The Otter trail in Tsitsikamma National Park ranks alongside the best trails in the world. It has to be booked a year in advance due to its popularity. The trail follows rugged Eastern Cape coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley. It’s just over 42 km’s long and takes four nights and five days to complete.
If you’re not up to doing the full Otter Trail you can get a taste of it by doing the first half day section known as the waterfall circuit. It is 6.4 km’s and takes between three to four hours round trip. It is open to day visitors without any prior reservations.
The beginning part of the hike starts out along an easy walking trail, it quickly heads towards the shore where it becomes an obstacle course through boulders and rocks. At first it isn’t terribly difficult, the rocks are rounded off and you can hop from one to the next. The rocks become increasingly more difficult to navigate. You need to be sure of your footing as you work your way across the rugged shoreline. Watch for and follow the painted yellow otter paws to know which direction to keep heading in. Part way through the trail there is a cave opening to explore, it also serves as a good resting spot.
At one point you may ask yourself if all this rock scrambling is worth the effort. As we continued on, people coming from the other direction assured us that the waterfalls were a just reward for continuing on. They cascade down the rock face from high above. The pools below the falls are a unique brown colour. They look like dark tea, and rightly so because it is the high amount of tannins that cause the dark colour. Despite the look we were told this is some of the purest water in the world and was completely safe to drink. The swirls of fine white foam form patterns that make for some interesting photos.
In the midday heat it would have been refreshing to take a dip in the pools. It required more rock scrambling to get there. Neither one of us had the energy, especially knowing what we were going to have go through again to get back to the start of the trail. It felt twice as long on the way back and in the heat it was hard to muster up the strength to get over the rocks again. Thank goodness the park shop had ice cold drinks.