This unspoilt wilderness is a balm for the weary soul – even before we finally arrived I could feel the busyness of life drifting away. The landscape, dotted with palms and young boys herding cattle – the wonderfully colourful Ngunis, with creative names like ‘flies in the buttermilk’ and ‘the eggs of the lark’ – the big skies and mile upon mile of soft white sand.
Kosi Forest Lodge is a private lodge situated near the upper lakes of the Kosi Lake system in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The lodge is set within a beautiful sand forest on the banks of Lake Shengeza, and offers comfortable, semi-tented accommodation, wonderful cuisine and a host of estuarine, beach and wilderness activities – most with a conservation and cultural emphasis.
The sandy path to our ‘tent’ had me tossing off the shoes and opting for beach thongs, the trees and shrubs alive with bird song.
On arrival we were invited into the shade of a huge Zulu podberry tree (Dialium schlechteri), welcomed with a refreshing drink, a warm handshake and broad smile from Blessing, the Lodge Manager. The sandy path to our ‘tent’ had me tossing off the shoes and opting for beach thongs, the trees and shrubs alive with bird song. Our tent, or rather bush suite, had the feel of ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping), was comfortable and had the added luxury of being completely private and surrounded by nature.
Soon we’re heading out for a guided walk through the magnificent Raffia Palm Forest. Phaqa, our guide, grew up in the area and shares his knowledge of the biodiversity of the forest, including that the Kosi palm (Raphia australis) flowers only once in its life and then dies – thankfully this takes in the region of forty years.
He showed us the fruit in its various stages of ripening and pointed out a tiny palm tree still, its seed still attached.
He showed us the fruit in its various stages of ripening and pointed out a tiny palm tree still, its seed still attached. We glance up to see an adult palmnut vulture alighting from the crown of a fruiting Kosi palm – they were thought to be the only vegetarian vulture species, but Phaqa assures us that they are opportunists and will scavenge fish from the African fish eagle given half a chance.
As we ventured deeper into the forest, the Kosi palms towering above us, I stand in awe at the size of the fronds that are said to be the longest in the world at about 10 metres. They are incredibly strong as well as buoyant and are used by the local Thonga people as building materials for both huts and rafts.
“This is the way the locals here cross the channel” he says, and invites us to do the same… we happily accept.
Walking waist deep through indigenous ferns we glimpse the Sihadla channel, lined with swamp fig (Ficus trichopoda), waterberry (Syzegium cordatum) trees, mangroves – the only area in South Africa where five species of mangrove are found, two of which (Luminitzera racemosa and Ceriops tagal) are at the southernmost limit of their distribution – as well as reeds and ferns. Phaqa leads us into a clearing on the edge of the channel and points out the raft on the other side. “This is the way the locals here cross the channel” he says, and invites us to do the same… we happily accept.
Birding along these channels is particularly good and we quickly tick off African jacana, lesser jacana, purple gallinule, African pygmy goose and squacco heron. Our early morning canoeing adds a few more species to the list including the Livingstone turaco, African darter and African fish eagle. A highlight of any stay at Kosi Forest Lodge has to be the guided canoe trip along the Sihadla channel and onto fourth lake.
The reflection of Kosi palms on the rippled surface of the water; the call of the fish eagle as we glide past lilac water lilies, and iridescent blue swallowtail butterflies – all too soon we were heading back to camp for a hearty breakfast.
Blessing suggested we go snorkelling at Kosi Mouth. Armed with snorkelling gear and an amply packed picnic basket we head out. The sea, lakes and channels interconnect seamlessly in a wonderful swirl of colour that change with the ebb and flow of the tides. The traditional Kosi fish traps look like the stitches of an intricate tapestry, displaying a random kind of symmetry.
We make our way down and on closer inspection see a couple of Tsonga fishermen, one fishing the traditional way, another with fishing rod in hand. I smile. The fish traps (or kraals as they’re sometimes referred to) are passed down from father to son, some are personally ‘farmed’ others are ‘rented out’ for an annual fee – traditional fisherman turned entrepreneur. Change, I guess, is inevitable.
The day is warm and the water beckons, despite the wind and the incoming tide the water is crystal clear and wonderfully warm. I’m amazed at the variety of aquatic life we see – devil fire fish, angel fish, shoals of bright little fish and even a moray eel, it’s no wonder this is known as ‘the aquarium’. Time to find a spot to open up the picnic basket…
A highlight of this would surely be the opportunity to walk through the famous Kosi Bay fish traps.
Another option is the full day boat trip offered by the lodge. Guests get experience the series of interconnected lakes and channels making up the Kosi Lake system which stretches over some 18km. A highlight of this would surely be the opportunity to walk through the famous Kosi Bay fish traps. Other activities on offer include a picnic and swim at Bhanga Nek and seasonal turtle tracking (15 November to 15 January). It is an incredible sight watching a giant leatherback or loggerhead turtle heave her way up the shore to lay her eggs in the sand – they make their way home having swum the length of the continent in a return journey to the beach where they were born, often laying their eggs within meters of where they emerged as a hatchling many years previously.
The late afternoon sun filters through the canopy of a large Umdoni, the reeds screen me from prying eyes and stepping stones dot the soft white sand.
We head back to the lodge, sun-kissed, sandy… and satisfied. I lie back in the bubbles of the outdoor bath, alone with my thoughts. The late afternoon sun filters through the canopy of a large Umdoni, the reeds screen me from prying eyes and stepping stones dot the soft white sand. I ponder our time here, what we have experienced and what we still want to do – another visit is most definitely in order. Roused from my slumber by the urgent chatter of a scarlet-chested sunbird, I smile, realising I am in fact not alone in this wilderness.