Can t get on the Otter Trail This is Plan B MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

Can’t do the Otter Trail? Here’s an Alternative…

Imagine traversing along a scenic trail, surrounded by towering trees and cascading waterfalls. The thrill of conquering challenging slopes and the serenity of gazing at breathtaking vistas. The Otter Trail is famous for offering all of this and more.

But what happens if you can’t secure a spot on this coveted trail? Don’t worry – there’s always a Plan B.

Introducing the “Plan B” Trail, an equally magnificent alternative for adventure seekers like you. While it may not have the same fame as the Otter Trail, it promises an unforgettable experience filled with natural wonders and captivating landscapes.

Plan B will take you on an extraordinary journey, meandering through lush forests, crossing crystal-clear streams, and venturing into hidden valleys. Along the way, you can spot a myriad of wildlife, from playful monkeys swinging through the branches to majestic eagles soaring in the sky.

Unlike the Otter Trail, Plan B offers a different kind of challenge. While it may not have the same level of difficulty, it invites you to embrace a sense of exploration and discovery. Every twist and turn presents an opportunity to uncover hidden treasures and forge your own unique path.

One of the highlights of Plan B is the chance to witness mesmerizing sunsets and nights filled with starlit skies. Far away from the city lights, you’ll be immersed in the tranquility of nature, with only the sounds of the wilderness serenading you to sleep.

So, if you find yourself unable to embark on the Otter Trail, don’t be disheartened. Plan B is waiting for you, ready to offer an alternative adventure that will leave you awe-inspired and craving for more.

Can t get on the Otter Trail This is Plan B MzansiBride

Let me tell you about the six-day Tsitsikamma Trail. It’s like the calm, peaceful counterpart to the crowded Otter Trail along the coast. I have to say, walking this trail is absolutely amazing.

Can t get on the Otter Trail This is Plan B MzansiBride

The journey starts on the beach, where you can take a leisurely walk before venturing into the enchanting coastal forest.

Normally, I find myself getting frustrated when I’m stuck behind slow walkers on the sidewalk. They don’t seem to realize that others are trying to get somewhere. But on the Tsitsikamma Trail, I embraced a different pace. I found myself moving slowly, taking in the wonders of the trail. Ancient ferns and mysterious mushrooms lined the path, while trogons called out and vibrant turaco feathers caught my eye. Even the caracal tracks left in the soft mud fascinated me. I became a slow walker on the Tsitsikamma Trail, and I loved every moment of it.

“What’s that?” almost everyone would ask when I mentioned the Tsitsikamma Trail. I would explain that it’s similar to the famous Otter Trail, but it takes you through the mountains instead. “Oh, I’ve done the Otter Trail!” they would reply.

It seems like everyone and their grandma has hiked the Otter Trail.

I can’t believe how beautiful and challenging the hiking trails are. It’s no wonder they’re always fully booked. The Otter Trail takes you on a thrilling adventure, winding its way along the coastline and up steep cliffs. You’ll navigate through breathtaking river-carved gorges and finally emerge on the sunny beach in Nature’s Valley, five days and 43 kilometers later. And guess what? That’s where the Tsitsikamma Trail begins!

The Tsitsikamma Trail is a hidden gem, tucked away in the lush forests and fynbos of the Tsitsikamma mountains. It follows a similar path to the Otter Trail, crossing rivers and climbing ridges, covering a total of 64 kilometers over six days. But here’s the best part – getting a spot on this trail is much easier! Despite being around for 35 years, it remains relatively unknown, so you won’t have to fight for a booking. Count me in!

But I started to feel nervous when the trail managers sent us 14 safety documents along with our confirmation. They strongly advised us to learn how to handle emergencies, including ailments, illness, injuries, getting lost or stranded, flooding, dangerous river crossings, and hypothermia. Apparently, we might also encounter veld fire, contaminated water, lightning, fog, slippery ground, ill-fitting shoes, and even a snake bite. But don’t worry, the documents provided escape routes and information about where we could find mobile reception. I think I was the only one in our group who actually read any of those documents, let alone all 14, and it really shook me up.

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“We’ll be okay,” my friend Saskia reassured me. She was five months pregnant at the time. Before we left our cozy cottage in Nature’s Valley, I anxiously checked my backpack. I made sure I had all my personal belongings and the necessary safety items: a space blanket, a survival bag, extra food rations, a first-aid kit, route maps, and emergency contacts. As an extra precaution, I packed some emergency biltong and chocolate. With everything packed, we started our hike. “If a pregnant woman can conquer this trail, so can I,” I whispered to myself.

Can t get on the Otter Trail This is Plan B MzansiBride

When I went on a hike with Roelf, he would always make sure to refill his water bottle from one of the many streams in the forest. It was impressive how he seemed to know exactly where they were.

After a while, we reached the first hut, called Kalander Hut. To my surprise, we got there in under 30 minutes, even though we were walking without shoes on. It was a bit embarrassing how worried I had been about the hike. The hut was cleverly hidden behind the trees on the east side of the Groot River Mouth.

