There is evidence to suggest that this area was inhabited in the late Stone-Age with Iron-Age sites dating back to 290AD being found further south near Lake St Lucia. The discovery of trade beads suggests that Arab traders visited the coast here as early as 1250. Vasco de Gama and his crew are said to have been the first Europeans to land on this coastline in 1497.
Kosi bay is the cultural capital of the Tembe-Tonga people who migrated to the area in the middle of the 17th century. These people established a great kingdom stretching from the Pongola (Maputo) River in the west to the Indian Ocean in the east; and from Delagoa (Maputo) Bay in the north to the Sodwana Bay area in the south.
Their history and culture are unique and this sets them apart from the surrounding Zulu, Swazi and Shangaan tribes. The Tembe kingdom was at its most powerful at the end of the 1700’s under King Mabhudu I who established an alliance with the powerful Zulu King Shaka. The tribe fulfilled the role of intermediary between the European traders at Delagoa Bay and the tribes of the interior. Maputo, the capital of Mozambique is named after King Mabhudu I.
In the late 1800’s European imperialism took its toll and the kingdom was split. The northern part was awarded to the Portuguese and became part of what is today known as Mozambique and the southern part of the kingdom was given to the British and became part of what is now known as Kwa-Zulu-Natal province in South Africa.
The Kosi Bay Nature reserve was declared in 1950, in 1975 South Africa undertook to protect the coastal wetlands of the area and the Greater St Lucia Wetland Area was created. In 1999 the area was declared South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2010 was renamed iSimangaliso which means “miracle and wonder” in the local Zulu language. Kosi Bay is today, still the proud home of the Tsonga people and their primitive fish traps. These traps are passed down from generation to generation and are thought to have been in existence on the lakes for centuries.