Kosi Bay and the Elephant Coast are among the most unique and beautiful jewels in KwaZulu-Natal's illustrious quiver of natural attractions. One of the best ways to experience this area (as with so many areas in KwaZulu-Natal) is on foot, which is why we're about to recommend that you do everything you can to get yourself onto the epic Kosi Bay Slackpacking Trail!
To visit the Kosi Bay estuary and lakes feels like a step back in time. This beautiful estuary system, which consists of four interlinking lakes that open to the sea, is a piece of the Africa of old. Here flamingos feed in the shallows, hippos soak in the water and the local Thonga people still construct their iconic fish traps along the shores. This is a piece of lost Africa, and you feel as if you are the first to discover it.
Kosi Bay is situated in the northern-most region of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It is vitally important as a habitat for a number of rare or endangered species including the unusual Palmnut vulture, and Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles that use Kosi Bay's sandy beaches to lay their eggs every year.
Visitors are drawn to the Kosi Bay lakes and coastline for its remoteness and natural environment. A visit to this region is truly memorable, and what better way to explore all that Kosi Bay has to offer than on a multi-day hiking trail?
The Kosi Bay Slackpacking Trail
At Kosi Bay, the ancient Thonga fishing community that live around the lakes is as much a part of this unique ecosystem as the natural attractions of the lakes themselves. The Kosi Bay Slackpacking Trail is led by local guides who share, not only their knowledge of the ecology of the area but also their culture and heritage as well. From watching the local fisherman spear a prize mullet in their traditional fish kraals to seeing the loggerhead turtles waddle ashore to lay their eggs (in Nov – March), snorkeling in a natural aquarium or tasting locally brewed Lala palm wine, there is quite literally too much to explore in the area in one go!
One of the huge advantages of a slackpacking trail is that bags are ferried between overnight camps for you. During the day hikers can meander their way through the varied habitats of Kosi Bay, from isolated beaches to cool dune forest, through open savannah and wetlands (covering a distance of 10-17km per day) without the burden of a heavy pack.
Kosi Bay Highlights
- Snorkel Aquarium Reef at Kosi Bay mouth – a world-class experience.
- Explore Kosi lakes on a boat cruise.
- Visit and learn about the traditional Thonga fish traps.
- Experience the cool quiet of the ancient fern forests, towering Raphia palm forest and rare cycads.
- Climb a 65-metre high dune, and enjoy coastal views into Mozambique.
- Relax in the rustic charm of the overnight bush and beach camps.
- Explore beautiful Black Rock and other secluded beaches in the area.
- In season: An opportunity to watch the loggerhead and leatherback turtles come ashore to nest, and the hatchlings make their treacherous journey back to the ocean.
- Tick off some endemic birds including the rare Palmnut vulture.
- Refresh in the blue waters of a sea that, thanks to the warm Mozambican current, is inviting all year around.
The Kosi Bay Slackpacking Trail is offered by Active Escapes, who can design fully customizable trails as well as standard 4, 5 and 6 night hikes. As a taster, the itinerary for the exclusive 5 night/ 3 day hike is described below. This option covers the area from Kosi Mouth across all four lakes finishing at 4th Lake.
5 Night Exclusive Itinerary
Self-drive to Utshwayelo Camp, near Kosi Bay mouth. The camp is accessible by a sedan vehicle and is approximately 8 hours from JHB or 5 hours from Durban. Overnight: Utshwayelo Beach Camp.
Hike Day 1:
eKovukeni Peninsula Hike. Hike Distance: 12-15 km // Approx 4-5hr Hike.
Enjoy a birds-eye view of the Thonga fishtrap mosaic on Kosi estuary before making your way down to the Kalu inlet. Here you will cross over the estuary onto eKovukeni peninsula. The peninsula is covered in mangal forest and makes for an impressive backdrop. The path soon makes its way onto the coastal dunes with 360 degree views over the ocean and back onto the Kosi Lake system. From here you will hike back to the mouth where you can enjoy snorkeling in a natural aquarium before heading back to Utshwayelo. Overnight: Utshwayelo Beach Camp.
