Following the pristine Tsitsikamma coastline, the Otter Trail is South Africa’s ultimate multi-day hike. With secluded beaches, cosy log cabins and challenging river crossings, the trail is something everyone should experience. Words and pictures by Samantha Stewart and Michael Blakey

The Otter Trail is a five-day super hike that kicks off at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp in the Garden Route National Park and ends at Nature’s Valley. It packs a punch with 42,5km of unspoilt beauty.

It’s such a popular hike that you have to secure your spot almost a year in advance. For us, luck came knocking when a cancellation made our dream come true.

Are you thinking of tackling the Otter Trail? Our day-by-day account will give you an idea of what to expect.

Day one: Daunting news and a magical waterfall

On arrival, a quick briefing at the Storms River reception left us somewhat terrified. Low tide at Bloukrans crossing, day four, was at 06:00 in the morning, which would mean setting off in the middle of the night. Everyone had told us Bloukrans can only be crossed at low tide – crossing at high tide is simply too dangerous. We knew we had some planning to do.

After weighing our backpacks – Mike’s at 18kg and mine 16kg – we were eager to head into the unknown under the canopy of a coastal forest. After some careful boulder-hopping, we came across a beautiful waterfall and quickly decided that this would be our first pit-stop for the day.

Day 1 Waterfall-Otter Trail-Samantha Stewart-min

A waterfall scene on our first day

We took some time to appreciate the surrounds before the day’s climb through the forest and making our way down to Ngubu Huts for night one. After the first stretch of only 4.8km, we had the afternoon to get to know everyone else around camp – time to enjoy a braai and settle in. It was an early night for all.

Day two: Your own private beach

Day two (7.9km) was beautiful, but tough! We made sure we took the extra detours to Skilderkrans as well as Blue Bay. The climb after Blue Bay is very, very steep, but worth it. Make this your lunch-stop and spend a good hour or two on what feels like your very own private beach. We made time for a few short breaks along the way, which made the journey to Scott Huts more manageable.

Skilderkrans-Otter Trail-Samantha Stewart-min

Skilderkrans

Blue Bay-Otter Trail-Samantha Stewart-min

Blue Bay

Scotts Huts

Scotts Huts

Day three: River bank beauty

Scott Huts to Oakhurst, another tricky 7.7km, was filled with climbs, descents and two river crossings. Arriving at Elandsbos River on day three, we were lucky enough to track through knee-deep water. Towards the end of the day, coming over the horizon to see the Lottering River and our huts for the night… Wow! This was a moment we will never forget. How privileged we were to experience this beauty. A steep descent down to the river, a river crossing and a climb up to the hut is the final stretch for the day. Oakhurst Huts is like something out of a movie – beautiful cabins on the banks of the river.

Oakhurst-Otter Trail-Samantha Stewart-min

Oakhurst Huts

Day four: That intimidating river crossing

Bloukrans was something we talked about every evening. We knew we had 13.8km and a big river crossing ahead to reach Andre Huts. We also knew we would not make the early morning low tide and decided to leave camp around 06:00. By 12:00 we had arrived. Sure enough, high tide was at its peak.

Otter Trail-Bloukrans Crossing-Samantha Stewart-min
We took some time to take it all in, have a snack and wait for everyone else to arrive. The plan of action? Waiting hours for the high tide to pass was not an option. Everyone agreed to take the alternative Route C, later joining Route D. Word of advice: this is not for the faint-hearted.

Although we successfully crossed the river mouth with only waist-deep water, Route D’s ropes (the only way up the rock face) proved our biggest headache. Some consolation: we were all in this together. What an achievement and an experience for the books. One final climb to the plateau and a steep descent brought us to a hut on the beach. Our final night on the Otter Trail.

The Ropes-Otter Trail-Samantha Stewart-min

Route D’s daunting ropes

Day five: Take only pictures, leave only footprints

The last day, 10.8km to the end, was a gloomy affair – we were sad that the adventure was coming to an end. From a lookout deck, gazing back at where you came from, is surreal. The Otter Trail is a world of pure bliss and beauty, a world so untouched and full of life. All that was left was one last walk along a sandy beach to mark the end of an unforgettable experience.

The last stretch

The last stretch

The end-Otter Trail-Samantha Stewart-min

Good to know