A road-trip and coast-line trek with one my best-friends
Holidays this time! Although I have been to South Africa several times for business, this time I’m off for some time with my good friend Eben, living in Midrand near Johannesburg. We worked together at PSAV in Europe a few years ago and stayed in touch ever since. On my previous business trips to SA, I hired Eben, as he’s now running is AV company and we had came up with the plan to complete the Otter Trail, considered as the best hike in South Africa.
One thing you notice in South Africa is although the Apartheid is over since 1994 you still feel a strong separation in all sectors of life between the various ethnies in the country and some places still feel very colonial. Basically, apart from the government the whites command and the blacks execute and although there are “positive discrimination” laws (which are now discriminating to whites), it will take ages to balance out.
For these geo-political reasons, the beauty of the land and its situation on the map, I have been fascinated by this country since the first time I came here and looking forward to these two next weeks.
After having gathered all the food we needed for the hike and double checking our gear we head off for a 1200 km road trip to the south coast, pretty much where the green Atlantic and blue Indian oceans meet. Stopping for lunch in Bloemfontein and then for the night in Graaf-Reinet, driving through desert mountain-land red-colored scenery, reminding me the landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico in the US.
The first day is a two-hour walk to get to the first hut, so we leave in the middle of the afternoon. These first hours are a good introduction to the terrain we’ll be following, up from the top of the cliffs down to the beach and up again, down again. Will be intense on the calves!
As the Otter Trail is in the Tsitsikamma National park, it needs to be used with precaution and managed durably, you’re only allowed to sleep in the official huts along the trail and as it is very popular, you need to book in advance as only 12 people can hike each portion per day. The guarantee of having the area for your self! As each individual group goes according to their own schedule.
Each night-over stop has a large barbecue area, the “Braai” as they name it here. So we started the fire as well as one of the two 3-litres wine bags we had with us. The other groups went to bed pretty early and as the evening went along, Eben and myself chatting our way around the Braai and enjoying our meat and wine. At some point feeling more and more tipsy, Eben mentioned we might go to bed, I totally agreed, mentioning we might have been a bit noisy, actually Eben was just pointing out that it’s mainly because the both of us had finished the 3 litres of wine… Oups!
Next morning after a bit of a stiff awake and some dislikefull looks from the British sharing our hut (we must have been a bit noisy!); we head off for a 6-hour walk up and down along the Indian Ocean coast, indulging the scenery and horizon.
The next couple of days happen at the same pace, walking up and down, chatting, laughing, our bags getting lighter as we eat the contents and the walking distances grow… The sceneries getting evermore breathtaking and changing every hour with the sun revolving in the sky… Having to cross rivers according to the tides…taking some refreshing swims on desert beaches… getting our trailmix stolen by seagulls…
On the third night, as we near the end of our wine and start doubting about the freshness of out meat we see a sign in the hut that mentions we can call a Ranger (that’s if you manage to find mobile network) that can bring meat, sausages and beers for the last night…
Next day we leave as the sun rises as we need to cross another tidal river while it's low. En route, we call the Ranger while standing at the top of a cliff and place an order for the last night communal Braai.
The last huts are placed on a stony rough beach, swept by strong winds but with wonderful natural wildness from the ocean. The position of the toilet cabinet has been placed quite accordingly…
By the end of the afternoon after a swim and a rest, the Ranger gets there with loads of meat and beer, having hiked 3 hours with 50 kilos on his back.
View from the loo...!
Eben fine tuning our Braii!
Next day we complete the last 5 hours of the trail...
... have lunch at a local pub and then head-off for a road trip back to Johannesburg.
After hesitating at accomplishing the highest bungy jump in the world, off Blouwkrants bridge, I renounce, already done the highest in Europe and the money would be better spent at having a couple of beers on the stunning terrace of a pub overlooking the wonderfull Pletenburg Bay, then drive off to Jeffrey's Bay, SA's surfers paradise where we sopend the night.
After visiting Addo Elephant National Park, we're back on the dirt roads for the next few hours before having lunch in Somerset East, in the middle of nowhere, as most of the places out here…
Then the long drive back north with numerous “stop and go’s” on the highway. As the authorities proceed with road works they block off entire portions of the road, making you stop for over 30 minutes at places, while the opposite traffic passes through the only available lane.