Kosi Bay is a pristine wilderness in a remote part of South Africa. With wetlands teaming with wildlife and beautiful coastal forests it’s a nature-lovers paradise.


Not many people make it to Kosi Bay.

A five-hour drive from Durban and just south of the Mozambique border, Kosi Bay is a pristine untouched wilderness. Part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, it consists of four interlinked lakes which create a complex estuary system that runs through channels out to the sea.

And it’s a beautiful part of South Africa.

Coastal forests back onto sand dunes which drop into the Indian Ocean forming hidden untouched beaches. Wildlife is abundant in the wetlands including hippos, crocodiles, tropical fish and a host of birdlife.

But it is also a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Kosi Bay is a nature lovers paradise, well and truly off the beaten track. In this remote part of South Africa, gaze into star-filled skies, stroll endless expanses of sweeping golden beaches and discover the habits of creatures great and small.

Do all this and wonder why you’re the only people here.

WHERE IS KOSI BAY?

Kosi Bay is part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park – a 5-hour drive northeast of Durban. Meaning ‘something wondrous’ in Zulu, iSimangaliso is South Africa’s third-largest protected area. It stretches along 280 kilometres of coastline from St Lucia in the south to the Mozambique border in the north. Situated at its northern tip, Kosi Bay is its most remote section.

Thanks to this remote location and the tireless work of the Ezemvelo Wildlife authorities, Kosi Bay remains a pristine wilderness with a host of nature-related activities.

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WHAT TO DO / THE BEST KOSI BAY ACTIVITIES


LAKE TOUR

Sail the channels connecting the four lakes

KOSI BAY MOUTH

Snorkel in a crystal clear estuary

TURTLE TOUR

Track the mamomoth leatherhead sea turtle

BEACH HOP

Tour the sandy maze to Kosi Bay’s hidden beaches

GUIDED WALKS

Experience the local flaura and fauna

TEMBE ELEPHANT PARK

Spot the largest elephants in the world

1 / KOSI BAY LAKE TOUR

Hidden in an almost tropical coastal forest, the four lakes of Kosi Bay are home to abundant wildlife. A boat tour through the channels connecting the four lakes is a great way to get your bearings of the area and see some amazing wildlife.

While hippos are known for roaming the streets in St Lucia, you can still see them wallowing up close on a boat tour. Capture colourful flamingos mid-strut and keep the eyes peeled for native eagles. Learn about the life of local fisherman and how their cunningly designed traditional wood structures (kraals) channel fish into ever-decreasing catchment areas.

The lakes are remarkably clear and ideal for snorkelling. After spotting wildlife and learning about the delicate ecosystems in Kosi Bay, dive in to swim among the fish lurking within the web of mangrove roots.

There are two tours daily, each lasting about 3 hours. Tours leave from the 3rd lake behind the Kosi Bay Permit Office, although the tour operators will pick you up from your hotel.

Conditions are usually better in the morning.


Kosi Bay Lake Tour / Depart 9am and 2pm lasting for 3 hours | Price: R370 per person plus R60 entrance permit

2 / KOSI BAY MOUTH

As the water from the four lakes heads towards the Indian Ocean, it forms an estuary called Kosi Bay Mouth. One side is a golden sandy beach, the other a tranquil lake.

The lake is excellent for snorkelling, with crystal clear waters and an abundance of fish. If the tide is low and the surf not too strong, it’s also possible to snorkel on the ocean side as well. A shelf drops steeply just off-shore which creates the right conditions for spotting impressively large fish.

As well as snorkelling, kayaking into the estuary or into the ocean is a great opportunity to spot turtles up-close and whales or dolphins in the distance.

The Kosi Bay Mouth entrance gate is a 30-minute drive north of the Kosi Bay Permit Office. A permit for entry must be purchased from the permit office before going through the gate (permits cannot be purchased at the gate). Once through the gate, the mouth is a further 2-kilometre drive over sandy dunes which require a 4×4 vehicle.

If you don’t have a 4×4, you can park at the gate and walk the 2 kilometres. Alternatively, your accommodation will be able to organise a tour.

