How to conquer a five day hut to hut Oteniqua hike
The ONLY all Girl Squad to ever take on the Outeniqua Mountains
Are you ready to exchange your huge and comfy bed for a bunk bed, wake up to singing birds, be in the company of baboons and elephants the whole day and be ushered into the night by the full moon? Then you better start packing for the lovely Outeniqua mountains. These mountains have a trick or two to show you and a daily lesson in store just for you. However, for you to be alive to tell the tale you need to check out the following guidelines to conquering these magnificent mountains:
They said winter is the great season for hiking, especially long hikes and we listened. However, we went just as autumn was about to end. It worked very well as we left the huts while it was still early and chilly and even during the day it did not become too hot but just right and it would be cold again in the afternoon. We only encountered one very cold night but our sleeping bags came to our rescue.
What to pack
It is always important to do your research. This was going to be the first long hike that we had to do carrying our backpacks with all our supplies for the 5 days, so we went to the nearest Cape Union Store and we were met by Clifford who made sure that he provided us with everything we will need from equipment, clothing and even meals (shout out to the Cape Union staff in Mall of Africa).
Armed with all the information we required, it was easy to pick what we needed and what we did not need especially for this type of an adventure. Listed below is all that we fitted in our 65 litre back packs:
• Sleeping bags
• light pants, tights and shorts (that we never used).
• Body warmers/normal T/shirts and vests
• Light and warm Jackets
• Hiking boots/shoes and sandals
• Hiking socks (they play a very significant role
• Hiking poles
• Head and normal torches
• Caps and Bush hats
• Light camping pots
• Camping Gas Stove
• Plastic Bowls
• Plastic plates
• Plastic mugs
• Water Bottles
Water purification tablets
• Assorted dry freeze packs (mash, meat and veggies)
• Instant Oats
• Instant noodles
• Cashew nuts
• Cup -a -soup
• Energy drink powder
• Energy bars
• Chocolate bars
How to get there
Depending on which part of South Africa you will be coming from, all modes of transport can get you there. We flew to George from Johannesburg, then caught a lift from the other crew members who drove from Cape Town to Hakerville (the finishing point) where we left our car and then booked a shuttle from Dennis Tours for R680 for the four of us to the starting point. No cars are allowed in some of the huts and besides that, there are no securities on site to look after your car while you are gone. Only in Hakerville you will have that option.
Where to stay during the hike
For each leg of the hike whether you decide to start from the beginning of the Outeniqua trail or start in the middle, there are cabins also referred to as ‘huts’. These huts are managed by SANPARKS (Knysna) and they can be contacted on 044 302 5606. Each day hike starts at one hut to the next, so we started at Platbos which is the third hut of the trail and finished at Hakerville which is the last hut. All these huts had almost similar features, the only difference was that some had electricity and hot water and some did not have. These included:
• Bunk beds with matrasses
• Hot/ cold running water
• Running water
• Flushing Toilet
• Toilet Paper
• Fire place
• Braai with grid
• Tables and chairs
• Washing line
• Rubbish bins
Where to eat on the trail
On this hike, your best bet would be to bring your own food because there is only one functioning Tea Garden on the trail. I must say with the selection of food we had, we were almost satisfied though we could have done with a little bit of a variety on cereals. On the fourth day of the hike, having the same breakfast does get to you just a little bit. We missed fruits though we also were happy we had not brought some because of the weight fears. However, because now we know what are the real essentials to bring, we definitely can afford to have fruit even if it is just for 3days out of five.
Trail: Platbos – Milkwood Hut
Distance: 16km (though my smart watch recorded 24km)
Duration: 7-8 hours
Due to some last minute shopping we started our way to the starting point at night, fortunate enough the gates were not closed so the shuttle managed to take us straight to the hut instead of having to walk for 1,8km carrying those not so light hiking bags of ours. On arrival we found a very vibrant group of an all Boys team from Port Elizaberth that was there on a Team Building session. They welcomed us with warm hands and had to move some of their stuff because they had already allocated themselves all the huts. Because there was no electricity, there was not much to do except to sleep after preparing for the morning.
