The excitement of the upcoming Otter Trail built up on 7 December when our group met at our home for Happy Hour. The participants were Bob Baines, Henk Voet, Peter Roos, Kathy Erasmus, Chris Piears, Lindsay Dudding, Paul Menge, Burke Schreiber, Arie van Buren-Schele, Krystyna Blaski, Beryl Lay and Rob Abrams. Packing ideas were thrown around and the importance of keeping the backpacks to a maximum of 16 – 18 kgs for men and 12 – 14 kg for the women was discussed. The video Rob showed of the Otter Trail was well received and very enlightening and the crossing of the Bloukrans River brought gasps and nervous giggles from the women.
We arranged to meet at the Storms River Mouth between 10 and 10.30 a.m. on Friday 13 January. From the permit we collected at the office, we noted that “persons under the age of 12 and over 65 are not permitted on the trail”. Half of us fell into this category!!! Nine of the party arrived and were anxious to start the hike. As the last three had done the trail before, we all agreed that we would start hiking and all meet up at the first hut later in the afternoon. The boulder hopping along the coast-line was quite challenging and unexpected for the very first day, but the sight of the waterfall was worth it and we spent some time there watching the swimmers enjoying themselves before proceeding further. The rock formations were wonderful, particularly the ones forming natural rectangular swimming pools or dry docks and the latter part of the afternoon was walking through forests. It was an unexpected surprise to descend the mountain through thick bush and suddenly see the first hut at Ngubu, as you could not see them from afar, and what a welcome sight it was. Krystyna had already done a thorough “reccie” of the location and showed where on the beach we could actually lie down in the sea and float in the shallows in a cove which we duly did.
A lovely fire was lit on the first night for a braai (our last fresh meat meal) which also lightened our packs a great deal! We left the braai area and whilst sitting on the deck and chairs chatting, a small spotted Genet arrived on the scene, hoping to find some titbits. It was wonderful watching him snatch a bite and disappear into the bush like lightning and reappear again when the coast was clear. This kept us entertained for some time and then decided to hit the sack for a good night’s sleep. What a wonderful invention ear-plugs are!! One of our zealous hikers woke us at 4.00 a.m. by fiddling around in his backpack and making his breakfast in the hut. We gave up and eventually all got up and prepared for the day’s hike.
The second day took us inland and the ups and downs were relentless. The little streams we crossed were beautiful and the fynbos and wild ferns were awesome. Once more Krystyna was at Scott huts to welcome us.
At Geelhoutbos River we walked upstream for a few meters and it was the first time in my life that I have bathed in a river and washed my hair under a small waterfall. If only my kids could have seen me! We were watching the waves slamming into the rocks when all of a sudden we saw two seals frolicking in the waves which was very entertaining. Lots of stories were exchanged that night when we all sat around the fire.
The third day our early-riser was the last to leave his bunk, and after breakfast we all made our way back up the mountain having had a good night’s sleep. It was slightly overcast but pleasant and from the top of the last mountain, we could see the third nights’ huts at Oakhurst, but it took us the good part of an hour to reach the huts, having to descend and go into a long horseshoe bend inland right into the gorge and then back towards the coastline and huts. We had a bit of a job finding the markers on the rocks after crossing the Lottering River Mouth, but Peter eventually found the way and we followed. What a pleasure it was to find that there was a shower at this camp! We all had an early night in anticipation of an early start next morning for our longest hike and the crossing of the Bloukrans River.
The fourth day was a beautifully clear day and we knew it was going to be very hot and humid. Lowtide was at 11 a.m. and after an early start we reached the river at 11.30 a.m. Some of the front-runners waited for us on the rocks on the other side to assist us over the rocks. This particular part was my biggest nightmare clambering over the needle sharp rocks, but all was well and we arrived safely at Andre’s huts in the early afternoon. Footsore and weary, we were able to shower and relax and strangely enough, none of us were really hungry that night just terribly thirsty and retired for our last night.
The fifth day dawned and we were all up early and ready to go. It was rather sad to think that this trail was almost complete and we would all go our different ways. The walks in the forests which took us inland were full of surprises. Fungi on some of the tree trunks looked like arum lilies and the fields of wild Watsonias took your breath away. Reaching the gate at the top of the mountain overlooking Nature’s Valley was quite emotional for me and could not believe that it was almost over. After the steep descent and walking across the beach, we all met at the little restaurant on The Point and said our farewells. Believe me I found it tough in places, but so rewarding and proud that I accomplished The Otter Trail which was on my Wish List and thought I would never do it in my lifetime.