We decided to take advantage of the fact that the hut was so close to the beach. We had a lot of fun playing in the waves and even climbed up Pig’s Head to enjoy the sunset. It was beautiful up there, with the aloes and wildflowers surrounding us.

As we were spending time in the water, we noticed a shark swimming in our area. It was a bit frightening, and it made me realize that shark attacks could happen. It was definitely not something I had thought about before.

At the end of the day, we had a delicious braai. We ate some heavy food and drank refreshing beverages. It was the perfect way to end an adventurous day.

When I embarked on the second day of the hike, a 15-kilometer trek awaited me. It was a more serious part of the adventure. The journey began with a challenging ascent up the escarpment, taking us into the beautiful fynbos. This was our last opportunity to gaze upon the breathtaking sight of Nature’s Valley before we descended into the valleys of nature.

I slowed my pace and found myself mesmerized as we entered the indigenous forest. The sheer magnitude of the surroundings demanded a leisurely stroll if one wanted to fully appreciate even a small portion of the intricate details. We frequently stopped to marvel at the towering yellowwood trees, admire the delicate mosses and ferns, observe the frogs and fungi, and made futile attempts to focus our binoculars on the elusive birds flitting through the treetops.

It wasn’t until the final four kilometers, when the forest path transformed into a jeep track winding through pine plantations, that I truly felt the weight of my backpack. It’s a pity that the Tsitsikamma Trail passes through areas dominated by human-made forestry. To me, these plantations diminish the sense of true wilderness that I seek.

Can t get on the Otter Trail This is Plan B MzansiBride

The view from Bloukrans Hut is absolutely stunning! The sunsets there are so beautiful, adding to the already picturesque scenery. Once we finally made it to the hut, situated on a cliff, we were greeted with the most incredible view of the trail. It was like a postcard come to life – mountains towering above, waterfalls cascading down, and all of it bathed in a soft pink glow from the setting sun. It was truly a sight to behold.

Of course, as with any journey, there were a few bumps along the way. One of the annoyances we encountered was the number of people at each camp. Bloukrans Hut can hold up to 24 people, and it seemed like they were all there when we arrived. While our group was cooking dinner, we noticed three hikers from the night before quietly chatting in German and playing cards. It was a bit distracting, but we didn’t let it bother us too much.

However, the real challenge came when a group of eight medical students joined us for the next three nights. They were hiking a portion of the trail as well, and they seemed to be competing for the title of “most obnoxious.” They were loud, rowdy, and just generally disruptive to the peaceful atmosphere we were hoping to enjoy. Needless to say, our pace slowed down as we tried to distance ourselves from their constant noise.

Despite the setbacks, though, we still managed to have a great time on day three. We took our time, enjoying the beautiful flora surrounding us. It was like a garden filled with colorful blooms, and we even spotted some sunbirds darting around. It was a welcome sight and a much-needed break from the chaos caused by the noisy students. Overall, our experience at Bloukrans Hut was unforgettable, and the view made it all worthwhile.

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The Bloukrans River crossing had me reminiscing about my previous adventure on the Otter. I remember feeling a sense of panic as I struggled to swim through the powerful waves at the mouth of the river, fearing not only for my backpack but also for my life. It was a relief to rock-hop across the Bloukrans without getting our socks wet this time. As we continued on our hike, honeyguides serenaded us from the nearby forest, and our spirits were lifted when we stumbled upon a supply drop at Keurbos Hut. What a pleasant surprise it was to find cold beers and fresh food for a barbecue!

Can t get on the Otter Trail This is Plan B MzansiBride

As I made my way along the trail, I couldn’t resist the allure of the inviting pools that dotted the landscape. Just before reaching Sleepkloof Hut, my companions and I still had the energy to engage in some playful frogging and splashing in a secluded stream.

Crossing the Lottering, Elandsbos, Kleinbos, and Witteklip rivers presented their own challenges, although we managed to navigate them without incident. However, the looming possibility of being stranded in a flash flood was a constant reminder of the risks we faced. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any emergencies, but the tough trek over two saddles on the fifth day certainly tested our mettle. Our destination was Sleepkloof Hut, a name that sounded more like a wrestling move than a serene mountain retreat. With each step, the grueling climb under the scorching midday sun and dwindling water supplies pushed us to our limits. I would have gladly welcomed a sleeper hold in that moment, thinking to myself, ‘If a pregnant woman can do this…’

I caught my breath and pressed on, determined to conquer the challenge ahead.

The next day, we continued our stroll through the forest, making sure to visit The Big Tree along the way. This immense Outeniqua yellowwood stood tall for five centuries before Van Riebeeck arrived in the Cape. It made me realize the insignificance of our six-day trek compared to 800 years of steadfastness.

By lunchtime, we emerged from the forest and arrived at the Storms River Petroport, thrust back into the modern world. “Ugh! Why are these people taking so long in the Steers queue?” I thought to myself, secretly longing for the Otter Trail and a five-day journey back to Nature’s Valley.

