Expert Reviews – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi GR

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Home of the Rhino
Overall rating
4/5

The first thing I associate with Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is rhinos. These twin reserves, jointly administered and connected by a corridor reserve, have been instrumental in rhino conservation, to the extent that all but a dozen or so of the world’s remaining white rhinos are descended from a bottleneck population of around 30 conserved here in the early 20th century. Today, the park hosts about 10% of the global rhino population, with white rhino being particularly numerous – indeed, it is unusual to go on a fame drive without encountering at least one individual. All the rest of the Big Five are present, along with African wild dog, and while elephants are common, the only large carnivore I’ve seen over several visits was a fleeting early morning glimpse of a leopard crossing the road. The scenery is lovely, the birdlife is excellent, and the rest camps in both sectors of the reserve are good value for money.

Characterised by its hills and offering easy game drives in pursuit of the Big Five
Overall rating
4/5

This is one of the few parks in KwaZulu Natal where you can see the Big Five, and I’ve had very rewarding game drives here. But it’s not typical terrain of rolling plains that most people expect, and ‘hilly’ and ‘woody’ are the best words to describe the landscape. Nevertheless the hills provide good vantage-points to look down on clearings in the bush, and from Hilltop (the main camp) the views stretch into neighbouring Swaziland. Game viewing is excellent from the Sontuli Loop, the corridor linking Imfolozi to Hluhluwe, where I’ve seen plenty of rhino (the reserve is famous for its breeding programmes) and the normally rare and beautifully marked nyala. At the Hluhluwe River I’ve often seen elephant and another rare specimen, the samango monkey. Predators are not often seen but cheetah, lion, leopard and wild dog are all present.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi – the Eden of rhinos
Overall rating
4/5

The tsetse fly is a vicious beast with a painful (and very itchy) bite – I speak from bitter experience. More importantly they carry sleeping sickness and can be fatal to cattle. Bizarrely we have this nasty little pest to thank for the survival of Hluhluwe-Umfolozi as a game reserve. Originally a Zulu royal hunting ground, it wasn’t suitable for farming so was left alone and later only used for tsetse control experiments. Thankfully, the flies have now gone and the wildlife remains. Win-win!
This is South Africa’s oldest game reserve, first established in 1895 to protect the world’s last remaining group of around white rhino. From this tiny band, the breeding herd at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi has grown to a resident population of around 1,600 rhino and has repopulated parks and zoos across Africa and the world, a triumphant success in the face of extinction. As elsewhere, they are now tragically being threatened by poachers.

Today, the park, 280 km (174 miles) north of Durban, covers 960 sq kms (371 sq miles). As well as rhinos, it has all the Big Five, over 300 species of birds and offers a wide selection of accommodation from self-catering, national parks lodges and private luxury lodges. You can self-drive, do ranger-led tours on open 4x4s, boat tours and bush walks. With open rolling hills, the gameviewing is easy and this has always been one of my personal favourites.

Rhino rapture
Overall rating
3/5

My first South African game park experience, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve holds a very special place in my heart. Each time I’m in KwaZulu Natal, no matter where I am going, I always make a special effort to add a couple of days here into my itinerary. Because of the reserve’s infrastructure and built-up nature, highlighted by a network of well-signed, easily navigated self-drive roads – not to mention its close proximity to Durban which makes it a popular weekend getaway with city slickers – it does come across a little more Disney-style safari park than nature at its rawest. Once you enter through the gates though, you’ll find the game viewing here is equivalent, at least in quality if not quantity, to Kruger. It’s comparatively smaller size also means you won’t struggle to find any animals. The drawback of course is that you’ll continually be retracing the same routes throughout your stay. On each visit I’ve easily spied elephants, rhinos (the park is renown as a refuge for the endangered white rhino), buffalo, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, antelope and baboons all at very close range. I’ve also had several sights of hyena. While I’m yet to see lions or leopards, there’s always next time.

South Africa’s top spot for rhino-watching
Overall rating
4/5

The tongue-twister of a name (shla-shloo-we oom-fer-lo-zi) is well worth mastering, because, despite its small size, this a good park for Big Five wildlife-watching, with the highest concentration of white rhinos anywhere, thanks for a conservation programme spanning decades. Of all the places I’ve visited in southern Africa, this is the place where I’ve had the best views of rhinos – closer, and for longer. You may also see wild dogs here.

It doesn’t cost much to stay in the park, particularly you’re travelling in a largeish group: the KwaZulu Natal wildlife authority runs a good number of staffed self-catering camps and a large lodge, Hilltop Camp, which was founded in the 1930s. The more comfortable private lodges outside the boundary are close enough to use as a base for daytrips.

