Updated: May 4, 2022
I remember stepping out of the plane wondering if I had done enough. Clouded by thoughts of worry - “but I have been to this forest before, Lee come on girl you got this. I remembered the day I completed 6-day Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail a couple of years back in 2018 and telling myself Otter, I am coming for you.
Backtrack, it’s 2021 and I have been waiting to hike the Otter trail for a few years now but all sorts of disasters have interrupted this hike from happening. First it was Covid, then the Cancer diagnosis, followed by 6months Chemotheraphy treatment… I know right? Yho I been through the most, but I’m here now and that’s all that matters. Biz tells me he has a spot for Otter in Feb 2022, so I scream “Birthday Vibes babyyyyyyyyy” –I’m a Feb baby, the Aquarian, the water creature, walking alongside the ocean will do me good during this birthday month. I have about 4 months to prepare. I feel a little behind, others have had an advantage with a full year to prepare... shucks ! but all well. I’ve never backed down from a challenge. Game on!
Heck, what do you know Pinkie and sis Glenda are part of the group… kachingggg! Some familiar faces... Good!
Joined the whatsapp group only to see there’s marathon runners… mmaaweeee ! the hell is this ? Comrades? I panic… I mo be left behind, I know that for a fact! But Lee, you’ll have all the time in the world on trail to explore the beauty that nature has to offer…voices in my head convince me to still go for it...
We trained, no, like seriously, we trained. Westcliff Stairs (for my sins), Harties Hiking Trail (the under-dog), Botanical Garden (how we did it was just insane… backpacks circled it twice…I blame this duo, Pinke le Naledi - #NeverAgain), Amphitheatre, Squats, weights, rope skipping…I even had a personal trainer for a short while. Ask yourself, who do you have in your corner that will do everything to see you succeed. LIKEEEEEEEEEEEEEE BONA !!! I have never shem.
I had to be mentally and physically ready. I was not about to miss the beauty of Otter by having a challenging time, blaming it on cancer and being an Ostomate (due to excessive dehydration), in fact I made sure this would be one of my best hikes since remission. Wolkberg was my first after remission and what a disaster… dehydration did me real bad, I kept screaming “this is it for me, I’m hanging my boots after this hike”… but like any true hiker, you get off the mountain and have already planned another one… yup here I was, back at it and training for Otter trail. I done learned, I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it… AND TRAIN!!!
Fast forward to trip day, woke up early and got dropped off at the airport, between Pinkie, Glendah and myself we were already taking lots of pictures while sorting out our bags… like seriously though, I thought I loved taking photos until I met Ous Glendah haha I had met my match! Took the flight. We met Rose, Khanyisa, Lindz and Chanelle at the Port Elizabeth airport… guys wait though I’m still learning to say Gcebega … yho my poor tongue! We waited for the rest of the group and convened outside the airport.
A trip is never complete without a bit of drama-nyana you know. One of the hiker’s bag didn’t arrive and we still had a two-hour trip to Tsitsikamma… do we wait, do we leave and make arrangements... a bit of an almost mess which turned out well thanks to Elvis. If you’ve never been to Tsitsikamma and are planning a trip, Elvis is your man. The sweetest, most kindest man I have met in a while. Let’s just say you will be well taken care of from the time you land at the airport to the moment he waves goodbye back at the airport again when you are heading home, he’s THAT amazing. Needless to say we made a couple of stops along the way towards Tsitsikamma getting this and that yet this dude was just amazing. I even got me a wrist protector which I desperately needed after having twisted my wrist the previous weekend at Drakensberg getting down the chain ladders. It happens kids, it happens...
Day one, the day we landed was almost a waste. We had planned to do activities on this day… turned out we arrived late, so myself, Pinkie and Glendah still persisted to make it an eventful day as planned. We took the boat into the Storms River Mouth in Tsitsikamma… actually wait, I heard Tsitsikamma means a place of many waters in Khoisan language… how gorgeous and accurate.
We then decided to make a return the following morning before starting the hike, for our initially planned Kayaking and Lilo activity. What a freaken EPIC adventure! Listen I was terrified at first. But you know instagrammers and adventure seekers live life on quotes mos, so this one pops into my head: “When you’re trembling that’s when the magic happens” – from the song Spirit by Beyonce. And boy oh boy was Kayaking the ocean scary but AMAZING. I felt too close to water…. Like wayyyyyyyyyyyy too close. But ke you know… the phone had to feature somewhere there for photos mid kayaking LOL.
There’s 11 hikers, it’s the afternoon in the Tsitsikamma National Park, a bit cloudy and we are all super excited in the briefing room after having waited and waited and waited to be briefed... shhhh dont tell them I said that, but we did... little miss impatient over here was like can we start already yho!