Try and go when the sea is not too rough and ask about tide times to maximise your day out. If you are snorkelling without a guide, wear shoes as there are stonefish in the lake which are extremely dangerous to stand on.


Kosi Bay Mouth Tour / Depart 9am daily and returns 3pm | Price: R350 (transfer and snorkelling), R400 (transfer and kayaking), R500 (transfer, snorkelling & kayaking) plus R60 entrance permit

3 / TURTLE NESTING TOUR

Between November and March, loggerhead and leatherhead sea turtles travel onshore to lay their eggs in the sand dunes. During these dates, going to see them is a thoroughly rewarding Kosi Bay experience.

The tour leaves at 5pm and arrives at the forest beach of Bhanga Nek at around 7pm. From here it’s a walk along the beach in darkness looking for turtle tracks in the sand. One set of tracks means the turtle is up in the dunes laying eggs, two means it has already returned to the sea.

We saw a magnificent leatherhead turtle, weighing in at around 500 kilograms, pulling herself back across the sand into the sea. It was a remarkable sight.

Less common but equally as rewarding is finding hatchlings from a previous nest making the arduous journey to the sea for the first time. In comparison to the adults, they are tiny. Only around 3-4 out of every thousand will survive to adulthood. It’s a fascinating life cycle to witness.

The safety of the turtles is taken very seriously. Only 4 guides are authorised to run the tour at Kosi Bay. There are 2 tours each day and space is limited, so book ahead – especially during South African holiday periods. The tour goes for as long as it takes to see a turtle or until you all want to go home. Expect to walk up to a total of 6 kilometres on the sand.


Bhanga Nek Turtle Tour / Depart 5pm from Kosi Bay Permit Office or 7pm Bhanga Nek beach | Price: R500 per person including 4×4 transfer to Bhanga Nek or R200 if you use your own 4×4. Plus R60 per person entrance permit.

4 / BEACH HOPPING THROUGH COASTAL FOREST

The coast near Kosi Bay is a unique landscape. A dense coastal forest has somehow sprouted from the sand dunes making the remote beaches in this part of South Africa even more isolated.

A maze of sandy tracks winds through the forest providing access to several of these stunning beaches. A regular tour will visit Rocktail Beach in the south, the central beaches of Lala Nek and Black Rock before finishing at Bhanga Nek in the north. They’re all large sweeps of golden sand with no facilities and some of the most pristine beaches you’ll find anywhere.

The beach hopping tours are sold as an adventure activity – a 4×4 excursion over the forested sand dunes. There’s no doubt it’s an adventure – our tour guide got stuck twice and we met a couple who tried the self-drive option but had to pick up a guide on the way.

However, the scenery between the beaches doesn’t change that much. So apart from a sense of adventure getting to them, the drive gets a bit boring after a while.

All accommodation in the area will be able to organise a tailored tour, so our recommendation is to tell your tour guide that you just want to visit 2 beaches and spend a couple of hours on each. This will still give you a chance to experience the sand dunes but allow you to spend more time on the beautiful beaches.

If you intend to make the journey on your own, download maps.me to help you pick out the tracks. A permit from Kosi Bay Permit Office is required. We didn’t self-drive the coastal forest and after doing it with a guide, we’re glad we didn’t.


4×4 beach hopping / All Day trip can be arranged with your accommodation | Price: R400 per person for one or two beaches, R600 for all four plus R60 per person entrance permit.

5 / KOSI BAY GUIDED WALKS

There are several hiking trails leading from the Kosi Bay Permit Office which can either be explored independently or with a guide. Because Kosi Bay has unique ecology, a guided walk in the area is a great way to learn more about the environment and the locals who call this beautiful corner of South Africa home.

The Raffia Palm Hike explores the area north of the lakes with a particular focus on the 16-metre-high Raffia Palms. Fun fact: they have the largest leaves in the plant kingdom. Lucky explorers will see a palmnut vulture, some red duiker or perhaps even the very cute vervet monkeys.

