ONTO THE COAST
Kosi Bay is true frontier country. In times gone by, a heavy military presence was posted in this little corner of Maputaland, in an attempt to repel the supposed threat from the north. These days, of course, things are a lot more chilled out. But there is plenty of cross border smuggling going on, which ensures that the place still has a bit of a Wild West feel to it. Or should that be the Untamed East?
After the 10-hour ordeal from Barberton to Ndumo, the 1 ½ hour hop from Ndumo to Utshwayelo Community Camp near Kosi Mouth was a rather pleasant one. There are a fair number of places to stay at Kosi these days, but as we don’t have a boat, we wanted to be as close to the mouth as possible. Utshwayelo is pretty much as close as you can get.
We set up camp under a big waterberry tree, then headed down to the mouth for a late afternoon fish and a sundowner. The fishing was a bit slow (well actually I didn’t even get a bite), but you can’t get many better sundowner spots than the Kosi Bay estuary, with its seemingly endless maze of fish kraals. The Thonga people who live in the area have been using these fish traps for hundreds of years, and the little stick fences that curve out into the channels are Kosi Bay’s signature.
Kosi Mouth has earned a reputation as the best place in South Africa to target big Ignoblis Kingfish (GTs) on fly in the surf. That said, few are hooked and far, far fewer are landed. By all accounts, it is the one of the biggest challenges in flyfishing, anywhere in the world. We didn’t have the special permits required to fish the prime times just before sunrise and just after sunset. So I didn’t hold much hope at getting a shot at an Ignoblis. But low and behold, at 10 am the next morning, on a full spring low, I did. As it was the last thing I was expecting, I was hopelessly unprepared when a 20lb fish swam straight up to the shore break and started obliterating the little wave garrick that I was trying to catch. I bolted up the beach, grabbed a heavier rod, strapped on a suitable fly, then bolted back down to the shore break, hoping for a replay. I couldn’t believe my luck when maybe 10 minutes later, 3 slightly smaller fish materialised out of nowhere and came dashing in towards the beach. The big brush fly went sailing out in their general direction. I stripped like my life depended on it. I held my breath. I might have swore. I cast again. I might have swore again. And that was that. The whole episode lasted about 15 seconds. But it was enough to get me back to Kosi Mouth to mount a more serious challenge. Who’s coming with?
From Utshwayelo it was another quick hop around Kosi’s four lakes to the Bhanga Nek Community Camp. Before heading south though, we hopped over the border into Mozambique to check out Ponta do Ouro. After a quick prego breakfast on the beachfront, we stocked up on 2Ms and stamped ourselves back into South Africa, much to the bemusement of the customs officials.
We were rather chuffed to discover that we were the only people staying at the community camp, and after offloading our gear into our little safari tent, we undertook the grueling 20-meter trek to the beach. The camp at Bhanga Nek is pretty rustic. There’s no electricity, and you’ll need to take in everything you need, including your own drinking water. But what it lacks in basic amenities, it makes up in its proximity to the beach. And what a glorious beach it is – wild, practically undeveloped and, as a low tide snorkel revealed, absolutely bristling with life.
These Zululand beaches provide valuable nesting sites for Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles. At the beginning of summer, they waddle ashore and bury multiple batches of eggs above the high tide mark. A couple of months later, when the eggs hatch, thousands of little turtles make their way down to the water’s edge. Many get snapped up by crabs and seabirds, many more by predatory fish. Apparently only about 1 in a thousand make it to adulthood – not exactly the most favourable survival odds.
Our stay at Bhanga Nek coincided with the very end of the hatching season. We knew it was unlikely that we’d come across any hatchlings, but the young turtle-guide-slash-fire-wood-seller that we bumped into on the way in was so enthusiastic, we decided to give it a bash. At 6 the next evening, we met our guy on the beach with charged headlamps, a litre of water and a healthy dose of determination. 3 hours later, we were back in the same spot. We hadn’t seen any turtles, we hadn’t taken enough water, we hadn’t counted on in the howling headwind, we hadn’t considered how crippling the soft beach sand would be on our city-slicker hamstrings. Aah well, you’ve got to be in it to win it as they say.
We spent the next couple of days recovering on the beach, with a bit of snorkeling and fishing thrown in for good measure. Yet again on this trip, we were sad to leave such a beautiful spot after only 3 days. But if we want to make sure we don’t run out of money by Cape Town, we need to keep moving. Besides, our next stop was something we’d really been looking forward – a little bit of honeymoon luxury, 40kms down the coast.