Well we were excited because most of us have been waiting for years to do the Otter Trail, one of South Africa’s oldest and most well-known hiking trails, popular with both local South Africans and international visitors because of its incredible scenery. The 45km trail starts at the Storms River mouth and ends at Nature's Valley De Vasselot Rest Camp in the beautiful Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve on the Garden Route where you check out and receive your certificate with much celebration with those around you.
Day 1: Start to Ngubu huts – 4,8km kicks off within the lovely forest close to the coast. Navigating through the forest we found ourselves skip hop and jumping through the rocky most gorgeous path, some well rounded rocks and some sharp as heck.
Along the way we came past the Jerling River waterfall where most of the day-hikers end their day hikes. Whilst having a lekka jol, I could already see interesting group dynamics playing out, but granted the leader, Shezz was concerned about time not being on our side and got us all to pick up the pace a little so we get to the huts before sunset. Nice and easy for the first day I’d say with a lovely sunset.
Day 2: Ngubu to Scott huts – 7,9km, one of the days we were warned about, if anything is to go by, I think most of us trained with this day in mind. Lord have mercy, the sunrise was so amazing, a bit of worship here and there, taking in the morning breeze and splashing waves against the rocks before heading out, music to my ears... I am my dad's child (God)... the Creator, so my soul sings when i'm out here.
The day started with a heck of a challenging steep climbs through the forest. While some had walked on ahead, Pinkie, Glendah and myself stayed behind taking in views of Skilderkrans(and a bit of network spot to connect with home too). What a lovely view.
Journeying through the forest we came across the Kleinbos River where the rest of the team had waited after crossing it. The boys helped us cross and we were on our way again.
The beauty of Otter when starting out early on trail is arriving at the next hut early enough to go and have a lekka dip in the water and still have time for a chat around the fire getting to know each other well… Okay okay I lie, I am lousy at those, sure but I promise I managed to connect with everyone equally on this night around the fire, we even tried some games where someone starts the ”Once upon a time” story and the rest of the group gives life to this story, moving from one person to the next… the creativity around the fire is insane I tell you… but on the same breath when your turn comes and you give a nonsensical follow up, we laugh and kill it right there… onto something else…
I must say for the two days I’ve been on trail I have had the luck of not having to change my bag on trail. If you’ve walked with me during trails and I have been open enough to share with you about my ostomy journey, you’d know the amount of anxiety I go through at the thought of bulging up around my stoma… can people see it, has it ballooned, how long till the next hut… I stress about that, but the courage of having to walk on trail again without fear of judgement, I honestly feel blessed, breathe in and out and poof goes my anxiety because truly life could have taken another turn completely for the worst at that.
Oh goodness and then I almost forgot the late afternoon butt naked showers, Chanelle calles them the 'mapoena-poenas"… where ladies connect and chat, as we take turns to shower… yall know those right? Hashtag OstomateOnTrail right ? yeah I know - imagine how I must felt when we got to that point… No pressure Lee, story for another day guys … where were we? Oh yeah
Day 3: Scott to Oakhurst huts – 7,7km, yhooo di steps tsa Otter bathong !!! but WOW was this day amazing, the views were just begging for shots, I could imagine God taking his time around these areas knowing Lerato (and Glendah LOL) will be passing through one day. The hike was a bit better than the day before, from the top of the climb the view is truly a wonder and the exhaustion of the climb is soon forgotten.
We crossed the Elandsbos River with a wide opening and sandy views everywhere. And then DRAMA hahaha we took the wrong route up the hill… well let’s just say the boys and Rams because we were right behind them about to climb and yeiiiii did Rams hold on for dear life… Let me quote her: “I thought of all of you as I was going up but kept slipping, I thought we must find another way, you guys would not have made it… listen I’m strong ne, mara I felt muscles I never knew existed in my body.” If you know Rams and her body tone, you’ll understand what she meant…
Crossing the Lottering river was not as dramatic, we crossed at low tide. The river was dark with slippery rocks. Needless to say, less drama here and we made it safe to the huts. While at the huts and others chilling knocking themselves out with phone network at some spots… we hear “BABOONNNN”… mmaweee! How huge was that thing. Climbing up that hill like its nothing. The beauty of nature and all its living creatures around.
Day 4: Oakhurst to Andre huts – 13,8km, this day we were told was the longest day. kilometres tell a story. We got up early to catch the lowtide crossing. We started the hike around 4am in the morning and gees did I decide to be strategic on this day. I decided to team up ahead with Shezz and his military style walking so I don’t get left behind, Shalton was with us too…
listen Shezz thought I was wasting time taking pictures so I tried to abide and walk a little faster, ditching the phone and possible shots. Its early hours and dark anyway… but man I tell you I was a little hurt …Although I must give him credit, I liked how he noticed my heart was not at peace and he slowly started pointing out frogs in the dark so I can decide whether to snap or be intrigued and be amazed … Oh happy day, was I the happiest. We stopped and waited for everyone to catch up and we saw the gorgeous sunrise far out at sea.
