Across wild beaches and up steep cliffs, the Otter Trail in Garden Route National Park rewards you with the enchanting views. If you want to make the most of the Otter’s theatrical scenery and demanding challenges, it’s best to be prepared. We’ve got the low-down on what to consider before you book this multi-day hike.

There is no doubt that the Otter Trail is South Africa’s iconic multi-day hike. The five-day trail streches over 42,5km from Storms River Mouth to Nature’s Valley. Picture idyllic beaches, pristine rivers and lush forest.

Are you ready to hike the Otter? Here are the things you need to know before making that booking.

Time your booking

Because the Otter is such a popular trail, it is advisable to book well in advance. That’s especially true if you have a specific time of year in mind. Take note that SANParks bookings open roughly a year in advance. View the booking period timetable.

Because the climate along the Garden Route is temperate, you can walk the Otter Trail year round. It can rain at any time of year, but spring is the wettest season.

If you’d like to go in a big group (12 hikers allowed per day), identify your departure date and request this when bookings open. For just one or two spaces, you may find it easier to get availability by checking on a regular basis.

Check availability by entering your dates.

To book, call +27 (0)12 426 5111 or email [email protected]

The Otter Trail is famous for its unspoilt natural beauty, such as the spectacular waterfall on day 1. All pictures by Kevin Schnider

Planning is key

Give yourself enough time to plan beforehand, so you can get organised and ready in good time. Remember, everything that you take with you, you’ll have to carry on your back.

“Try to pack as light as possible, you don’t need half of what you think you do,” advises Lize Ferreira, SANParks’ web content editor, who did the Otter Trail earlier this year.

Need help deciding what to pack? Review our tips on clothes, food and more for the Otter.

In addition to your personal essentials, SANParks recommends packing the following safety items:

  • small first aid kit
  • survival bag
  • thermal blanket
  • map of trail
  • cellphone
  • rope

On the Otter you have to carry everything you need, so if you want to enjoy the splendid scenery, don’t weigh yourself down.

It pays to be fit

Lize points out that your fitness will definitely have an effect on your experience of the trail. “I think the fitter you are, the more you will enjoy the trail. In our group we had a runner training for a marathon and he made it look easy. It’s not necessarily fitness alone you should focus on, but also strength. Climbing up high steps with an added 13-15kg on your back means you really feel your legs and lower back. The next time I prepare for this trail I will definitely add a few more days in the gym doing step-ups with added weight,” she says.

“There are a couple of steep hills that are quite challenging going up and down. Yet once you reach the huts, exhaustion is immediately replaced by the thrill of the trail. I think the most challenging aspect of the trail is the weight of the backpack and getting accustomed to it. The first two days the added weight on your back impacts your balance and agility a bit, but you get used to it and the pack gets lighter as the trail progresses.”

Read our Otter Trail day-by-day report so you know what to expect.

Steep hills become a lot more challenging with a pack on your back. Build strength before the trip by doing squats and step-ups.

Sleep like a log (cabin)

After a long day of walking, you can get a good night’s rest at the overnight stops, but expect rustic hiker’s cabins rather than the usual chalets. Each overnight stop has two huts and a single flush toilet. Every hut has six beds with mattresses (take a sleeping bag) and a braai area with a sturdy steel grid to cook your food on.

The huts are situated deep in the wilderness so there is no electricity or hot water. Hikers are asked to keep the environment pristine by using biodegrable soap and disposing of rubbish in the bins.

Keep in mind that you have to bring your own bedding and any pots and pans you need to prepare your food.

The view from the Ngubu huts. All the overnight huts are situated at the coastline and offer expansive vistas.

Tides wait for no-one

It is crucial to know the times of the high and low tides before you set off on the Otter Trail. This is especially important when it comes to crossing bigger rivers such as the Elandsbos and Bloukrans.

Hikers have to cross the Bloukrans River on the fourth day of the trail, about 10km from Oakhurst Hut. Take into consideration that the crossing point takes about 4.5 hours to reach. Working backwards from the time of low tide at Bloukrans, you can determine what time you have to set off – it might be well before sunrise.

To make the crossing, you will need to put your stuff in survival bags that you can float across. Put your valuables in an additional dry bag. A rope is handy for holding on to your backpack if the current is strong.

It is crucial to know the times of the high and low tides before you set off on the Otter Trail

Last words of advice

“Take hiking poles, they are invaluable for walking the trail. Take it slow – you reach the huts by early afternoon each day and there’s not much to do once you arrive there. Rather take up more time hiking and exploring the rivers, streams and beaches along the way. Go with a fun group of people that you a comfortable with. You will be spending a lot of time together in close quarters,” Lize concludes.

The Otter is a great bonding experience. When you reach the end, you might find yourself tempted to start again.

Good to know

Price: R1,302 per adult

Bookings: +27 (0)12 426 5111, [email protected]

Click here to check availability before you make a booking.