Taking time out to admire the natural beauty all around you while hiking a particularly tough trail can be pretty hard.
When your backpack straps are cutting into your shoulders (still tender from the previous day’s abuse), your legs are burning and all wobbly, and you can’t quite seem to catch your breath, the last thing you want to do is veer off course in pursuit of an even rarer view.
Most hiking trails, of course, discourage – nay, flat out forbid – you to leave the main trail for your own safety, as well as the conservation of the fauna and flora that would suffer underfoot.
However, when setting out on the five-day Otter Trail between Tsitsikamma and Nature’s Valley, you will have a couple of opportunities to take legal – and highly recommended – detours to some pretty damn magical spots. Because most of them come at that time of day when your energy levels have reached a real low, you may be tempted to skip them and just forge ahead.
But let me tell you: they’re totally worth it! Shrug off your backpack and leave it on the path – with no one else on the trail except your group, they’re 100% safe – and go have some fun. You’ll feel refreshed and inspired when you return, ready to take on the road ahead with more vigour.
Here are three of the Otter Trail’s most noteworthy detours you simply can’t miss out on:
Difficulty: Pretty straight-forward with a bit of fancy footwork on the rocks.
On Day 2, at the 2km mark, the picturesque Skilderkrans koppie detour awaits – you will spot the rounded rocky outcrop from the trail, as it rises from the bay. When you reach the distance marker, look out for a little fynbos-lined path to your left. Follow it to the foot of the koppie and then scramble over the rocks to reach the summit. From here, you will have a magnificent view of the cobalt blue bay far down below and a peek at the trail up ahead (don’t look at that too long).
It’s an excellent spot for a second-breakfast picnic and offers an array of excellent photo opportunities. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins – they were our constant companions along the way.
Difficulty: Medium. It’s a relatively steep descent down to the beach, which means another steep ascent to get back to the path.
Day 2 is just full of surprises, isn’t it? About 3km after Skilderkrans, you will find a little detour leading down to Bloubaai (Blue Bay). Now, it’s easy to throw terms like ‘3km’ around loosely when you’re just living your daily life. But when you’re on the Otter Trail, 3km can be strewn with all sorts of obstacles.
The path down to Bloubaai only comes after the Kleinbos River crossing (fortunately, it was pretty calm and uneventful) and a steep climb through the forest. By this time, you’re so ‘gatvol’, you’ll have no desire to follow another steep path that doesn’t even form part of the official trail.
However, I’m here to tell you it’s worth it. So, so, so worth it! Bloubaai is a small protected bay of the most breathtaking beauty and you will have it ALL to yourself. Swim, frolic, have a picnic under the rocks and revel in the thought of being somewhere truly pristine. Almost like The Beach, before it was corrupted.
Important: don’t even think of taking your backpack down with you. Leave it on the path – it’s safe, I promise!
Difficulty: Easy breezy. It’s basically on your route. Just bear in mind that the ‘pebbles’ are quite large, so be careful not to twist your ankle.
The last little detour I urge you to take comes on Day 4, a few kilometres after the daunting (and it really is, no matter what you’ve read elsewhere) Bloukrans River Crossing and the steep climb that follows it.
Once the path evens out a bit, you will come to a series of pebble-strewn bays. Although you might feel like a horse heading to the stables after a (most likely) pre-dawn wake-up and an adrenaline come-down, allow yourself to relax and even enjoy a hot stone massage from Mother Nature herself.
It’s also the perfect opportunity to take a little dip in one of the tidal pools and peek at the colourful life down below.
Want to see more of the Otter Trail, check out last week’s post with my 35mm film snaps!