A beginners guide to hiking the Otter: SA’s oldest hike turns 50 in 2018

On a meander along one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world (it's not just us saying it), the Otter Trail on the Garden Route is one of the top bucket list items that Saffas love to talk about while sitting comfortably around a fire.

Not only is it one of the most iconic, but it's also one of the oldest hikes in the country, and turned 50 this year.

For those who have actually taken on the gruelling experience, it's a trip well worth the long waiting list, because lucky for those still looking to conquer the trail, South African National Parks is extremely strict about the number of visitors to these untouched shores.

WATCH: How Far From Home couple actually did a skinny dip on the Otter Trail

It follows the Eastern Cape coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park. The trail is a 42.5km long hike that takes five days to complete, where you'll walk on sandy beaches and traverse rocky routes ranging in elevation from sea level to a height of more than 150m.

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.

ALSO SEE: Is the Otter Trail really worth the year-long waiting list? 

When and how to apply

Bookings for the Otter Trail open 11 months in advance. There are only 12 spots available for any specific period of time and this is why people struggle through the booking process. It is, however, possible to apply for availability 14 months in advance by inquiring about the trail and then filling out a form that they will send to you. You can book online with SANParks, or call 012 426 5111. You have to register to use SANParks' online booking tool. Currently the price is R1 231 which will be valid until 10 October 2018.

Age and fitness limits 

You have to be between the ages of 12 and 65 to take on the trail, due to the physical demands expected from hikers. All hikers from the ages of 65 and above will be requested to produce a recent doctor’s certificate that confirms their fitness level to undertake the challenging terrain of the Otter Trail.

All young hikers below 12 years of age should be accompanied by their parents/guardians who will be legal signatories to SANParks Indemnity Form, which will be submitted with copies of their identity document or passport at the Tsitsikamma reception desk before undertaking the trail.

WATCH: SA's Otter Trail listed as the best hike in the World

Where do you start

The 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.

Otter Trail hike: The Route

DAY 1: Storms River Mouth to Ngubu Huts  - 4.8kms - 3 hours

DAY 2: Ngubu Huts  to Scott Huts - 7.9kms - 5.5 hours

DAY 3: Scott Huts to Oakhurst Huts - 7.7kms - 6 hours

DAY 4: Oakhurst Huts to Andre Huts - 13.8kms - 7 hours

DAY 5: Andre Huts to Nature’s Valley  - 6.8kms - 2 hours

You can see the full Otter Trail map here.

SEE: SA's Otter Trail 101 + 9 iconic global hikes you need to do at least once 

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General items to pack

  • Headlight and extra batteries
  • Sunblock
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
  • Sunglasses
  • 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)

SEE: #TummyMustFall: Top SA walk, run and hike trails

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.

SEE: West Coast Crayfish Trail: Hike in comfort and meet the locals along the way

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 

For more inspiration, check out How Far From Home's experience on the trail:

Find Your Escape by searching and comparing flight prices here. You can also sign-up for the Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe here. Or download the News24 App here, to receive expertly curated travel ideas and deals directly to your mobile. 

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