Kosi Bay Slackpacking Trail
The Kosi Bay Hike is an escape into one of the most inaccessible and ecologically special parts of South Africa.
Group SizeMin 2 / Max 14
The Kosi Bay Hike is an escape into one of the most inaccessible and ecologically special parts of South Africa. It is a region of pristine diversity, consisting of four interconnected lakes and an estuary that opens out into the warm Indian Ocean. It forms part of the protected iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which was South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.
Due to the many activities on offer, this is a flexible trail which can be tailored to suit the time, fitness and interests of the group. Winding your way from isolated beaches to cool dune forest, through open savannah and wetlands, the hike days vary from 10 – 17km a day. Each day brings a new natural or cultural fascination. 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), snorkelling in a natural aquarium or tasting locally brewed Lala palm wine.
You will overnight in comfortable bush and beach camps, each place providing a welcoming and unique experience. The trail is led by local community guides who are happy to share their knowledge and heritage, so you leave not only ‘refreshed’ but enriched. Being a ‘slackpacking’ trail, your luggage will be transferred from camp to camp which makes walking along sandy paths a lot easier!
Additional activities include fishing and boat trips on the lakes, snorkelling, birding, visits to local homes... or just chilling.
4 Days/5 Nights and 5 Days /6 Nights itineraries is also available and very recommendable. Please enquire.
Owner Sarah Drew grew up in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa. Growing up in such a spectacularly diverse country, Sarah became acutely aware of the disparity that existed between South Africa’s people mounted against a background of fantastic cultural experiences and incredible beauty. Somewhat ironically, the wildest and most scenic places that Sarah travelled in were home to those who existed with very little income or resources. Her experiences on the Wild Coast in particular moved Sarah deeply, and she went on to complete a Masters in Community Based Tourism, focussed on the Pondoland area of the Wild Coast – a place very dear to her heart.
She decided that she wanted to help people seeking adventure by linking them into the wild and wonderful places that she loved, and wanted to bring business to the communities that made these places so unique.
In 2007, she formed her tour operator and set about designing many routes that wound their way through rural communities, up to high mountain tops and along inspirational coastlines. Using local guides and local businesses, community homestays and working with public tourism entities to support the South African tourism industry
Connect to People
Kosi Bay is located at the very top of South Africa’s northern coastline, abutting the Mozambican border. It is pristine, unique and rather difficult to access due to its remote nature. The area attracts some colorful characters, like long-haired Willis, a regte voortrekker, who will go out of his way to ensure you experience the real Kosi Bay, and the gentle giants of Armstrong and Agrippa, who will be your guides and custodians.
Connect to Nature
Kosi Bay is a region of pristine diversity, consisting of four interconnected lakes and an estuary that opens out into the warm Indian Ocean. It forms part of the protected iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which was South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. The 332 000 hectare Park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, 700 year old fishing traditions, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species and 25 000 year-old coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The name iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder, which aptly describes this unique place.
It is through this diversity that the slack packing trail will take hikers, led by professional community guides. Accommodation along the trail is in comfortable bush and beach camps, integrated into the aesthetic of the surrounding vegetation using wood, canvas and other products built to resist the corrosive nature of sea air.
Connect to Life
As with many experiences in South Africa where one is far removed from one’s comfort zones, the Kosi Bay trail leads visitors into an environment that requires focus on the activities at hand, but moreover offers insight into completely different lifestyles. Each day brings a new cultural or natural fascination, winding along paths from isolated beaches to cool dune forests, through open savannah and wetlands.
The trail is led by community guides who are happy to share their knowledge, life experiences and heritage with guests, providing much needed contrast to the types of problems that we experience at home. Local knowledge leaves guests feeling enriched and informed, while the nature of slackpacking allows you to enjoy the meditation of walking sandy paths without having to lug a heavy bag. The beauty of Kosi Bay is that it feels like a different world, where subsistence fishing with traditional African fishing methods is used not as a tourist display, but as a practical reality of life on the South African north coast.
