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Photo essay: Hiking the world-renowned Otter Trail

Published Jun 9, 2022

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A lifetime dream came true after months of preparation when I arrived in the Tsitsikamma forest to start the world-renowned Otter Trail.

Rated internationally as one of the top five hiking trails in the world, The Otter Trail stretches along 41km of the breathtakingly beautiful Garden Route coast.

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Named after the Cape clawless otter which occurs in this region, the Otter Trail is a five-day hike between the Storms River mouth in the Eastern Cape, over the natural provincial border by crossing the Bloukrans River into the Western Cape, to finish in the picturesque jungles of Nature’s Valley.

Visually, the trail provides a balance of sheer cliff faces, rainforests, white sandy beaches, bouldering at the rough ocean’s edge, and several river crossings, some of which need to be meticulously timed with the tides to avoid potential disaster.

I do consider myself and the 11 fellow adventurers in my crew as fairly active and fit, but what this hike proved to us all was, that no one can ever be fit enough for The Otter.

The beautiful landscapes are accompanied by lots of sweat, probably blood, and most definitely tears.

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Carrying all your personal necessities for the next five days on your back can shadow the astonishing rolling hills in physical and mental pain. Though at the end of each day’s gruelling battle with the beautiful yet constant up and down hills, you can always look forward to being rewarded with a unique place to sleep.

The SANParks accommodation and facilities are primitive but ample and completely give you the feeling of being one with nature.

Inaccessible to day visitors, the huts are exclusively utilised by Otter hikers and kept clean to the point that the only traces of other humans, will be the footsteps of your fellow hikers.

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The Otter Trail experience was a magnificent adventure, and I will most definitely recommend it as a must for all nature lovers, but I have to warn enthusiasts against the accumulative costs of hiking gear, food, travel expenses, and last-minute must-haves.

The other bit of the whole ordeal that left a bitter taste in my mouth is the booking arrangements. It is a commonly known fact of the Otter Trail, that booking a full 12-member slot, may easily permit you and your team, only to set foot on the trail, 15 months later.

Unfortunately, there has been a recent trend of certain local third-party tourism agencies, that “mysteriously” manage to book all the allocated slots, minutes before the telephonic ticket sales actually open, just to sell it off again for inflated prices.

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The best place to secure individual slots for smaller groups and information remains The Otter Trail group on Facebook. When you do manage to arrange your successful booking, don’t overthink things.

Pack light, hydrated foods, seal everything in ziplock bags and take extras. Make sure you know what the tides are doing for your river crossings and take as many pictures as you can.

Through all the pain, the beauty, and the psychological strain, there was one thing that I enjoyed the most. It was the pleasure of not being on my phone for five days.

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