A Very Well Managed Park
Overall rating
4/5

This is a lovely, large, flagship park in northern KwaZulu Natal boasting the Big Five and much more. In fact the speciality here is rhino, black and white, both in very large numbers. The rangers know their park and its animals intimately which makes it a brilliant place to start off your game viewing and you should come away with a healthy ticked list of animals. There’s also a good range of accommodation options inside the park with some of the tamer species like warthog, impala and zebra grazing outside your door. I have marked the wilderness vibe only ‘2’ because it’s very organised and gets pretty busy during holidays and although you only see the fences at the entrance gate, for me it’s not really wild enough. All my South African friends love it though and you probably won’t find a better introduction to southern African game viewing and the Big Five.

Rhino retreat
Overall rating
4/5

This beautiful park, Africa’s oldest proclaimed game reserve, became famous as the last stronghold of the white rhino when the species was hunted to near extinction at the turn of the 20th century. Today, sightings of these huge, tank-like animals are guaranteed, and I have also had frequent success searching for the more elusive black rhino. Elephant, lion and cheetah are among a number of species that have been reintroduced in order to restore the area’s original complement of large mammals, while nyala are conspicuous among the many antelope. As in much of Zululand, birding is excellent, with Narina trogon and African finfoot among my best sightings. The park’s habitats extend from the higher, moister grassland of the Hluhluwe section to the drier bushveld of Umfolozi, with the latter bisected by the meandering Black and White Umfolozi Rivers. Though one of KwaZulu-Natal’s largest parks, this joint reserve is small by African standards, and population pressures along its boundaries have made fencing inevitable. Nonetheless the habitat inside is pristine. To get the best it, try one of the famous – and highly popular – wilderness trails: my five days of crossing rivers, camping out, tracking lions and dodging rhinos on the Primitive Trail ranked with the best bush adventures anywhere in Africa.

Rendezvous with Rhinos
Overall rating
4/5

This is the only major park in Kwazulu-Natal to contain all of the Big Five and it’s fitting that Africa’s oldest proclaimed park has endured as the stronghold of the continent’s beleaguered rhinos. The park’s terrain varies from open savanna grasslands to hilly woodlands and mountainous forest. This diverse range of habitats is the reason why both black (browser) and white (grazer) rhinos thrive here. Although the park is home to a wide variety of animals, including all the cats, for me it is the rhinos that steal the show. Despite a recent surge in poaching, this place still crawls with more rhinos than you can shake a stick at. Whenever I visit, I enjoy spending hours – whether in the vehicle or on a guided bush walk – tagging along with a crash of docile white rhinos as they mow their way through the rich grasslands. The lush green vegetation exudes an atmosphere of rejuvenation and abundance… and if the health of the rhinos is anything to go by, then it’s safe to assume that this park is really blossoming. So, come to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi to get your fill of rhinos and stand a good chance to see most of the Big Five in the process.

Hluhluwe, Africa’s sanctuary for rhinoceros
Overall rating
4/5

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is the oldest and biggest of the KwaZulu Natal Parks. Living in the Province myself, I have a special place in my heart for this cluster of ‘Zululand’ reserves. This very scenic park with its rolling hills and lush vegetation is a great place to see rhino. In fact this park was one of the last rhino strongholds when this animal became near to extinction. Without the efforts here and re-introduction programs involving the Hluhluwe rhinos, this animal might well have been extinct in the continent.

This is not a place to quickly tick off animals, but I’ve seen all of the big five here. Predators are a little bit harder to find because of the thick vegetation, but numbers are healthy and aside from the cats, wild dogs can also be seen. The real beauty in the park is the graceful Nyala antelope. Although it occurs in small numbers in other parts of Southern Africa, it is a real Zululand special. It always amazes me how this agile, bulky antelope with big horns, can immediately disappear into apparently impenetrable thick vegetation.

Marakele: Wildlife & Landscapes
Overall rating
4/5

Marakele rarely features in discussions of South Africa’s premier parks, but surely that’s only because few people know about it. For starters it’s a stunningly beautiful tract of land, with red buttresses of the Waterberg range watching over rolling hills scarred dramatically by a 2017 fire. All of the Big Five are here – my vehicle was chased by a lion while elephants watched – but only in the eastern section of the park; the two sections are divided by a fence and gate. West of the gate, there’s the Bollonoto bird hide and rhinos wander the light woodland. But it’s in the east where the landscapes soar and the wildlife is plentiful. On my way up the steep, narrow road to the precipitous Lenong Viewing Point, an important refuge for 800 pairs of the Endangered Cape Vulture, I had to wait while two black rhinos refused to budge from the middle of the road.

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  • 3.9/5
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