Hike Day 2:
Lake Zilonde Circular Loop Hike Distance: 9.5 km to Kosi Mouth + 3km back up to Utshwayelo // Approx 4hr Hike.
The lake Zilonde loop takes you close to the Mozambican border, traversing mangal swamp and fern forest. At one point the path climbs a 65m high dune which offer stunning views before pressing onward over prehistoric coral dunes (interesting corals & plant communities to see) down to the ocean. The trail continues back along flat beach to Kosi Mouth where you can end off your day snorkelling in the virtual aquarium that is the Kosi Bay Mouth – an important breeding ground and nursery for many species of tropical fish, eels and bait fish. It doesn’t really get much better than this! Overnight: Utshwayelo Beach Camp.
Hike Day 3:
Utshwayelo – Kosi Bay Lodge with 3 Lakes Boat Charter Hike Distance: +/- 7km hiking /2.5hr boat trip / 5-6hr total time.
The hike heads back down to the Kosi estuary, across the river and onto the eKovukeni peninsula. From here you work your way south to 1st Lake where a boat is waiting to ferry you though the channels. This is an experience in itself and also comes with the opportunity to snorkel in the along the way. The boat will eventually make landfall on the inland (western shore) of 3rd Lake where you will continue your hike up to Kosi Bay Lodge. Overnight: Kosi Bay Lodge.
Hike Day 4:
Kosi Bay Lodge (3rd lake) to Kosi Forest Lodge (4th Lake). Hike Distance: +/- 12km hike & 6km boat-trip// 6-7 hr.
After breakfast, it’s a short stroll down to 3rd Lake where you will hop back onto the boat to head across 3rd lake to Bhanga Nek. Colbert, your next guide will be waiting here. We would recommend heading down to the beach for a swim to get the day started. Next up you will hike along the shores of 3rd Lake and enter the Giant Raffia Palm forest before crossing between 3rd and 4th Lake on a raffia pont.
Kayak on Siyadla River. Transfer back to Utshwayelo.
The final day is a short day starting off with a trek down the hill to Siyadla River. Canoes will be standing by for you to paddle yourself up the Siyadla and into 4th Lake. After a late-ish breakfast (10am) Utshwayelo will send a vehicle to collect and transfer everyone back to the starting point (approx. 45min).
Total Trail Distance (4 night/3 day hike): 43 km.
Approximate Time (per day): 3 – 6 hr hike time.
Guides: A local guide is provided on all the hikes – included in the package.
Fully Supported: Overnight in rustically charming bush and beach camps, with luggage transferred between camps and full catering provided.
When to go:
Summers in northern KwaZulu-Natal can be extremely hot and humid. If you are prepared to start your day early and don’t mind the heat, then this trail can be offered in summer (Nov-February), but the cooler months of April – November are more comfortable for hiking. Winters in the area are mild and dry. Humpback whales can be seen off the coast from June to December. The turtle nesting season runs from November to early March, and this is also the best time of year for wading birds.
Utshwayelo Camp is the start/end point for the hikes and it is accessible by a normal sedan vehicle. It is about an 8 hour drive from Johannesburg and 4.5 hours from Durban on reasonable tar roads. If you are planning on flying in, Richards Bay is the closest airport (approx 3.5 hour drive), followed by King Shaka International Airport (4-4.5 hours drive). For small groups, hiring a car from these airports is cheaper than arranging for a private transfer.
Hikers will be accompanied by a local guide on all hike days. The area is part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and hippos are perhaps the most dangerous of the wildlife that could be encountered here.
Kosi Bay is classified as a medium risk Malaria area. Consult your doctor for advice on malarial prophylactics. You are advised to take the usual precautions against mosquito bites at dawn/dusk such as using insect repellent, wearing long sleeved shirts and pants and sleeping under a mosquito net (provided by the camps).
What to Pack:
On this fully supported catered trail, bedding and meals are provided for, but guests must bring their own towel. The camps provide a well stocked cash bar based on your drink preferences.
Bringing your own snorkel equipment is recommended, alternatively gear can be hired from Utshwayelo Camp for a small fee.
Don’t forget your bird book and binoculars too!