Another guided hike visits the local Tsonga people to learn about their strange fishing technique using kraals. The guide explains the cultural heritage of the people and how their strange-looking wooden structures work to catch fish.

Finally, bird-watching tours explore the edges of the lakes in search of heron, egrets, eagles, vultures, fishing owls and so much more. The wetland ecosystem of Kosi Bay is ideal for interesting bird-spotting.


Guided Hikes / All guided hikes last 3 to 4 hours and leave in the early morning | Prices: Range from R300 to 400 per person plus R60 per person entrance permit.

6 / TEMBE ELEPHANT PARK

Tembe Elephant Park is around 1 hour’s drive from Kosi Bay, just outside iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It’s home to some of the largest elephants in the world including around 150 six-ton giant tuskers. The sandy forests of Tembe are also home to the rest of the big 5: lion; rhino; cape buffalo, and leopard.

The best places for animal spotting in the park are at the Mahlasela hide which overlooks a lovely waterhole and along the West Swamp Road and East Swamp Road. (A map is available at the entrance with all the details)

You can self-drive the park but, it’s not easy. The sand is very deep in places and tracks are often closed due to poor conditions. During the rainy season, thick shrub grows very quickly; its sharp needles are a threat to nice shiny cars.

We were there in January, early in the rainy season. The tracks were extremely narrow from the dense growth and the sand was worryingly deep. We made it around OK but the stress of keeping the car scratch-free and avoiding getting stuck in sand drained some of the fun from searching for the animals.

We’d definitely recommend taking a tour so you can relax and enjoy the experience.


Tembe Elephant Park / 6pm – 6pm | Prices: R50 per person, R110 per car

Tembe Elephant Park Tour / Departs Kosi Bay between 8am & 9am and returns around 3pm | Prices: R500 per person including gate fees

BOOKING KOSI BAY ACTIVITIES

All accommodation places can help organise Kosi Bay activities, but most will use Thobeka Safaris. Thobeka is a backpacking lodge that offers a wide range of tours. They’ll pick you up from wherever you are staying and drop you back after your excursion.

They’re very helpful and flexible with their tours. Chat to them about what type of experiences you’ll like to have, and they’ll recommend how it can all be put together in the time you have.

PERMITS FOR KOSI BAY ACTIVITIES

The only place to obtain permits in the Kosi Bay area is at the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Office just north of the third lake (marked with a star on the map below). Even if you are going to Kosi Bay Mouth (30-minute drive north) or to the Coastal Forest via Malangeni (45-minute drive south) you must call at the office to get a permit.

The gates to the park open from 6am until 6pm daily but the permit office is only open from 8pm till 4pm. Entrance permits are R60 per adult and R30 per child per day. You can buy permits for the same day or a day in advance. Bring ID.

Most tours will begin by going to the Ezemvelo Office and picking up permits for each person on the tour.

RHINO CARD / If you are a South African resident and plan on visiting many Ezemvelo run parks in KwaZulu Natal (and there are many), get the Rhino Card. It costs R250 per person for one year and provides free entrance to the parks plus discounts on other activities. Apply here.

KOSI BAY ACCOMMODATION

Kosi Bay is relatively new on the tourist map and mostly visited by local South Africans. However, more and more accommodation options are popping up around the area. It’s a remote part of the country, so expect fewer facilities and more natural homey service.

Food in guesthouses is very dependent on what they can obtain, so choices can be limited. If you’re eating in-house it’s probably a good idea to let them know in advance if you have any dietary requirements. Internet can be patchy.

Here are some of our favourite places to stay.

BUDGET AND TOURS 

THOBEKA BACKPACKERS 


Peter and Maryna run this good-value backpacker’s getaway just off the main road from the town of Manguzi. Their rustic self-catering lodge has double room, dormitories and family rooms. Their son Edwin runs many of the tours in the area including the bumpy sand dune hopping tour.

CHECK PRICES

SUPER VALUE

KINGFISHER BUSH LODGE


Offering great value, these tents and excellently furnished luxury tented chalets are just a short drive from the permit office. There’s a small pool, wi-fi in the reception area, self-catering facilities and a restaurant. Just ask and they will organise any tour you want.

