(Article first published on ChasingTheRainbow.net)

Now this is something that most people probably don’t want to do, so perhaps our story will help those of you who think it’s a bad idea to lose your kids, and to prevent it from happening to you …

Here are three easy steps on how to lose your kids on the Otter Trail:

1.   Go on the Otter Trail

The first step is to take your kids hiking on the Otter Trail (although any other hiking trail would probably also do). The Otter Trail starts at the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp in the Tsitsikamma National Park and is widely known as one of South Africa’s top hikes.

We decided to do the first section of the trail, known as the Waterfall Day Trail. This takes you along the coastline to a waterfall and then instead of carrying on with the 3-day full trail, you head back again.

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The start of the Otter Trail

2.   Show your age

We’ve been on a lot of hikes, but this one took us by surprise. It starts out all hunky dory with a pretty path through the forest. After a few manageable ups and downs, you end up on the rocky coastline, and this is where the fun begins. The rest of the hike is kind of like jumping across kilometres of stepping stones. You have to carefully balance on rocks and scramble up and down boulders, following the yellow painted otter’s claws which give a vague indication of the direction, rather than pointing out an actual path.

The kids sprung ahead like rock rabbits

The views are incredible – crystal clear rock pools between white rocks growing red lichen with crashing waves behind them. But it won’t be long before your quads and calves start screaming in protest. This only affects those over a certain age. Our kid’s legs were none the worse for wear. They sprung ahead of us like rock rabbits and felt nothing telling us how slow we were, that we were old farts and couldn’t we please go a bit quicker as we were wasting their time. So they would shoot ahead of us, and then sit and wait for us to catch up.

Waiting for the old folk

3.   Don’t stop at the cave

A couple of kilometres into the hike there is a large cave, filled with bats and looking ominously inviting. When we reached the entrance, our kids were nowhere to be seen and we were quite peeved that they had gone on without us, as we would have liked to explore the dark depths of the cave.  So we motored, old fart style, up the wooden ladder next to the cave and went as fast as our aching legs could carry us to try and catch up to our little klipspringers.

The yellow otter’s paw pointed an approximate path toward the ladder by the cave

It was at this point that I started to wonder where the hell this waterfall was. We seemed to have hiked for absolute ages already, and we still had to make our way back along the same treacherous route. For every laboured step we were taking, there would be another matching step homeward. I hadn’t timed this hike properly, lunchtime was approaching and I hadn’t packed anything to eat or drink except for a few bruised apples and mini Ceres. According to the map, the cave was about half way, and we had walked a looooong way from there already.

According to the map, the cave was about half way, and we had walked a looooong way from there already.

And where were the kids? We have told them many times not to lose sight of each other or us, to stay as a group, but they were nowhere to be seen.

As we scrambled past the couple who was walking in front of us, I asked them if they had seen our kids. Clearly they were not from South Africa, and not English. So I gesticulated three head heights then shrugged my shoulders while lifting my arms palms up and got the message through. The lady pointed backwards and stuttered a word that sounded like “cave”. And that’s when it dawned on me.

What if the kids didn’t run on ahead, but went into the cave to explore, just as we walked past?

Now what? Should we continue to the waterfall, hoping to find them on the way, or did we turn back to the cave? What if they were actually ahead of us? We had come a fair distance from the cave already.

As we sat and contemplated and panicked, another couple walked past us. Had they seen our kids I said and gesticulated. No, they said and shook their heads in disgust at our poor parenting. Oh dear.

The kids had explored the cave and then come out and waited for us

So we played a game of “if you were Jacob, what would you do?” Both of us decided that wearing our Jacob hats, we would head to the waterfall as that was our agreed destination. As we geared our weary legs to walk again, and bent to pick up our backpacks, we saw three brown haired heads bobbing into view on the path behind us.

It was the kids! What an immense relief.  The kids had explored the cave and then come out and waited for us. When we never arrived, they had made the decision to go to the waterfall as that was the agreed destination. They were in as much of a panic as were we.

Lesson learned – when hiking together, stay together. Don’t lose sight of each other. And don’t run ahead.

We pushed on towards the elusive waterfall, and all of a sudden it appeared out of nowhere – mystical and beautiful and completely out of place on the rugged coastline. We sat and enjoyed being in that magic place at that moment, before heading home and willing our bodies to carry us back over the challenging terrain.

All in all a hard but rewarding hike and a life lesson learned by us all.

We made it to the magical waterfall