Such a special feeling having the sun rise with you already on trail… tough to wake up sure but wow the benefits are plenty.
We arrived a little early at Bloukrans and crossed with less drama but it was super exciting nonetheless.
The water was around our knees or thighs for the vertically challenged haha not pointing fingers… Hi Chanelle how you doing babe ? I miss you LOL… We chilled and had a much needed breakfast and vitamin SAND!!! Gosh I hate sand… damn thing was sticking on everything.
We started heading up the rock face, climbing with a rope and met up with the wooden stairs again. Quite a challenge that little climb was. And then… yhooo what a long long long un-bloody-necessary hike to the finish.
We were told its about an hour walk after crossing Bloukrans… one hour se voet. I was totally annoyed but granted the path was gorgeous. Phones died, powerbanks died, conversations died, partnerships died. I remember asking Chanelle, babe when you get to the hut please scream with excitement so we know the end is near… she disappeared for hours and soon we all naturally spread out, journeying towards Andre Hut.
The final leg involved the last river crossing, Klip River. But this was one of the best nights connecting for the final time on trail with the crew over a looootttt of meat and so much more that was dropped off for us.
Day 5: Andre huts to De Vasselot / Nature’s Valley – 10,8km, the day starts with a short walk past the rocky beach where we took a few last group pics. The climb shoots up with a steep staircase to the table of the mountain up top. From there the trail is relatively kind, we remained on top of the mountain with a relatively easy yet annoying walk on flat route, its last day after all, we all just want to get out of this trail now... we are drained!!!
I remember on this day Pinkie being extremely excited to have finally been able to snap a king protea because all phones died the day before. We finally arrived up top overlooking the Nature Valley beach front, at that point I was walking with Dondo and Rose who loves taking photos (always found behind the camera, never in front) and wow did she enjoy herself when we finally got to the sandy beach. Walking past the beach on sand reminded me why I’d never do the Botswana Desert Walk… never ! I hate walking on sand, let alone in boots… what more 30km on sand. Hai ngeke… miss me with that but kudos to ya’ll who do it. I have my own battles that i’m willing to take on and they don’t involve walking on sand for 30km.
As if we thought we were finished, I remember the last 3km river crossing that we had to do. I remembered it because this last part of the Otter trail was the first day of the 6-day Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail.
One by one we came into De Vasselot Camp site, happy to have finished strong in my weakness. What an amazing 5 day with fellow hikers and ... wait for it ... thee most kindest most awesome runners.
This trail has taught me so much…this trail reminded me how gorgeous and cleansing nature is. How to be kind to nature and others. Honestly when I hike places like these I only think of that day God said Let There be, and there was !!! and He was pleased... no like I get it, I truly get it... dudes like I AM PLEASED - Dear God I am also pleased! Anyway , back to lessons.
How everyone is hiking their own hike and when you respect people’s spaces and appreciate their energies you will all and I mean ALL come out stronger. I’ve learned to connect and genuinely connect with people. I have always been a loner and needing time on my own out there. This trail has restored my hope in humanity. Myself and Lindz had our battles and challenges as a result of our medical conditions, but there’s hope in humanity and I felt strong, I felt ready for OTTER and we made it through!
What an awesome support everyone was to each other. If you’ve ever seen comrade runners and the songs they sing to motivate each other during marathons, they sing in groups, wait they call them busses LOL … we were serenaded by FatCats runners who I initially thought, oh heck this is going to be one hell of a hike. But WOW. We ALL MADE IT BABYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!
We even reconnected recently for Otter Reunion and Shelton our braai master did the things out in Groenkloof the other day. That’s how connected we were and still are.
While I’m on this tip of Hope in Humanity... I believe each one of us has a purpose, and so some were out here Hiking For a Purpose:
I, the Skirtgirlhiker was Hiking Otter and continue to raise funds for Cancer Patients and Ostomates – visit my website for details - Skirtgirlhiker Foundation - SkirtGirlHiker Foundation | mysite
Chanelle was holding it down, hiking Otter and continues to raise funds for Pairs of School Shoes for kids and chases smiles on her journey
Khanyisa the Endo Warrior was hiking Otter and continue to raise funds for keeping a girl child in school by the Sanitary Pads drive and raising awareness about Endometroisis with her lovely yello tutu skirt.
OTTER YOU WERE AWESOME !
just some few more snaps of the trail
Most of the Hikers are on Instagram so please do look out for them and read up more about The Otter Trail through their eyes
Over and Out