6 Reasons to Love The Otter African Trail Run

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Reasons to love Otter African Trail Run 6 Reasons to Love The Otter African Trail Run www.runnerclick.com

The Otter African Trail Run is one of the most well known single day trail runs in South Africa, and popular worldwide among trail runners. For this reason the Otter will be the grand final race in the 2018 five-race Golden Trail Series.  

According to their website, the Golden Trail Series is comprised of races “specifically selected because of the scenery, the challenge, the history and the atmosphere that they offer to both the runners and to the public. These are the races that every runner wants to experience and some of the first written on any runner’s bucket list.”

For runners that have had the privilege to take part in the Otter, it can be attested that this race most certainly belongs at the top of that bucket list. Here’s why:

Otter trail – Tsitsikama“. By Dave Lonsdale. Licenced under CC BY 2.0

It is Beautiful

The Otter African Trail Run follows the iconic hiking route of South Africa’s oldest official hiking trail, similarly named the Otter Hiking Trail. The trail was inaugurated in 1968 and named after the elusive euryhaline mammal, the Cape clawless otter.

The Otter hiking trail is a five day hike, one of the most popular trails in South Africa and known world-wide. Many hikers return repeatedly, even though the waiting time to get yourself a time slot is usually longer than a year.  

The hiking route stretches from Storms River Mouth Rest Camp westward for about 43 km to the Groot River estuary at Nature’s Valley. This is the route followed by the Classic Otter run, while the route is run in reverse during alternating Retto runs.

“Ranná túra pralesom v Tsitsikamma” by Peter Chovanec. Licenced under CC BY 2.0.

The beauty of the trail lies in the diversity of landscapes, surfaces and scenery. It encompasses the best of two worlds: pristine sea shores and the lush forest. Scenery changes constantly, from stretches of fynbos to caves, tea-colored forest-derived ravines, waterfalls and sandy or pebble-strewn beaches.

The fast- and ever-changing weather along the coast adds drama to the scenery and the way it is experienced by hiker and runner alike. Early morning usually brings a romantic fog blanket that gently wraps the intimidatingly precipitous coastal cliffs. The area receives up to 800 mm of rain per year, with only July usually being somewhat dry.

Race Organiszation is Suberb

The team of Magnetic South, in cooperation with South African National Parks and lead sponsor Salomon, has got the organisation and presentation of the race down to an absolute T. Race entries open a year in advance and fills up within hours. For the 440 runners lucky enough to obtain a spot in the race the online entry process is quick, seamless and secure. Regular information and motivational emails are both exciting and terrifying if it is your first Otter. But the team sure knows how to work on a proper build up for this adventure.

It is Tough!

As you would expect from a world class trail run, the Otter is sure to give you a run (and lots of pain, sweat and hard work) for your money. The trail spans a coastal section of the the dramatic Tsitisikamma mountains and Knysna forest, where jagged cliffs were deeply carved out by age-old wooded ravines. This results in ever-oscillating route profile from start to end, with 11 climbs ranging from 50 m to more than a 100 m at a time. It comprises more that 2600 m altitude gain in the form of  7000+ stairs to ascend.

During the race runners will traverse jagged rocky outcrops with  slippery algae in places while white foaming surf intermittently laps at their ankles. They will have to cross four rivers, one of which is a potentially serious swim. The course furthermore covers boulder-strewn beach lines, stretches of sandy river mouths, tree-root clad forest segments and short, exhilarating flats through endemic fynbos.

Crossing Bloukrans River – Otter Trail” by Rick McCharles. Licenced under CC BY 2.0.

The technicality of the terrain is furthermore augmented by the capricious weather along this section of forested western Cape coast. Conditions can vary between hot and humid to rainy with high winds within hours, rendering the logged stair climbing, tree-root hopping and boulder navigating even more treacherous.

… But It is Easy

With all that said about the brutality of the route, the Otter may actually be one of the easier ones, and therefore possibly the quintessential introductory event for novices into the realms of hardcore trail racing.

Otter Trail” by Rick McCharles. Licenced under CC BY 2.0.

As contradictory as it may sound, a number of aspects render the Otter easy(ier):

  • You can’t get lost. The race follows an exceptionally well-marked hiking route, so runners rarely have to navigate themselves.
  • A 2600+m altitude gain spread across 11 logged-stair hills are much easier to manage than two or three steep, technical ascends and descends with the same total gain.  
  • There are at least five water points along the route, not counting numerous fresh streams, which makes for a lighter pack to carry.
  • There are various manned escape routes along the way may, which is reassuring.  

The Bling is Outstanding

As far as it goes for race swag, one would have to search far and wide to beat the Otter. From the locally sourced, printed cotton goody bag to the Salomon-original technical race shirt, the freebies and mementos are handy and of good quality.

Goody bag content usually includes a generous GU ® hamper as well as plenty healthful and environmentally conscious artisan products. Runners also receive a uniquely designed Otter exclusive Buff ®.

Everything speaks of quality and care to enhance an already unforgettable race experience in an exquisite environmental setting. But what really takes the cake is the medal. It is bold and bulky and beautiful, and never will one be prouder to show such a stunner in a medal display.    

The People are Delightful

What probably differentiates the Otter most from any other race is its people. From the moment one sets foot in the race village you realize that the Otter is a one-of-a-kind race. Friendliness, support and cheerfulness abound from the hands-on race directors through every last marshal and volunteer.

Kane Riley finishing Otter 2017. Photo by Nico Scholtz.

Runners are welcomed like family and the impeccable organizing and attention to detail comforts even the most anxious of rookies. When inquiring from the race organizers about how they manage to pull off a race of that magnitude so smoothly, they graciously reply that their greatest achievement lies in their ability to attract the best support in the business. True or not, but the Otter team functions like a well-oiled, joyful machine.

Race briefing the night before is a perfectly choreographed buildup for an exquisitely staged race the next day. And instead of just slapping a medal in finishers hands and waving goodbye after the race, this unforgettable event is suitably wrapped up with a hearty debriefing and awards ceremonial dinner.

The Otter African Trail Run truly is word-class and it is clear to see why Salomon favored this one as the 2018 series Grand Final.


  1. Salomon, Salomon Golden Trail Series, website
  2. Lieb Liebenberg, Otter: Prince of Hiking Trails, Online Publication
  3. Magnetic South, The Otter African Trail Run, website