You will have the option to donate to this
project when paying for your trip:
Celebrate Life works closely with Mama Mimi’s, who supply the ovens. They were founded in 2012 and have dedicated these years to successfully implementing micro bakeries into the rural communities of South Africa. We are passionately selecting and training previously disadvantaged individuals to become an entrepreneur. These people need a helping hand out of their poverty cycle and Celebrate Life is committed to their sustainable entrepreneurship and community upliftment.
We live by the parable “Give a man a fish; he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish; he will eat for a lifetime.”
Celebrate Life is driven by the image photographed by the late Kevin Carter in Sudan, 1993. A starving toddler is depicted, trying to reach a feeding centre when a hooded vulture landed nearby. This image angers us as there has been little change in the last 10 years in South Africa. The upliftment programs implemented are not making a long-term sustainable change, and very often are unsuccessful once the donor moves on. No child should go hungry; each community should have the knowledge, skills, facilities and empowerment to help each other.
Celebrate Life has a tried and tested upliftment model that is bringing long-term sustainable change. We have developed a wood fired bakery, which is uplifting and empowering unemployed and impoverished communities.
A baker’s story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T5whOH274w
Guests drive to Utshwayelo bush camp (Kosi Bay Mouth) where their cars are left in secure parking. A short 45 minute transfer later, guests arrive at Maputaland Bush Camp / Memela. A wooden Mozambican-style bungalow is the setting for your home-cooked meal, with incredible views in all directions to watch the sun sink lazily to bed. A pathway through the dune forest takes you up to your accommodation, thatched huts with wooden decks that provide a look out over the open savannah plains and Hippo Pool. The Hippo Pool is a wonderful place for sundowners on the first night, a great way to relax into your Maputaland holiday.
Overnight: Memela Bush Camp (Bush Camp on the Savannah plains
– inland of Black Rock)
Hike Day One: Circular Route from Memela Bush Camp – to Dog Point and Black Rock
Hike Distance: 14.5 km (if hike via Dog Point) OR approx 10km if hike directly to Black Rock // Approx 4hr hiking time
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before heading out across the savannah plains. The longer hike route option will take you via Dog Point (4.5km) and a further 3.5km hike along flat golden beach to Black Rock OR you can hike directly to Black Rock (approx 5km both ways).
Black Rock is a protected beach with a great bay for swimming & snorkelling. Today’s option will allow plenty of time for swimming, birding, chatting and relaxing. Lunch will be on the beach and for those not wanting to hike back – there is sometimes the option of transferring back with the lunch/support vehicle.
Overnight: Memela Bush Camp (for a 2nd night)
Hike Day Two: Hike from Memela to Bhanga Nek with 3 Lake Boat Excursion – drop-off at First Lake
Hike Distance: 15 km to Bhanga Nek and back up to 3rd Lake Boat launch 2km from Boat drop-off (1st Lake) up to Utshwayelo Lodge // Approx 5hr hiking time
After a hearty breakfast, guests set off from Maputaland Bush Camp with a local guide, walking through open savannah and woodland. Along the way, rare cycads occur in large numbers, a unique sight that many visitors comment on, especially when they are in glorious flower. The ‘God Knows Tuckshop’ marks over half-way on the trail and a cold coke can be enjoyed here while chatting to the locals.
Heading towards that narrow spit of land that separates the Kosi Lake system from the ocean, Bhanga Nek, the sandy tracks will keep you heading up and over the dunes before popping out in a clearing where the lap of the warm Indian Ocean prompts a hurried descent for a refreshing splash.
After a swim and snack on the beach, its time to head back up to the boat launch on the eastern shore of Third Lake, Nhlange. From here, hikers will be picked up by boat for the 3-Lakes Boat Cruise where you slowly motor between the lakes and the channels providing excellent opportunity for birding and photography. You will visit and learn about the traditional fish traps on first lake and have an opportunity to snorkel in the lake and along the mangrove banks (snorkel equipment provided by boat operator).
