:: a kosi forest escape ::

Sometimes you just know you are home. It’s a feeling of contentment that comes from many tangible and emotional factors that form an overarching sensation of warmth, relaxation and peace. Sometimes your actual home provides that sensation and other times it happens out in the wider world. You can’t plan it, but rather you have to give in to the utter wonder of the experience when you find it.

Walking over the freshly raked sand paths we rounded the corner and came across the lovely wood decks, thatched roofs and tomb like quiet of the reception area of Kosi Forest Lodge. Containing nothing more than two traditional structures that opened onto the multi-level decking, this bar, sitting and dining area felt amazingly natural. Trees swayed in the breeze and for a couple of moments we had the unexpected experience of complete contentment.

Before too long we were checked in and then led down through the conserved sand forest to our secluded room. Each of the seven individual ‘thatched bush suite’ sits in a small clearing surrounded by trees, brush and animals. Visits from the native vervet monkeys and resident cats are common while nighttime strolls are accompanied by paraffin torches lining the pathways. There is a wonderful peace here which offers a fantastic gateway to the rest of Kosi Bay.

Kosi Bay is a misnomer. There isn’t really a bay, but rather a series of four interconnected lakes that stretch along the far northern coast of KwaZulu Natal. The mouth of this unique water system is right on the Indian ocean, a mere couple of hundred meters from the Mozambique border. The ocean greatly influences the first two lakes, which experience tidal swings and have quite high levels of salinity. The third lake is much larger than the first two and has a lower level of salt. The fourth lake is completely full of fresh water.

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Like the rest of this coastline, there are large vegetated dunes between the lakes and the ocean. Unlike the rest of the coastline, there are a few unique features of this ecosystem. For one, it is the most populated area north of St Lucia that is actually on the ocean. The Tsonga people who inhabit the area are a standalone culture and yet not really. They are ethnically part of the larger Tsonga population that inhabits parts of Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and northeastern South Africa. However, being cut off from their ethnic brethren due to colonial divides, the Tsonga in Kosi Bay have been somewhat amalgamated into the larger Zulu people. That said, they maintain many of their own customs and cultures, especially those who live right along the edges of Kosi Bay.

One of the truly impressive sights here are the traditional Tsonga fish traps, or kraals, a tradition dating back more than 700 years. Made of lines of sticks stuck into the sandy bottom of the waterways, they funnel fish towards the trap. The kraal itself is circular, made of sticks separated by enough distance to allow small fish, but not larger fish, to swim between them. The larger fish swim in through a kind of lobster trap that allows them into the kraal, but the intertwined and sharpened sticks don’t allow them out. Once in, they stay there until the owner of the kraal comes and spears the fish for consumption or sale.

These traps can be left alone for days, but do require regular maintenance as sticks rot, get knocked over or have to be completely replaced. The kraals are handed down through the generations, but always stay with male relatives because if a daughter or niece inherits it, the kraal would go to their husband’s family under Tsonga cultural norms. Most of the kraals are in the first and second lakes as these are home to larger migrations of fish with the tides. At one place there is nothing larger than a twenty meter gap through the kraal entrances, enough for fish to get through thus preventing over-fishing. The kraals go almost straight up to Kosi Mouth where the ocean and inland lake system meet.

We were able to get a close view of the traps thanks to a lovely boat trip. Starting on the third lake under the watchful eyes of a couple of mostly submerged hippos, we cruised out into the murky brown water. Brilliant sunshine flashed off the water and the vegetated dunes on the far side stood silent watch over our progress.

Within a few minutes we left the large expanse of the lake and navigated into the marshy areas that connect the lakes, passing locals chest deep in water harvesting the reeds that make the thatched roofs and fish kraals. A kingfisher or two flashed across the brilliant blue sky, but otherwise we went unnoticed through this twisting landscape of channels.

Most of the kraals are in the first and second lakes as these are home to larger migrations of fish with the tides. At one place there is nothing larger than a twenty meter gap through the kraal entrances, enough for fish to get through thus preventing over-fishing. The kraals go almost straight up to Kosi Mouth where the ocean and inland lake system meet.

The following day we ventured through the water across the shifting sand bars of Kosi Mouth on our own – complete with our picnic lunch and camera bag on our heads for part of the journey!

The snorkeling was unexpectedly quite good, complete with Lionfish, Eels, Stonefish, Angelfish and lots of other types of fish. If it weren’t for the fierce current that pushed hard to move us away from this special corner and out to the ocean, we would have snorkeled all day. It was a lovely little area and well worth lugging the gear out over the sandbars for!

The picnic on the ocean side of the dunes was fantastic. We had experienced Kosi Forest Lodge’s idea of a picnic the day before on the boat trip, when they laid on cooked chicken, pasta salad, green salad, fresh fruit and various other accoutrement. They didn’t disappoint on day two either, with similar offerings. We ate so much that neither of us felt up to swimming in the punishing sea and instead just enjoyed the tranquility of the beach. If we had been so inclined we could have wandered up the empty beach and inadvertently crossed the international border to Mozambique, but we were content to sit and watch the surf instead.

If all of this wasn’t enough, the lodge also provides a free canoe trip amongst the inner channel of the third lake. This quiet backwater is nestled amongst the raffia palm forest and is extremely tranquil. The endemic Raffia Palm Vulture can be spotted high up in the tree tops and beautiful water lilies dot the surface of the water. Crocodiles are frequently spotted in these secluded waters, but they remained elusive just as they had in St Lucia, hiding from the colder temperatures. The quiet paddle strokes of the two canoes were all that could be heard for long stretches of time, allowing us to truly feel connected to nature.

Our three days in Kosi were just fantastic, filled with wonderfully slow paced experiences interspersed with delicious food and conversations with a variety of interesting people. These were themes underpinning much of our holiday, but here at Kosi Forest Lodge we felt like we had hit the jackpot of holiday perfection – peaceful surroundings, connections with nature, outdoor activities and wonderful hospitality!

A few more photos from these wonderful few days in this magical place…

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