Travelers looking for their nature fix in the Western Cape are highly encouraged to visit the Garden Route to take in the stunning views of mountains and the rugged ocean with giant rock boulders emerging from the water. But where exactly on the 190-mile wide Garden Route should you explore on foot? Located in the easternmost part of the Garden Route, the Otter Trail is a local favorite and has 25-miles of scenic views. In fact, the trail is recognized as one of the world’s most well-praised routes by many hiking organizations.
Hikers are advised to plan their trip in advance to prepare themselves for a five-day long adventure along the trail that connects from Storm’s Mouth to Nature’s Valley. However, keep in mind that in order to plan this adventure, you’ll need to book your place to hike the trail because this well-protected area only allows up to 12 hikers per day (yes, only 12). This means you’ll have to reserve your permit as soon as possible. The strict restriction of hikers not only benefits the animals’ well being, but also for hikers to feel as if they have the whole place to themselves and see the area without being burdened with the noise pollution of many other hikers. Hikers report feeling like escaping civilization and enjoying a quiet retreat with nature. Once you get your spot, don’t feel like you have to pinpoint and scout for good locations to pitch your tents, there are several designated campsites on the trail for you to grab a nightcap. Each night, there’s a cabin campsite outfitted with showers, beds, bathrooms and a bonfire pit waiting for you as you go further along the trail. Hikers often bond with other hikers at the campsites and sometimes (depending on how well they hit it off) will opt to continue the rest of the hike together.
But what makes the Otter Trail so impressive? And why is it in such high demand? It’s simply because hikers will get a chance to see a drastic change of scenery over the course of a few days including Storm’s Mouth (the very beginning of the trail) where violent waves bounce off jagged rocks, creating an intimidating but breathtaking atmosphere, almost as if you’re at the edge of the world. Keep trekking, and the land starts to turn more green and rich with shrubbery until you reach the very end at Groot River Lagoon. Because of the versatile scenery and rugged terrain, hikers are expected to be experienced and in tip-top shape to face the strenuous and exhausting journey that involves climbing rocks, waddling and swimming through rivers, and toting along your hiking backpacks full of essentials you’ll need for your trip. In other words, if you’re new at hiking, you may want to put it off for another few years to get more experience under your sleeves. You’ll want to plan accordingly to the season, based on your preference, if you prefer dryer summer months or wet and not too humid winter months.
If the name gives you an idea, you’re going in the right direction. The Otter Trail is named after Cape clawless otters (or Groot otters) that inhabit the area, especially within Tsitsikamma National Park where the trail passes through. When trekking alongside the sea, look across the horizon of the ocean and chances are, you’ll eventually spot whales and dolphins submerging in and out of the water. Look to your opposite direction of the ocean and in the dense wilderness, and it’s common to find vervet monkeys and savanna baboons frolicking in the hills. Or you’ll find the majestic elands grazing the fields alongside bushbucks and blue duikers the size of your common house cat. Birders, this is your place as well, there are approximately 371 known species that can be sighted along the trail including the African cuckoohawk, crowned eagle and the extremely rare African oystercatcher.
However, if you’re unable to reserve a spot or wish to limit your hiking adventure to a day’s worth, you can opt for the other trails available at the Tsitsikamma National Park. The other trails include Lookout Trail where guests will walk across a hair-raising suspension bridge, Waterfall Trail to see the scenic falls, and The Blue Duiker Trail for wildlife viewing.
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