The palisade fish kraals made by the local Tonga fishermen, is a system of subsistence fishing which has been in existence since living memory. Whilst fishtraps for subsistence use have been shown to be sustainable, the increased demand from outside markets and the use of illegal gill nets has led to exploitation.
After being dropped off on the western shore of 1st Lake, it is a 2km hike up to Utshwayelo lodge – your overnight camp. The first and last hill will be steep but the views from the top – overlooking the maze of fish kraals on First Lake and across to Kosi mouth, provides a geometric spectacle, well worth the toil!
Dinner at Utshwayelo camp is an open-air dining affair, usually a fish or pap-&- wors braai
Overnight: Utshwayelo Camp–Sahara Tent Units, under the Sygizium trees. Pool and bar area in social area.
Hike Day Three: Utshwayelo Circular Loop with snorkelling at the Mouth
Hike Distance: 9.5 km to Kosi Mouth 3km back up to Utshwayelo if you don’t get 4x4 lift // Approx 4hr Hike
The Utshwayelo loop hike will take you to Lake Zilonde near the Mozambican border and over a path through a mangal swamp and fern forest canopy. You will climb a 65m high dune (spectacular view from the top) and then hike over prehistoric coral dunes (interesting corals & plant communities to see) down to the ocean, where you will continue along flat beach through to Kosi Mouth, a palm-fringed beach of rippling sand curved around the mouth.
End off your day with 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 Camp– Sahara Tent Units
- 3 Nights Accom (sharing basis): 1 night at Cavern Hotel (Std Room) & 2 Nights at Witsies – nicest Sentinel Chalets
- All meals: from dinner on arrival night to packed lunch on final hike day (3 Breakfasts, 3 Packed Lunches, and 3 Dinners). At Witsies – will be either a buffet dinner or order from ala carte menu to the value of R160/per dinner.
- Hiking Guide - for first 2 hike day (Day 3 – is an easy self-guide down to Royal Natal)
- Hiking Permit - for Hike day 2 from Sentinel Car Park (R70/pp)
- Witsies - Sentinel Car Park - return Transfer: Hike Day 2
- Private Return Transfer: pick-up from Royal Natal & transfer back to the Cavern on final day
- International flight
- Transfers to departure point
Joining your tour
At Utshwayelo bush camp (Kosi Bay Mouth) (Click Here for Map) you will leave your car and will be transferred to your Camp.
Directions from Johannesburg:
From Johannesburg take the N17 Toll road East to Ermelo via Leandra and Bethal; Take the N2 to Piet Retief and then Pongola; 40km after Pongola turn left to Jozini; Immediately after going through Jozini the road forks - take the left fork, go over the dam wall and continue north.
40km after the dam wall at the T-junction at turn right (not left to Ingwavuma) and travel a further 70km to Emanguzi (KwanGwanase)/ Kosi Bay. From Emanguzi (KwanGwanase) travel 15km on R22 (all tar) towards Mozambique border post (do not turn off right at Kosi Bay Camp sign). Turn right onto good gravel road (600m before border post) and travel 4.5 km to Utshwayelo Lodge and Camp.
Directions from Durban:
Take the N2 north towards Empangeni; Go past Empangeni and take off-ramp to Hluhluwe / Sodwana Bay; Drive through Hluhluwe and then follow the R22 and directions to Mbazwana; Continue passed Mbazwane for a further 45 kilometers and at the large traffic circle turn right, signposted KwaNgwanase / Kosi Bay, Emanguzi / Manguzi, Farazella Border Post. Travel a furteter 20km to Emanguzi (KwanGwanase) and then travel 15km on R22, tar road towards Mozambique border post (do not turn off right at Kosi Bay Camp sign) Turn right onto good gravel road (600m before border post) and travel 4.5 km to Utshwayelo Lodge and Camp.
