Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, a haven for white rhinoceros

The KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa has a distinct character with lush rainforests and massive wetlands. Inevitably, the rich water sources attract animals of all sorts. That’s why the province has great potential for safari tourism. In fact, the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in the country is found here. Since the first day it was established, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve has been the center of conservation efforts in KZN. Even the rarest large mammals that you would miss out in some famous national parks are found in large herds.

Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve Chris Eason License: CC

Overview

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve was founded in 1895 on a series of small hills 280 km north of Durban, covering 960 km2. Before its establishment, it was used as a hunting ground by the Zulu kingdom. The white rhinos were the most-affected victims of hunting, so the main purpose of the park was to protect them. Today, the park has the largest population of white rhinoceros in the world.

White Rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) female and young Bernard DUPONT Licence: CC

The park has two distinct terrains in the north and the south. The southern region is a lowland area with two branches of Umfolozi Rivers running through. The area comprises a large mass of Savannah, grassland and woodland. The northern part is known as Hluhluwe with hilly topography and a steep gradient from 80 to 540 meters. This mountainous area comprises deep valleys covered in the bushveld surrounded by sharp forests.

Wildlife

The diversity of wildlife in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi shows a continuous growth pattern due to both the diverse terrain and the conservation and relocation efforts.

The park has an excellent big five profile.

The primary concern as mentioned earlier has been the white rhinoceros. By the time the park was founded, there were only 20 white rhinoceros in the entire country because of hunting and poaching. Through continuous conservation and breeding methods, park management was able to raise the numbers exponentially. Today, the park accommodates over 1500 white rhinoceros and 400 black rhinoceros, the highest number of rhino per unit area in the world.

A rhino in Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park Darren Glanville License: CC

Lions, elephants, and buffalos are already widespread in Zululand; however, the park management puts extra effort by transferring different male breeds from Kalahari to contribute to genetic diversity.

A lion in Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park Camilla Faurholdt-Löfvall License: CC

The park is also busy with a project to identify and track down the elusive cats like leopards and cheetah, which are clustered around the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. Once they are located, the rangers construct safari routes passing nearby their habitat.

Among the 86 species are Nile crocodile, hippo, hyena, wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, eland, kudu, monkey, baboon, and nyala. The park is actually regarded as the best place for viewing nyala.

Nyalas (Tragelaphus angasii) female drinking Bernard DUPONT License: CC

There are also hundreds of reptile and bird species around the Hluhluwe River Flood Plain.

Activities

When it comes to safari, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi has a surprising amount of options for both day visitors and overnight visitors.

The longest option is the full day safari that takes 9 hours and costs R1250. This is the best option for the big game viewing because the predators roam around the plains for hunting as the full day safari tours begin, meaning that you can witness as they attack their prey. The tour includes a continental breakfast as well as traditional braai and refreshments.

A rhino running in the rain Willem van Valkenburg License: CC

There is a shorter version called half-day safari tours for 6 hours. These tours start from R1050 and include breakfast and refreshments.

Perhaps the most exciting option is the one that involves both the bush and the river. The full-day boat tours consist of a half-day game drive followed by a two-hour boat tour through the St Lucia Estuary and Isimangaliso Wetland Park. This is the best option to view big 5, the crocodiles and hippos in the same day. The tour costs R1350 and includes breakfast, lunch, and refreshments.

Night drives are ideal for viewing nocturnal and elusive animals like Leopard. The night safari also takes place in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park.

For those with a limited budget, there are brief safari drives or boat safaris for 2-3 hours and affordable prices starting from R300.

The overnight safari packages are equally exciting, merging Hluhluwe-iMfolozi with the surrounding attractions such as scuba diving in Sodwana Bay, visiting the Zulu villages for dance performances, and searching for sea turtles.

Climate & Best Time To Visit

The park is in a subtropical zone with a dry season from May to September and a rainy season from October to March.

The period from October to March is not ideal because of both the humid and hot weather and the school holiday season attracting many local tourists to the area. Also, the period between June and August can see quite low temperatures. Between April-May and September-October are the best times since the weather is the mildest, not to mention how animals will congregate around water holes during these months.

African Buffaloes (Syncerus caffer) drinking at a waterhole Bernard DUPONT Licence: CC

Getting There

The closest city to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is Durban 250 km south of the park. The road between Durban and the park is tarred and well-maintained.

Durban’s King Shaka International Airport is easily accessed from Cape Town International Airport and Johannesburg’s O.R Tambo International Airport, as well as from major cities like Maputo and Gaborone.

SA Airlink, FlySafair, Kulula, and Mango are some of the domestic airline companies within South Africa.

Tips & Things You Might Need To Know

Believe it or not, the self-drive is also an option in the park. You can either enter through the Memorial Gate into the Hluhluwe side or through Nyalazi gate near Mtubatuba.

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) bull on the road in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park Bernard DUPONT Licence: CC

You can still get information from the rangers as to where the vantage points are.

Due to its rugged terrain, the Hluhluwe side is not feasible for self-driving. Imfolozi is a better alternative with open grasslands that will expose all the wildlife. Sontuli Loop is a popular lookout area where visitors often encounter lions, cheetah, and wild dogs.
Imfolozi is also the better of the two in terms of leopard sightings. Perhaps, you can combine a self-drive through Imfolozi and a guided tour in Hluhluwe to get a taste of both parts.

Heath And Safety

Whether you self-drive or join a guided tour, do not ever exit the vehicles without permission from the rangers. Do not feed the animals.

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) bull passing a Safari Vehicle in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park Bernard DUPONT Licence: CC

If you are self-driving, refrain from exceeding the speed limit of 40 km/h

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is in a low-risk malaria zone, which doesn’t require medication intake; however, you should always consult your general practitioner before visiting the area.