CHECK PRICES

BUSH LUXURY

CHINDEREA ECO LODGE


A wonderful hidden gem tucked away deep in the forest, Pam and Bill have created a lovely eco-lodge. The timber frame melds into the surrounding forest and its balconies and terraces feel a mile away from anywhere. Add in good food and a warm welcome and it’s an excellent place to stay.

CHECK PRICES

BUDGET AND TOURS 

THOBEKA BACKPACKERS 


Peter and Maryna run this good-value backpacker’s getaway just off the main road from the town of Manguzi. Their rustic self-catering lodge has double room, dormitories and family rooms. Their son Edwin runs many of the tours in the area including the bumpy sand dune hopping tour.

CHECK PRICES

SUPER VALUE

KINGFISHER BUSH LODGE


Offering great value, these tents and excellently furnished luxury tented chalets are just a short drive from the permit office. There’s a small pool, wi-fi in the reception area, self-catering facilities and a restaurant. Just ask and they will organise any tour you want.

CHECK PRICES

BUSH LUXURY

CHINDEREA ECO LODGE


A wonderful hidden gem tucked away deep in the forest, Pam and Bill have created a lovely eco-lodge. The timber frame melds into the surrounding forest and its balconies and terraces feel a mile away from anywhere. Add in good food and a warm welcome and it’s an excellent place to stay.

CHECK PRICES

HOW LONG DO YOU NEED IN KOSI BAY?

To make the most of this pristine hide-away in South Africa, we recommend staying for at least 2 full days. This will give you time to explore the estuary mouth, take a boat tour, go on a hike and watch the turtles at night. Tembe Elephant Park could be included on your way to or from Kosi Bay, or you could add an extra day.

The best time to stay is April and May or September and October. During these times, the temperature is nice and it’s not too wet.

However, if you want to see the turtles (and we highly recommend you do) then you’ll need to brave the hot summer months of December to March.

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TIPS FOR VISITING KOSI BAY

GETTING THERE / Kosi Bay is a 5-hour drive from King Shaka International Airport just north of Durban. The last hour has many cows wandering the road and progress can be slow.

VEHICLE / Most accommodation at Kosi Bay can be reached using a 2WD. But if you want to skip the tours and drive yourself inside the park then you will need a 4×4. The bigger the better. It’s also helpful to have experience driving on sand.

NAVIGATION / If you self-drive towards Bhanga Nek and the beaches, download maps offline before you go as it is a maze of unmarked tracks out there.

HEALTH / Kosi Bay is a very low risk malarial zone, but it is present. It’s generally not recommended to take anti-malarial medication but as always, check with a doctor first. Wear long sleeves and use mosquito repellent in the early mornings and evenings.

SUPPLIES / The closest supermarket, pharmacy, gas station & ATM are all in the town of Manguzi, 30 minutes from the permit office. Stock up on the way to your accommodation if you intend to self-cater.

MOZAMBIQUE / If you have the urge to pop into Mozambique, it’s just a short drive north. Visas for most nationalities can be obtained at the border. Don’t forget your passport.


AUTO EUROPE

HIRING A CAR IN SOUTH AFRICA

The best portal we’ve found for booking hire cars is Auto Europe. They have access to cars from all the major companies which are compared on a grid format that clearly displays the prices for different car sizes across each provider.

They also display what is and isn’t included in the price and offer good value insurance options. With a great interface and 24-hour customer service, we highly recommend them.

Check South Africa car rental prices based on your home location.

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WHERE NEXT?

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South Africa is a place we have visited many times over the years. With incredible scenery, great food and amazing wildlife opportunities, it’s one of our favourite places to visit.

Here are a few of our favourite South Africa articles.

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We were honoured to be selected as one of the Best Cultural Travel Blogs by Teletext Holidays, which puts us up for the Best Travel Blog at the British Travel Awards

We would love it if you could spare a quick minute to vote for us.

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