The Otter Trail
Garden Route, Western Cape
On this trail you need to be prepared for everything, as you'll swim across rivers all the while carrying your whole life with you.
If you've been considering ticking this one off your list of achievements, here are the essentials you need to know for this once in a lifetime adventure.
Where do you startThe trail starts at the Otter Room in the Storms River Rest Camp in Garden Route National Park's Tsitsikamma section.
If you are too far to drive yourself there, you can fly to George Airport and hire a car for your journey.
- Due to the physical demands of the Otter Trail, the following age restrictions are in place: Minimum age 12 years; maximum age 65 years.
- Check in: Allow some time to weigh your bag and watch the 20-minute Otter Trail DVD at the Otter Room next to the Storms River Reception building. The Otter Trail DVD provides a brief outline of changes recently made to the trail.
- Check out: Compulsory check out at De Vasselot Rest Camp where Otter Trail certificates will be issued.
Distances and DurationsThe trail is 5 days and 4 nights. The following distances and durations are as follows:
- Day 1 = 4.8km (± 2 hours)
- Day 2 = 7.9km (± 4 hours)
- Day 3 = 7.7km (± 4 hours)
- Day 4 = 13.8km (± 6 hours)
- Day 5 = 10.8km (± 5 hours)
- Total Distance = 45km
WaterThere are numerous streams and springs throughout the length of the Otter Trail that are suitable for drinking purposes. Please note though that water from the Kleinbos River is not suitable for drinking (2nd day of trail). However, it may be wise to use purification tablets especially if you are not used to this water and where streams/rivers pass through communities such as the Coldstream/Witels River (3.6km mark of the 4th day) and the Lottering River (7.5km mark of the 4th day). There are rainwater tanks at each overnight hut that may also be used. However, due to erratic rainfall patterns, the level of these tanks may be low from time to time. Water quality is monitored on a quarterly basis.
FirewoodFirewood is provided; however, it is not covered from rain and therefore may be wet. Hikers are required to carry their share of wood from a woodpile, close by on the trail. However, it sometimes happens that there is a build-up of excess wood not used by previous hikers that is placed under the steps of the huts, which is usually dry.
Cooking facilitiesEach hut has a braai place with a sturdy steel grid. Within each hut there is a table on which food can be prepared. Hikers need to provide their own gas stoves and pots for cooking.
Other FacilitiesThere are two huts and a single toilet at each overnight stop. Each of the two huts contains 6 beds with mattresses – hikers must provide their own blankets/pillows/sleeping bags etc. Rubbish bins are provided at each of the overnight stops. Field rangers remove the rubbish regularly. There are benches present. Please only use biodegradable soaps on the trail. Hikers are not permitted to remove mattresses from the huts.
TidesIt is important to be aware of the dates and the times of the high and low tides prior to hiking the Otter Trail. This is especially important when it comes to crossing the bigger rivers such as the Elandsbos and the Bloukrans Rivers. It is the hiker’s responsibility to obtain tide tables in order to prepare for their hike.
The Bloukrans River CrossingThe Bloukrans River crossing is on the 4th day of the Otter Trail. It is approximately 10km from Oakhurst Hut that takes about four and half hours (4.5) to reach. This river is best crossed during low tide. Once the river has been crossed it is approximately another 3.8km (two and a half hours) to the next overnight stop. It is wise to arrive well before low tide, so that enough time is available to plan your crossing.
If you are unable to cross the river, you can take the escape route labeled E6. This escape route branches to the right of the trail just before the Otter Trail descends to the Bloukrans River Mouth. The escape route climbs steeply to the top of the plateau. In the case of an emergency, hikers are advised to make their way to the top of the escape route and wait for collection by SANParks Rangers once contact has been made. Do not attempt to walk to the N2.
Safety precautionsSafety items that can be included are the following:
- Small First Aid kit
- Survival Bag
- Thermal blanket
- Map of Trail
Cell Phones and ReceptionIt is advisable that a cellphone is taken together with the following numbers:
- SANParks Rangers:
Day 1 – 4: 072 917 5079
Day 5 – 6: 072 917 4474
- Storms River Police - 10111
- Park Headquarters - (042) 28 11 607
General items to pack
- Headlight and extra batteries
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
- Camera – remember to take a few extra batteries, your camera will be working overtime
- Spare batteries and an extra memory card (take spare batteries for your headlamp too)
- Leave your cell phone in the car – 2 people in the group need to take a charged cell phone, just in case, as well as a charged battery pack
- Backpack – a 65-litre backpack for ladies and a bigger one for men. Remember to also purchase a waterproof or survival bag for crossing rivers, which you'll find at any outdoor shop
- Candles to light the fire with (you’ll need one per night)
- Matches or a lighter
- Sleeping bag or blanket and pillow - mattresses are provided
- Toilet paper
- Cable ties or heavy-duty duct tape (you never know whose backpack is going to break)
- Space blanket
- First aid kit (pack your own one – include plasters, bandages, Imodium, ibuprofen, Betadine, Panado and Savlon)
- Hiking pole (it helps on the up- and downhills)
What you should know on the trail
- Water: It's safe to drink most of the water in the streams and springs on the Otter Trail, but do not drink from the Kleinbos River and take purification tablets for water that runs through communities like the Witels River and the Lottering River.
- Firewood is provided at the overnight huts, and hikers will have to fetch their share from the woodpile if it's wet from the rain.
- The only cooking facilities provided will be a braai place - you can bring your own gas stove if you prefer to cook on that.
- When crossing the bigger rivers like Elandsbos and Bloukrans, it's important to time your crossing with low tide, otherwise you may get stuck, thus you need to bring a copy of the tides timetable with you.
Safety numbers to save to your phone for the hike
- SANParks Rangers:Day 1 – 4: 072 917 5079Day 5 – 6: 072 917 4474
- Storms River Police - 10111
- Park Headquarters - (042) 28 11 607
- R1800.00 pp
- Conservation Fee - 1% of total amount
- R55.00 once off admin per reservation.