September 14, 2016
The Otter Trail is a 5 day/4 night trek out of Storms River Rest Camp in Garden Route National Park along South Africa’s southern coast. It is considered one of the most beautiful hikes in the world and reservations are a must as the access to the trail is restricted. Only 12 people are allowed to start each day and you must camp one night at each of the 4 camps. For more information on the trail and making reservations visit the Sanpark website.
We spent the night before starting the trek at one of the Storms River Rest Camp chalets. As it is 4k back up hill to the check-in office and the start of the trek, the day before we had arranged a 9:30AM transfer back up the hill with the park office at the entrance.
Breakfast at the restaurant was easy. The usual fare of a choice of eggs with or without meat, tomato, mushrooms and even hash brown patties. OK but not as good as at the B&Bs where we’ve been staying.
When no one showed up by 9:45 Don walked back to the restaurant to ask at the reception desk there. “Yes someone is coming,” he was told. Shortly after 10 a car with cleaning staff drives by and tells us, “They are going to get another vehicle”. 5 minutes later he returns in a pickup with one service person in the cab passenger seat and one in the back. So, they don’t have a specific transfer service for hikers but you can get a ride back up to the top from one of the service trucks that drops the cleaners off at the various chalets at around 10AM – checkout time.
Check-in for the trail is fairly easy. They look up your reservation and have you fill out the indemnity form. You can sign as each other’s witness. As we are foreigners we had to pay the international conservation fee, 180R per person per day, but we did not have to show ID. If you are trying to get a reduced rate as a SA resident ID may be required.
We were given a map with the low tide times written at the key river crossing points and a tide table, but we did not have to watch a video.
The trail starts just next to the Otter Trail room. There isn’t much interesting in the room. You can sign their guest book and weigh you bag. Bathrooms are also available.
The first part of the trail is now through the forest back down to the coast. Day hikers can still come in along the coast from the campground as far as a waterfall. This used to be the start of the multi-day trek as well.
The amazing views of the jagged coast and crashing waves begin as soon as you emerge from the forest to the shore.
From here to the waterfall the trail alternates between sections of boulder hopping along the coast to wooded sections, still rocky with numerous tree roots. The going is slow and can be very slippery. Going quite slowly with numerous photo stops we reached the falls in under 2 hours.
The falls were not as voluminous as we had seen them 5 years earlier.
This was good thing though as when the water is high there is a tricky gap in the rocks that must be crossed. At the lower water level it’s an easy step.
The falls is the last point where day trippers are allowed to go.
From the falls to the Ngubu camp the trail is mostly through the woods with the rocky shore blocked from view by vegetation. Just past the falls is the nicest big pool for swimming that we saw from the trail.
As you get close to camp watch for the trail that leads down to your left to camp. We missed the turn off and had a nasty time making our way through the branches and down a slippery slope.
Took us another hour and half to get from the falls to the Ngubu camp.
There are two huts at the camp, a lower one and an upper one. The SA couple who reached camp ahead of us took the two lower bunks in the lower hut. Both huts have the same configuration, 2 sets of 3 bunk beds with a shared ladder in between. We took a lower and middle with our heads next to the wall.
The camp also has two cooking areas, one shower stall – not much privacy, and one flush toilet. It would turn out that all the camps have the same basic layout.
After we settled in we went to the shore for a quick dip in very cold water. We found a shady spot to watch the waves and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Perfect temperature for lounging though it may be a little cold for swimming.
We ended up sharing the hut with 4 young Germans, 2 of whom had recently moved to SA. Very nice bunkmates and no snorers!
Many folks bring fresh meat to cook on the brae. There’s enough wood available to make good coals for cooking the meat.
Don and I stuck to our instant meals, but hung out with the others by the fire.
Turned in around 9PM.