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Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park is best known to hikers as the start of the famous Otter Trail; the strenuous, multi-day trail which follows the craggy coastline all the way to Nature's Valley. The park is also well-known for its spectacular coastal scenery, and is home to one of the country's oldest no-take marine protected areas.
Storms River Mouth highlights
- Enjoy stunning coastal scenery in the Garden Route National Park.
- Take the iconic suspension bridge over the Storms River Mouth.
- Complete one of a number of short hikes in the area with amazing views.
- Spot nesting pairs of African Black Oystercatchers, one of South Africa's most endangered birds, on the rocky shores, and the shy Cape Clawless Otter hunting crabs on the coastline.
- Look out for dolphins frolicking in the surf and migrating Southern Right Whales passing close by.
Storms River Mouth and the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park
The Storms River Mouth is an iconic landmark within the beautiful Garden Route National Park. The park itself is split into a number of different sections; the Wilderness Section incorporating areas of coastline around Wilderness, Knysna Lakes that also includes the lush, indigenous Afromontane forests that stretch inland from Knysna toward the Outeniqua Mountains, and the Tsitsikamma Section.
The Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park is home to the idyllic coastal areas around Nature's Valley and Storms River, but that is not all. Stretching offshore for a distance of 5km and covering an area of 360km², the Tsitsikamma National Park Marine Protected Area (TNP-MPA) is one of South Africa's largest and oldest MPAs. It protects large expanses of low to high profile reef with depths of up to 85m. This coastal section is home to a number of temperate fish and invertebrate species as well as passage for migrating Southern Right Whales. Along the rocky shoreline, nesting pairs of African Black Oystercatchers can be seen foraging for invertebrates with their long forcep-like beaks, and the shy Cape Clawless Otter (namesake of the famous multi-day Otter Trail) can also be spotted.
The rest camp at Storms River Mouth and surrounding area is the ideal holiday or day trip destination for nature lovers. As well as simply enjoying the raw beauty of the rocky coastline, fynbos- and forest-covered hills, a number of relatively short hiking trails begin and end at the rest camp and of course, the iconic suspension bridge over Storms River Mouth itself is a big draw card for visitors.
Hiking the Storms River Mouth
We've both spent quite a bit of time in the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park over the years, and one of our favouite day-trips in this region is the short hike across the Storms River Mouth suspension bridge and up onto a viewing platform on the top of the cliffs.
The rugged coastline makes for some steep sections to the trail but the view from the top is more than reward enough for your efforts. With an east-west orientation, the coastline with its fynbos-covered clifftops and forested gullies and slopes continue unbroken in both directions and to the west one can just make out Plettenberg Bay's Robberg Peninsular. Immediately below, dark blue waves leave the rocky shore fringed with a foam skirt while Cape Fur Seals frolick just past the breakers.
Safely down at sea level again, we like to spend time on the pebble beach listening to the percussion rumble as the stones shift with the waves on the shore before venturing out onto the suspension bridge once more. The middle of the bridge is a great place to look upstream into the steep gorge and dark green waters of the Storms River while below you, the turbulent waves wash into the open river mouth.
The trail between the rest camp and suspension bridge is paved and well-marked, and passes a small waterfall before leading through a short green forested corridor. Take your time along this section to pause at clearings in the vegetation and enjoy the views up the coastline. Along this section the path splits into a low trail that offers easy going for the less-fit or energetic, and a high path that, together with very steep stairs, offers a unique perspective of the suspension bridge below.
Once past the bridge and pebble beach, follow the path for a few metres into the forest. Keep an eye out for a route marker that will point to to the right and onto the path that leads up the crags. This section is really steep! There are a number of staircases along the way and some great spots to stop for a photo, but beware, there are no hand rails and the edge is not to be trusted. Finally you'll reach the top of the climb and then it's just a short path through the fynbos to the lookout deck.
A day at the Storms River Mouth is one that is best not rushed, as this section of the Garden Route National Park offers plenty more than hiking. We would recommend some time spent exploring the rocky shoreline or playing on the sandy beach near the boat launch site. There are also a number of activities on offer including kayaking up the Storms River, ocean boat and scuba diving trips or a forest canopy tour departing from nearby Storms River Village. And then of course, nothing says "beach holiday" quite like an ice cream from the rest camp's curio shop after your day of exploring!
Important information for hikers
Approximate trail distances: Four circular hiking trails start in the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp, ranging in distance from 1-6 km. They are the Mouth Trail to the suspension bridge over the Storms River Mouth (2km, 1 hour), the Lourie Trail into the indigenous forest (1km, 1 hour), the longer Blue Duiker Trail (3,7km, 2 hours) into the heart of the forest, and the Waterfall Trail (6km, 3 hours) that leads to a spectacular waterfall along the Otter Trail's first day's route.
Approximate time: Trails can be walked at your own pace, but as a guide the shortest trails can be completed within an hour and the longer Waterfall Trail in approximately three hours.
Difficulty: The Waterfall Trail is the most strenuous of the hiking trails. Because it follows the coastline, hikers must take note of the tides and time their walk with low tide.
Permit Details: All trails are within the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park. Park entry fees apply, although the hiking trails are free. For current fees consult the SANParks website. 2017 fees are as follows:
- South African citizens and residents: R49 per adult per day, R24 per child per day.
- SADC nationals: R98 per adult per day, R49 per child per day
- Standard conservation fee: R196 per adult per day, R98 per child, per day.
Map of Storms River Mouth
What to pack
- Good hiking boots.
- Sun cream.
- Water (there are no water points along the way).
- Cell phone with saved emergency numbers and power bank.
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When to go
Hiking in the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park is open all year round. The summer months on the Garden Route can get quite hot, while the cooler spring, winter and autumn months are a lot more comfortable for walking.
The Mouth hiking trail is well-marked and easy to follow. However, beware in wet conditions as there are loads of steps along the way which get slippery. There are also sections of the trail that hug the edge of some pretty serious drop-offs, so be sure to be vigilant on these stretches.
Storms River Mouth GPS co-ordinates: S 34 01’ 18.8” E 23 53’ 47.9”. The Tsitsikamma Section of the GRNP can be accessed via a tarred road from the N2 national freeway. The closest cities are Port Elizabeth to the east and Plettenberg Bay to the west.
Details to keep on hand
For accommodation at the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp and other inquiries make use of the SANParks website or phone +27 (0) 42 281 1607.