Rustic Lodges and Safari Style Tented Camps. Hot water showers and communal dining area. Extra nights can be spent at any of the trail camps.
All of our group tours are planned and operated on a twin-share basis, meaning that the standard cost is based either on individual travellers sharing accommodation with another group member of the same sex, or people who book together sharing accommodation.
When a Single Supplement is available it is included in the Prices tab. Depending on the Experience chosen, all accommodations may not have the capacity to offer single accommodation.
The Single Room supplement also applies to the third person in a party of three that will be accommodated in a single room.
For those who aren't in the know, slackpacking is an assisted form of hiking, whereby one can take to the trails with a small daypack carrying just the essentials. After a brilliant walk filled with beautiful views, riverside dips to cool off and hopefully excellent weather, hikers arrive at their accommodation to find their bags waiting for them. This kind of hiking allows people to concentrate on having a good time, over worrying about their injuries or lugging heaps of gear with the kids in tow.
It is a condition of booking with Gaia Conscious Travel that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on travel, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit, which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for domestic travel.
Preparing your Experience
This is a fully-catered & guided hike with inclusive daily luggage transfers. Nonetheless, we recommend that your total luggage on the trail be no more than 20kg.
Climate and Seasonality:
Kosi Bay has a warm to hot and humid subtropical climate. It has an average yearly rainfall of 980 mm with rain occurring primarily during summer from Oct to March, with the most rain from Feb to March. Kosi Bay boasts 300 days of sunshine & the average daily maximum temp extends from 28oC in January to 22oC in July, but extremes can reach 43oC and 34oC respectively. Average daily/nightly minima are 19oC in January and 10oC in July. The prevailing wind directions are north-east and south-west in almost equal proportions. The calm and clean winter weather makes this coast one of the most attractive holiday destinations in South Africa.
Summer months tend to be hot and humid. Winters are mild and dry. Humpback whales can be seen off the coast from June to Dec. Nov to early March is turtle nesting season and also the best time of year for waders. The months of Dec – Jan/Feb are particularly hot and humid so it is better to hike outside of these months.
Fauna and Flora:
Kosi Bay is a sanctuary for many special & protected faunal & floral species. From the ancient Cycads to the most southerly grove of the giant Raffia Palm (whose fronds /leaves are the longest of any plant species in the world) on which the rare fruit-eating Palm-nut vulture depends. The Kosi Lake system is especially important for migratory birds such as the Greater & Lesser Flamingos and Ospreys. The protected lakes provide an important nursery function & support some of the largest populations of 8 fish species that are listed in the Red Data book for threatened or vulnerable species
Daily Hike Distances
Day 1: 13.5km (4hr hike time)
Day 2: 17km (5-6 hr hike time)
Day 3: 9 -12.5km (4hr hike time)
* Distances will vary depending on route selection & time given as an indication only
Grade 2 – Generally short daily distances & little ascent (being a coastal trail) but the soft sand makes it harder-going in places.
Grade 0-1 – no scrambling or sheer sections.
Coastal Trail passing through diverse ecosystems – open savannah, wetlands, coastal dune & fern forests, shallow lake crossings.
Budgeting your Experience
All costs are included during the trail. You may need some extra money to cover optional activities. You will most certainly need to budget for a few more days in this amazing region. If you need assistance with your car rental or your stay before or after the trail, please let us know.
Tipping is customary in South Africa. 10 to 15% is expected to be added to bills in restaurants. Tipping is a common token of appreciation for the guides and other staff members.
Bureau de Change are available at Johannesburg or Durban airports. ATMs are widely available at commerces, petrol stations and even in smaller towns.
There are no extra accommodation options for this Experience. Please contact us for accommodation options before and after your trip
There are no optional activities features for this Experience. Please contact us if you would like us to enquire further
|Departure Dates||Status||Price (PP Sharing) Excluding Flights||Single Supplement||Child||Notes|
(per person sharing)
recommended march to november