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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Milton

Bushbuck and Backpacks (Otter Trail Day 1)

Updated: Mar 28

When my friend, Tim, extended a last-minute invitation to join his Otter Trail adventure in Nov/Dec 2020, the only logical response (no, the ONLY response) was a resounding YES, even though I had to put in a few days of unpaid leave to do so.

The road trip to Port Elizabeth was a little different to previous road trips of mine: I love the Kotzés dearly, but they do not get up early… We left Stellenbosch at about 08h30 with nine hours of driving ahead of us.

A trimmed screenshot of the Google Maps route from Stellenbosch to Port Elizabeth

Despite the slow start, our trip went smoothly and we arrived safely mid afternoon.

Joey Kotzé is a gem: she welcomed all 12 of us into her home and her heart (sharing the load with a friend down the road); cooked a huge spread including roast leg of lamb on the night before we started the trail; and arranged the car shuffle both to drop us off at the starting point at Storms River and to collect us at Nature’s Valley at the end.

A group of people sitting around a table on a wooden verandah

Our group was made up of Nigel and Kim, the patriarch and matriarch of our mottled crew; Thapelo and Bernadette, five and a half months’ pregnant at the time; Aubrey and Jess, slightly outside of their comfort zone but keen to share the experience with their family; Tim and Talitha, the Kotzé siblings I travelled with from the Cape; Marno and Clifford, old varsity friends and seasoned hikers; and Dehan, a good friend of Tim and the others and the first person to ever introduce me to the term ‘homeslice’.

Young woman with a large red and grey hiking backpack on her back, showing a thumbs up

Thankfully, by the time we did the trail, SANParks had already erected three sturdy tents at each campsite in order to reduce occupation density in the cabins to a Covid-19-acceptable level, so we did not need to carry our own. However, my first test pack still weighed in at 16kg (definitely too heavy for me and requiring some shedding).

Day 1: Storms River Mouth to Ngubu, 5km, 3 hours

Screenshot of Suunto app route for day 1 from Storms River Mouth to Ngubu hut
Group of hikers at the sign saying 'Otter Trail', all showing their muscles or pulling funny faces

The first day of the trail is short and after a group photo, a briefing and watching the trail video in the 'Otter Room' at the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp, we set off through the forest down to the coastline.

Two things struck me from the outset: the lush greenness of the forest, and the sound of powerful waves crashing heavily into the rocky shore a few 100m below us. I discovered during this first km that Thapelo came from Polokwane. Having spent a gap year in Haenertsburg myself, we reminisced about sports events and the beautiful ‘misty mountain’ while we felt out our backpacks and warmed up our legs.

Two photographs side by side, one showing hikers going downhill in a forest, the other showing the silhouette of a man pretending to play air guitar
Left: Our first descent to the coastline; Right: Guano Cave

The first feature on day one is Guano Cave. We took a moment to explore and play, but didn’t spend too much time here since we’d barely started. We’d agreed to make the infamous waterfall at the mouth of the Jerling river our lunch stop.

Woman standing in front of a tall waterfall
Waterfall at the Jerling river mouth

Dehan and Clifford, both insomniacs, tried their best to also catch a quick snooze at this point, but their attempts to get comfortable were thwarted by the lack of smooth rocks and the presence of Nelson, the resident lunch tax collector.

Man lying on a rock next to the sea with his buff and sun glasses covering his eyes
Clifford trying his best to nap
Seagull on a rock with a rock pool in the background
'And the seagull's name was Nelson. Nelson who came from the sea...'

We continued to our first overnight stop, exploring the coastline as we went.

Black and white image of a man hopping between two rocks with the sea in the background and a rock pool in the foreground

Ngubu hut is a wonderful introduction to the privilege of this trail’s overnight spots: complete with an open-air, cold-water shower in the forest, a braai area with a view and a little family of resident bushbuck, it was definitely one of my two favourite huts on trail.

Wooden lapa with a few people braaiing and a partly cloudy late afternoon sky in the background
Braai area at Ngubu hut
Wooden shower structure at a stream in a forest
Forest shower at Ngubu hut
Forest scene with a young bushbuck peering past a branch
Spot the young bushbuck...

We’d carried a few treats for night one, seeing as the day’s hike was fairly short. Tim had a bottle of red wine and I’d decanted some Malbec into one of my water bottles. We thoroughly enjoyed our sundowner, as the fireflies started peeping out between the leaves of the coastal forest.

Marno and I had a lovely rump steak to share and he’d also managed to stash two garlic breads for the group in his well-packed Boulder 75L. Unfortunately, Marno became so absorbed in taking a time-lapse video of the sunset that I had to braai our steak for us. Fortunately, I’m quite capable of doing so and with a little help from the bosbouer, timed it well.

I braved a shower just before bed time, having reasoned that I would be smoky after our braai, which I was. It was magical to have the forest all to myself that night and although the shower itself was very fresh, I felt wonderfully alive when I climbed into my sleeping bag in the tent that Talitha and I were sharing.

My only disappointment is that we never did have our Otter Trail dance evening, despite four or five of us being avid ballroom and latin, salsa and/or sokkie dancers!


To continue reading about our Otter Trail adventure, read Day 2 next.


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