Drifting along with the current above an exotic riot of colourful fish at Kosi Bay mouth, part of the vast 332,000 hectare iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, it’s easy to understand why this area was the first World Heritage Site to be declared in SA in 1999. iSimangaliso, meaning “miracle and wonder” is just that: a wilderness area of interlinking lakes and channels where community and nature coexist. Stately Nguni rest quietly on the beaches watching fishermen tend traditional fish traps, as they have done for the past 700 years, and shores are crisscrossed with age-old hippo trails. What more could a nature lover want? Be sure to base yourself here for a restorative few days of exploring – once you’ve arrived, believe me, it’s very hard to leave.
Need to know
Thonga Beach Lodge is the luxury option in the area but Ushwayelo Lodge, a well-run community initiative driven by the ebullient Enock Tembe and his business partner Ken Whitfield, is the closest to Kosi Bay mouth with its magnificent beaches and superb snorkeling, hiking trails and canoeing. I would recommend the comfortable tented cabanas or camping: hire the Ford Ranger 4×4 with rooftop tents from Avis Safari Rental and you’ll enjoy Ushwayelo’s private sites, each beautifully shaded by Water Berry trees.
Kosi Bay snorkeling
Permits for snorkeling and beach access are issued at Ushwayelo. There’s a limit to the number of vehicles allowed in per day so make sure you get yours early. It’s a half hour 4×4 route with a spectacular 360-degree viewpoint along the way, overlooking the fish traps in the lakes below. Snorkeling is tide-dependent so it’s essential to get times right.
Experiences in Kosi Bay
A boat trip with Stephen de Lange, an experienced guide who is one of few with permission from fishermen to take guests to snorkel up close to a fish trap to observe its ingenious underwater design. Sail past mangroves and into windy, reed-lined waterways linking the lakes, where bird life is abundant (great place to photograph flamingos) and grunting hippos bob in and out of the water.
A visit to Thembe Elephant Park is about 45 minutes’ drive from Ushwayelo and a 4×4-only wilderness, home to Africa’s last remaining great tuskers. Even if you only have a few hours, it’s worth driving to the lower hide, a thatched outlook high above the active waterhole (11am to 3pm is the most active time and there is live webcam on their website).
Swim with dolphins
Try swimming with dolphins at Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique. Leave your car in a secure parking about 100m before the border post and take a taxi, or drive yourself (half an hour), but be sure to request all paperwork from Avis before you leave. A cross-border fee of R600 is payable.
Excellent special offer:
Avis is renting equipped 4×4’s at R900 per day between November and March, for any minimum 14-day bookings.
Words: Michelle Snaddon
Images: Michelle Snaddon