreigners alike, hence bookings are taken months in advance. Only 12 people can start the trail each day, which also controls the impact of hikers on the sensitive environment while also keeping the wilderness experience nice and personal for the participants.

A strenuous workout

The minimum age is 12 and the maximum is 65 and everyone must be able to hike up to 14 kilometers a day over steep terrain. At each overnight stop there are log huts just steps away from the shoreline and the sound of the waves. They have bunk beds, mattresses and firewood. Additionally, hikers need to bring bedding, food and catering equipment – as well as the normal hiking gear.

None of the sectors on the Otter Trail are very long, but can be fairly strenuous. And it climbs steeply in parts before descending to a beach or valley. It crosses 11 rivers along the way, where you will have to wade, or even swim across. Expect lots of boulder-hopping and scrambling, and with full backpacks. The hiking is indeed challenging, and maybe even addictive.

A scenic route

You will experience the beautiful and simply jaw-dropping scenery. Drink in all the beauty: empty sandy beaches, frothy waterfalls, rocky cliff-faces, densely forested valleys and abundant wildflowers. There is plenty of time to take a break and look for rare birds in the canopy of trees. Or watch the dolphins frolicking in the surf from this incredible vantage point. And let's not forget to keep a sharp eye out for the shy Cape clawless otter itself.

Best time to visit

You can hike the Otter Trail at any time of year. Spring and summer (October—April) are the warmest months and probably one of the best highlights is being able to swim along the way. It’s also the best time to see the wildflowers. Once on the trail, hikers need to be aware of the dates and times of the tides since it is virtually impossible (and inadvisable) to attempt river crossings during high tides.

Plan ahead

If hiking is your thing, the Otter Trail will not disappoint. If you need assistance with planning your trip, please make sure to contact us at SafariBookings.