Exploring KZN’s green spaces: four sustainable activities in Kosi Bay

Posted by Jo Sobey on 4 October 2013

Kosi Bay looks like one of those places where time stands still. Open grasslands undulate towards verdant coastal forests. Dark rivers are lined with striking Raffia Palms and vegetation of the richest green. A series of deep blue lakes fringed with tropical turquoise pours into a sandy estuary, which in turn flows into the Indian Ocean in transparent hues of jade.

Landscapes of Kosi bay

Kosi Bay Nature Reserve seems to belong to its countless birds and butterflies, hippos and crocs. It is, in general, a place where people work with nature rather than steamrolling over it. The reserve is the northernmost part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (one of South Africa’s World Heritage Sites) and it truly is a place of wonder.

Travelling responsibly in Kosi

Bearing in mind the extraordinary worth of the Kosi environment and being aware of the privilege of visiting there, we thought it prudent (and best practice) to go the responsible travel route. As such, we chose the most sustainable activities we could find in an effort to leave the place as we found it: as if we’d never been there. Here are four “green” activities we tried and would heartily recommend.



Four sustainable activities in Kosi Bay


1.     Walking the trails in Kosi Bay Nature Reserve

Trail walking at Kosi Bay

Walking in Kosi is an adventurous pursuit. You don’t have to worry about encountering the Big Five, but the reserve is home to a healthy population of hippos and crocodiles. Daytime walking is usually fine (and highly rewarding), provided you keep your wits about you and remember: should a hippo come barging out of the undergrowth, climb the nearest sturdy tree.

Rough trails wind through the cool indigenous forests, Umdoni-dotted grasslands, muddy wetlands and alongside the picturesque rivers and lakes. Walking is a satisfying way to see the subtropical beauty of the Kosi region and a real delight for birders. There are over 250 bird species including the rare Palm-nut Vulture (which to the untrained eye looks more like an eagle).



2.     Kayaking on the Siyadla River

A kayak trip on the Siyadla River grants an uncommon perspective of life on the water and a wonderful way to see the flora and fauna of the riverine world.

The river is dark, almost black, which can be a little disconcerting as you can’t see through the water. However, it possesses a distinct sense of peace and a restorative quiet that creates an almost enchanting experience.

Statuesque Raffia Palms and lush, green vegetation border the Siyadla’s banks. Kingfishers perch on palm fronds and fish eagles keep watch from bare branches, waiting for their next meal. Pretty purple water lilies float on the edges of the water.

Kayaking on the Siyadla River

The Siyadla River drains into the Amanzamnyama Lake (lake of black water), the first of the four lakes in the Kosi system. If the wind is calm, the kayak trip can be extended to include paddling on the lake.



3.     Snorkelling at Kosi Mouth

Snorkelling at Kosi Mouth is a bit like snorkelling in the Seychelles. It’s warm enough to swim wetsuit-free, the visibility is generally good and there are lots of underwater excitements to see. Also, the view is inspiring.

Snorkelling at Kosi Mouth

Of course at Kosi there are hippos, crocodiles and Zambezi sharks, but the coral outcrop where you snorkel is generally free of these.

As you’d expect, the mouth (and thus the snorkelling) is affected by the sea tides. Some people recommend snorkelling at high tide as you’re conveniently pushed upstream and don’t have to work against the estuary current. I was happy to snorkel at low tide as it was shallower and I could easily see “the aquarium”.

During low tide you have to swim close to the edge of the water to get out of the way of the downstream current, which pulls like a train. In retrospect I wish I had done a brief study of what to expect in the estuary because it’s like a variety show in there. All manner of darting fish, waving Devil firefish and gaping eels.



4.     Day out at Kosi Beach

Channel at Kosi Mouth

Kosi Beach is a great place to spend the day. We took a picnic, set it up under a palm tree next to one of the channels and relaxed in the shade. The channels are transparent and warm, lovely for wallowing in while the tide is low. The beach itself is an iSimangaliso classic: kilometres of vegetated sand dunes and transparent breakers as far as the eye can see. If you have a lot of time and are feeling energetic you can walk up the coast to Mozambique via the beach. Swimming in the sea is very much at your own risk as Kosi is apparently a favourite haunt of Zambezi sharks.


Kosi Bay activity planner

Sustainable activities at Kosi Bay

There is luxury, self-catering and camping accommodation available in Kosi Bay. Provided that you have a 4×4, walking trails, snorkelling at the mouth and visits to Kosi Beach can be done in your own capacity. Kayaking is offered by Kosi Forest Lodge and Amangwane.

Luxury accommodation and activities

We stayed at the lovely Kosi Forest Lodge. Kosi Forest Lodge is an isibindi Africa property that works with the local community, providing jobs and training in the hospitality industry. The lodge offers guided walks, kayaking on the Siyadla River, snorkelling at Kosi Mouth and turtle tours in season. Walking and kayaking are included with the basic accommodation package. Further activities are available at an additional cost.

Self-catering accommodation and activities

Amangwane is a joint community development venture with rustic reed chalet accommodation, and is one of our top 15 eco-hotels in South Africa. A catered option is available. Activities include kayaking, snorkelling, fish trap visits and turtle tours.

Ezemvelo Wildlife has a campsite and three self-catering chalets located on Lake Nhlange, the biggest lake in the system. Guests are free to choose their own activities given that they abide by Ezemvelo’s regulations.

A note on toilet facilities: on my last visit the toilet facilities at Kosi Mouth were in dire condition. Do your best not to use them.

Ideas for responsible travel at Kosi Bay

  • Use biodegradable sunscreens, deodorants and body products.
  • Reuse your water bottle rather than buying new bottled water and recycle the bottle when you get home.
  • Choose non-motorised activities as far as possible.
  • Book accommodation at a property that works with the local community in a meaningful way and is involved in conservation efforts.
  • Talk to your hosts about the carbon footprint of their lodge/chalets/campsite. Conscious travellers catalyse conscious service providers.
  • As always, don’t feed the monkeys. Take your left-overs and rubbish home with you.

Have you been to Kosi Bay? What responsible travel activities would you recommend?

Find accommodation in Kosi Bay here

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