In the morning we woke up, had breakfast (very important) to ensure that we have enough energy to take on the morning adventure. We left the huts a little bit late, at 08:30. When leaving the hut because the other group was also leaving we did not bother checking the details we just followed their lead (worst mistake) and a start of a series on unfortunate events that were to follow. Some 95 minutes into the hike we discovered that we missed a turn which meant we had to turn back and re-trace our steps but that was not going to help because there was no way we were going to find the turn because an elephant had knocked the sign out the previous day according to the Park Ranger. After he took us to the turn the fun stuff began, we were well on our way without any hiccups until the sun sat on us being nowhere near the next hut. Things got worse when one of the crew members fell and got injured and we had to find our way in the dark. I have never walked that much in my entire life. My feet were not having it, all I wanted was to get to the destination but that was not going to be that easy.
When we realized that no matter how fast we tried to walk the hut was still too far gathering from the Information we got from the members that were in front of us, we decided to just take a break in the middle of a one way road and started taking pain killers as the whole body was now aching, my heels had started to feel like I was stepping on needles with every step I was taking. Fortunately it was a full moon and I must say that played a magic trick on our minds as it made it look like it was still OK to be in the forest at that hour. You have never been tired and partly hopeless until you had to start admiring the stars while still trying to walk faster just to get your mind off the fact that you are still miles away from the promised land. When we finally got there it was already 20:30 which should tell you that I was on my feet for 12 hours. Fortunately, there was hot water which made a world of difference to the aching body. After having super we took all the pain killers we could find just to get through the night. I blame most of this to the poor signage on the route and the miscalculations on the length of the trail.
Trail: Milkwood – Rondebosie Hut
Distance: 17km (though my smart watch recorded 22km)
Duration: 7 – 8 hours
Because of the previous days experience we wanted to leave extra early the next day but that never materialized. We went about our morning routine and only got to leave the hut after 08:00. When we left it was raining but that did not deter us, furthermore, as the morning progressed the rain stopped. The second leg of the hike had so many steeps so we spent most of the time climbing than going down. Needless to say the sun went down on us for the second time and they was not a very good feeling. We managed to spare 2 hours from the previous day’s time. When we got to the second hut, everyone was sitting around the fire, we joined in as we prepared our food. All in all it was a good cold night.
Trail: Rondebossie – Diepvale
Duration: 6 hours
So on this day the other team was going home and were going to take a different route, which meant we will be using our own route and we will be navigating on our own from the start. So we left the huts at 09:00 and slowly made our way into the forest but some 45 minutes later we realized that we were on a wrong route, we tried a few that seemed promising. As we were about to return to the hut to check where we missed it a Ranger came to our rescue. He pointed us to the right direction and we were well on our way. Just a few minutes after commencing our hike we came across a congress of baboons. We were so uncomfortable that we had to sit for a while just to make sure that the trail was clear. This was by far the route with the most spectacular views. The lush forests and the majestic Outeniqua mountains showcase it’s beauty. This is also the day where we experienced a lot of body aches but the enjoyment outweighed all the pain. When we arrived at the hut there was a big competition going on where some people were running 3 times the kilometers we covered that day.
Trail: Diepvale – Fisantehoek
Duration: 7-8 hours
So this day had to be the most dramatic day of all. We woke up, got ready to hit the road. Everything started out nicely until after 4km into the hike when we missed a turn. What happened is that the squad member that got injured had not fully recovered so the idea was that she should lead the way so that she is not left behind (big mistake). So we were busy admiring the lovely trail taking pictures and having a heated conversation when we realized that we might have missed a turn and lost our Friend. So we argued about maybe there was a turn we missed or she moved waaaay faster and lost us, so we agreed to continue on the straight road which later led us to a dead end, an hour later. So we had to go back and we found the turn, at this point we agreed that it was lunch time, so we enjoyed our lunch and we were back on the trail. We only caught up with our friend when we got to the hut (poor child).
Trail: Fisantehoek – Hakerville
Duration: 5 hours
The previous night we all slept knowing that we were going for the last lap in the morning. This was the shortest trail and we did it in 5 hours. It was fun, easy though there were parts that had us wondering if we’d ever get to the finish line. It crosses the N2 and I must say the sound of so many cars after so many days of being in the bushes and only seeing just a few cars was what kept us going. It kept the hope of going home alive.
Upon finishing the hike the first thing we did was take off the hiking boots and made our way to a local quick service restaurant known for its Flame grilled burgers because the majority of the crew wanted nothing but very meaty burgers, and boy did we attack those burgers. When we felt like human again we proceeded to our accommodation for the night.
After having the well deserved rest, we freshened up and hit the streets of Knysna. We went to have dinner at the waterfront to celebrate the completion of the gruelling Oteniqua Hike, a experience to cherish forever. It felt so great to have taken on this giant adventure and had to experience it in our very own country.