How to reach the Tsitsikamma Trail

So, here’s the deal. If you’re coming from Cape Town, you’ll want to hop on the N2 and drive all the way to Nature’s Valley. But if you’re starting your journey in Joburg, you’ll need to take the N1 to Colesberg, then hop on the N9 to Uniondale, and finally take the R339 to R340 to join up with the N2. Easy peasy, right?

Now, if you’re not up for a road trip, you can always fly to Plettenberg Bay or George and then take the R102 turn-off to Nature’s Valley. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing.

Okay, let’s get to the good stuff. This hike is run by MTO Ecotourism and it all kicks off at Nature’s Valley De Vasselot Rest Camp. So, make sure to set yourself up there and get ready for some serious outdoor action.

Now, when it comes to logistics, you’ve got a couple of options. You can either leave a car at the trail’s end in Storms River, or you can get yourself a pre-arranged shuttle back to where you parked. MTO Ecotourism has a list of shuttle operators that they can hook you up with, but you’ll need to make the arrangements yourself. No worries, though, it’s all part of the adventure!

To truly enjoy this hike that spans 64 kilometers and lasts for six days, you need to be in good shape. The difficulty level of the trail is graded as moderate to difficult. Personally, I found the terrain to be gentler compared to the Otter Trail, but the daily distances were longer. The first day offers a delightful hike through unique and tall coastal forests that are dry. Days two to five present a challenge with plenty of uphill sections. On the sixth day, you have two options: a 3.2-kilometer hike uphill at first and then a gradual descent to Storms River Bridge, or a 5.5-kilometer hike uphill at the beginning and then mostly level to Storms River Village. For our hike, we decided to have a supply drop in the middle, but you can also choose to go without any support or pamper yourself with slack packing. Unfortunately, slack packing is not available for the first overnight hut. The great thing about this trail is that it can be customized to suit your preferences with options for shorter two- to six-day hikes. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can even book the Otter Trail through SANParks for an epic round trip.

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The Tsitsikamma Trail will cost you R155 per person per night. If you need to use portage, it will be an additional R800 per hut for the first five people, and then R150 for each additional person up to a maximum of 12 people per hut. Just remember that only 12 hikers can make use of portage per hut each day. To book, you can contact MTO Eco-Tourism at 0422811712 or visit their website at mtoecotourism.co.za

When is the best time to go?

You can go on the Tsitsikamma Trail at any time of the year. However, it tends to be busiest in December when the temperatures can be very hot. On the bright side, there are plenty of swimming holes along the way to cool off. I personally went in September and had a great time enjoying the beautiful spring flowers.

What do I need to know?

Going on the trail and staying at the huts is a simple yet decent experience. The huts have a total of 24 bunks spread across a few rooms. When I went, I brought a comfortable sleeping bag, an inflatable pillow, and some earplugs to help me sleep through the snoring. You should also remember to bring a headlamp since there is no electricity in the huts. But don’t worry, each camp has a lapa with tables, braais, and a nice view. You’ll find firewood provided, except for the first night at Kalander Hut. Make sure to bring a camping stove and supplies for washing up. If you’re slack packing, you can afford to bring some more luxurious food options. Otherwise, it’s best to travel light.

The huts all have good toilets and a bucket with hot water for showering. They also have piped water from local sources and collect rainwater. Just remember to use purifying drops or tablets when refilling your water bottles, even if you’re using rainwater, as baboons like to play on the roof. Before you settle in, it’s important to read the safety information provided at each hut. Keep in mind that cell phone reception is limited in this area.

Can t get on the Otter Trail This is Plan B MzansiBride

Are you up for kayaking in the Nature’s Valley estuary?

What can you do?

If you’re looking to explore or just relax on the beach after your hike, you can kayak in the Nature’s Valley estuary. You can easily rent a kayak from Nature’s Valley Rest Camp for only R55 per hour.

Another option is to check out the Storms River suspension bridges. Just keep in mind that there’s a conservation fee of R45 per person at the Storms River Mouth gate.

For extreme adventure seekers, you can throw yourself off the world’s highest bungee bridge at Bloukrans. It’s an unforgettable experience, but it will cost you R890 per person.

Where can you eat?

If you’re craving a delicious treat, Nature’s Valley Restaurant is the place to go. They serve a mouthwatering calamari burger for R89.50 that’s hard to resist. Give them a call at 0445316835.

Where can you stay?

If you’re looking for accommodation in Nature’s Valley, Nature’s Valley Properties has got you covered. You can rent a cottage that sleeps 8 people for only R900.

I couldn’t resist the allure of SANParks’ forest huts right along the river. They’re located in the De Vasselot area of the impressive Garden Route National Park. And guess what? The cost is just R490 for two people sharing.

Another great option is Tsitsikamma Village Inn in Storms River. It’s a beloved choice among travelers. You can book a room for two starting at R870.

This piece was originally featured in the June 2016 edition of Getaway magazine.

Keep in mind that prices were accurate at the time of publication but are subject to change by each establishment. Be sure to confirm the current rates before making any bookings or purchases.

Can t get on the Otter Trail This is Plan B MzansiBride

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