The hike was enjoyed by the following members:
Amanda de Wet
Arie von Buren-Schele
We set off on in 2 vehicles on Saturday 4 July, two days prior to the official hike date, at 5h30 so that we could spend two nights at Ndumo, a great birding and game reserve bordering Mozambique.
The route to the Kosi Bay Hiking trail is via Devon, Leandra, Kinross, Secunda, Bethal, Ermelo, Piet Retief and Pongola – a distance of approximately 750Km, and the final stretch to the base camp is over deep sandy tracks, making a 4x4 advisable.
Ndumo is a well organised reserve and a birder’s paradise with excellent hides and well worth visiting. We got to Ndumo in the middle of the day and pitched camp in a good site. The communal kitchen is roomy and well equipped with a large walk in freezer, cold room , gas cookers etc. Ron and Ann are well informed on birds, adding to the interest in the reserve, while Ken added much information on all aspects of nature, proving the worth of his success in his FGSA work.
There were interesting spoor, including white rhino droppings right in the camp area.
On Sunday morning we went for a drive to the two hides at Ezulweni. En route you pass the vulture restaurant, where there was a giraffe carcass laid out (how they got it there is an interesting puzzle) since there are no large predators. It must have died or been shot. There were a number of Cape Vultures and Pied Crows, but no Hyena or Jackals. While we watched six or eight giraffe wandered in. They were not browsing and one in particular stared at the carcass for a long time.
While we were driving along, quite high in the sky a large flock of Pelicans was circling and catching the sunlight at different parts of the circle. It was beautiful and was one of the highlights.
The scene at the hide was spectacular – Avocets, Giant Egrets, Spoonbills, Yellow billed Storks, on Maribou Stork. Hippos and Crocodiles. Goliath Herons and many ducks, which no one bothered to identify. We then walked to the second hide, through the bush, which was magic. Here the hide does not look onto the dam but overlooks a small stream surrounded by thick reeds and vegetation. We saw a Purple Gallinule in the reeds, which was well camouflaged. However, after a short time, he wandered out and gave us the most perfect view. There were two great big crocs on the bank, which lay there without moving.
We then walked along the prohibited road a short distance to the concrete drift where a crocodile drifted slowly towards us. The walk was wonderful with the ‘hippo lawns’ cropped right down. We were later to hear of how the reserve management is trying to reduce the number of hippos as they are reducing the grazing that antelope depend upon.
Later, on a drive we saw many Nyala with two bulls sparring. It looked quite serious. Other sightings were of Kudu and other antelope plus a special, the Red Duiker.
We went on to the hide at Oiphini at the two rivers’ confluence, and there several species of heron including the Goliath heron plus many other smaller birds. We had a quick sundowner almost on the trot and raced back to get to camp before six.
Next morning, Monday, we went on a guided walk in the riverine forest to see the Pels fishing owl. We learned that the hippos come out of the water and sleep in dung middens in the bush. We saw several of the middens. We did not see Pels fishing owl, African finfoot or the Narina trogon – more reason to go back some time. Our braai’s at the camp were wonderful events and during each night, we heard Nightjars and Hyenas and Hippo. A wonderful African experience and it was sad to leave Ndumo at noon for Kosi Bay.
The nature reserve is taken up by four lakes the largest Lake KulHlange (Place of Reeds) is 8 km by 5 km and up to 50m deep in places. It is the 4th lake and discharges into Lake Mpungweni which in turn discharges into Lake Makhawalani about 1 km in diameter, then into the estuary, which is known as enKovugeni ( ebb and flow)
The road to the base camp is actually sea sand and very exciting to drive on. The Kombi got stuck just once and after much toing and frowing we found our way to the hikers camp. A lovely camp, but neglected and no water, either for drinking or showering. Jim, Jenny, Arie and the guide went to the nearest (luxury) camp to fill bottles of water for the hike the following day. We never ventured too far out, but if we had we would have found ourselves on the lake edge. A runner went to a “tuck shop” and bought beers for us. This happened every evening thereafter.
The actual trail description and the scheduled backpack hike did not materialise because the local infra structure has deteriated and this, plus local tribal in-fighting where two camps have been burnt meant that a different plan. This turned out to be very agreeable as we spent three nights at the camp by the sea. An idealic location with wide and long completely unspoilt beaches and where, later in the year, turtles come out of the sea to lay their eggs.
The first day’s hike was not the scheduled 7 kms more like 17 kms including some steep sand dune work. But it was a scenic adventure not to be missed.
The camp by the sea is called Bangla Nek and hiked from there over the 4 days. This was ideal, because it gave everyone freedom to do exactly what they wanted. Ann and Ken stayed at the camp the first day and relaxed while the rest went snorkelling. Only Ron, Elsa and Jim were actually brave enough to venture into the rock pool, as the wind was fairly fierce and cold. The rest of us watched and heard about all the colourful fish they saw plus the “Fire” fish, which had impressed them so much.
The next day, we hiked to the Raffia Palm forest, reaching it by way of a raffia raft, which we pulled across a stream with a rope, tied to stakes at either side of the river. This was a place easily perceived to be similar to the Garden of Eden. We saw the rare Palm Nut vultures and again hiked along the shore of one of the great lakes.
Just past Bangla, there is a fishing restriction, where only subsistence fishing is allowed. Women at low tide chop from the rocks what looks like oysters (later the guide told me it was red bait). The guide told Ken that the women dry the red bait and then crush it, and mix it with crushed peanuts to make a delicious soup of it.
Friday we walked back to the original hut (this time there was water, but which ran out during the night). The going was very much easier, less weight and we were rested! On the route out and back a channel is crossed between the very large lake (3) and lake 2. This means taking off boots and paddling across. On the out route, we were surprised, and so was the skipper, when a powerboat suddenly appeared, crossing where we had just waded across the channel. It is a long distance to the mouth but the tide pushes the water back up the lower lakes and the stream flows quite strongly. The water is crystal clear despite the vegetation and is salty but less so than the sea. There were lots of spoor on the lake edge, mostly cattle and herd boy’s dog. There were some that could have been Cape Clawless Otter.
Saturday we rose very early (05h00) and packed up and went to the mouth of the estuary. We 8 with a guide, packed into Ron’s 4x4 and bounced and slid towards the mouth of Kosi Bay, seeing the famous fish traps in the lagoon the way. It seems that mussels grow on the sticks and the fish then come to feed on them and the fishermen spear them. It is a most scenic area.
We left Kosi bay mouth at 11h00 and set out for home, returning at 8pm., with everyone agreeing that the trail was a brilliant success despite the changing and adverse conditions that were occasionally encountered.