Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is a lush game reserve in the rich hills of KwaZulu-Natal's Zululand.
A large part of the region that is nowadays known as the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve was preserved for hunting exclusively by the Zulu kings. Hluhluwe has been a game reserve since 1895. Together with iMfolozi, the other main part of the park, an area of 100 000 ha is covered. The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve is the oldest area of conservation in Africa and also one of the largest parks. It is found in KwaZulu-Natal's Zululand region. The vegetation is made up of indigenous bush and Zululand thorny bushveld.
The Big Five, including the wild dog and cheetah, are hosted at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. The new combined park includes a piece that was previously owned by the state and, because there was previously no development this part, contains the most dense concentration of animals. A large variety of predators and antelope (such as duikers, steenbok, reedbuck, impala, kudu and wildebeest) occur in the park. The park is also home to more than 400 bird species. The Bateleur eagle, ground hornbill and the white-backed vulture are worth mentioning. The park was proclaimed to protect the white rhinoceros from extinction. Today there are approximately more than 1 800 white rhinos and about 350 black rhinos. Giraffe, warthog, bush pig, spotted hyena, black-backed jackal, crocodile and baboon are also found in healthy numbers.
Hluhluwe Game Reserve is renowned for its role in rhino conservation: the world-famous Operation Rhino was established here, and the park is the source population of the world’s southern white rhino. The efforts on Hluhluwe's part since the 1950's brought this amazing creature back from sure extinction through innovative conservation efforts that continue to this day.
If you’ve ever watched “I Dreamed of Africa” starring Kim Bassinger, or simply dreamed of going to the Africa you see in the movies, this is the place (it is also the actual place where the movie, and many others, were filmed). The park ticks every box imaginable, and the diversity of its animals and landscapes is like a dream come true.
If you’re not sold yet, the fact that this area was the official royal hunting grounds of the Zulu kings Shaka and Dingiswayo should give you an idea of how majestic the park really is. Traces of the old Zulu hunting pits and also evidence of the forerunners of the Zulus, the San, can be found in and around the park.
King Shaka International Airport in Durban is a popular flight destination both nationally and internationally, and flights are available daily from various airports in South Africa. African Sky will ensure that your connecting flight to Durban is scheduled from wherever your journey to Hluhluwe commences, which is typically OR Tambo in Johannesburg.
Hluhluwe is situated in what is commonly known as the Zululand district of KwaZulu-Natal, approximately 250km north of Durban. A private, air-conditioned vehicle, driven by one of our experienced guides,will take you through the wild Elephant Coast – nestled between the subtropical inlands and the Indian Ocean.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is pretty amazing all year round. Its location on the sunny eastern coastline of South Africa correlates with a sub-tropical climate. During the rainy summer and spring seasons from September to March, it can get quite hot and humid and thunderstorms frequent the area. It is the best time to view the immaculate vegetation and birding is great during the summer.
The winters, however, are not as cold as other parts of South Africa, and make for a comfortable climate throughout the day. Evenings can get quite cool, but the cloudless skies make this a great time for stargazing. It is also the best time to visit if you are looking for wildlife, as they gather around the waterholes and rivers.
Not only is the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Reserve the oldest in South Africa, but on the entire African continent. It was established in 1895. It was founded due to the fact that the area's natural abundance of wildlife was quickly diminishing as a result of intensive hunting. Hunting escalated when the ‘great white hunters’ arrived, but was going on in this area well before that. The Zulu warriors used to dig massive pitfall traps to capture large numbers of animals along their natural migratory routes. The area is also known for the ancient African tribes that had the knowledge to work metal. Metal tools were made for hunting and farming.
This reserve is probably best known for ‘Operation Rhino’, which was pivotal in saving the white and black rhinos from extinction. The project went so well that the white rhinoceros was even removed from the IUCN’s Red Data Book of threatened species. This remarkable project has restocked more than 3 500 white rhinos to areas where they had become locally extinct. A big problem in the area was the tseste fly and malaria mosquito, and it was thought to eradicate this by clearing the area of animals. This occurred to such an extent that the wildebeest and zebra were totally eliminated around the 1950’s. The iMfolozi junction was even de-proclaimed as a reserve to enable the use of DDT to fight the tsetse fly and malaria mosquito. This was, however, put to an end in the 1960’s, and since then all wildlife has been very well protected.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is one of the classic Big Five reserves. It is also one of the few places where the white and black rhinos can both still be seen. It is, however easier, to find the white rhino than the more elusive black rhino that which browses in dense thickets. Giraffe and Burchell's zebra are quite common, as are Cape buffalo. To find elephants and the big cats may be a bit more of a challenge, but they are certainly there. The elephants migrate throughout the park. Cheetahs and lions are occasionally spotted and there are also rare leopard sightings. To improve your chances of seeing leopard or even wild dogs, opt to go on a night drive.
On a night drive, you may also enjoy a chance encounter with hippos out of the water, as during the day you may only sneak a peek at the top of its head and back as it wallows in the waterways. The park also contains large populations of blue wildebeest, impala, kudu and waterbuck. Rare species that attract enthusiasts are the samango monkey that inhabits the thick forests, and the graceful nyala antelope. Birding is excellent, as the park has a number of bird hides that enthusiastic bird watchers can hide out in. From Hilltop Camp, a multitude of raptors may be seen soaring over the landscape. With more than 340 species recorded, there will undoubtedly be some species even the most committed birders haven’t even encountered. Some rare species included the brown-headed parrot, narina trogon, white-fronted bee-eater and lanner falcon.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is so called because it is the combination of what was previously two separate reserves,with varying attributes. It is also, interestingly enough, the first area in Africa that was proclaimed as a wilderness area, where the state of natural being had to be conserved, and with good reason. It is rich in both its natural and cultural history, where the Big Five occurred naturally, and where the legendary Zulu kings like Shaka hunted them with spear and wit. Hluhluwe is the name for the northern mountainous parts of the reserve, whilst iMfolozi is used to refer to the more open southern savannas.
Before the parks merged in 1989, the division hindered animals from using what would’ve been a natural corridor between the grasslands and the forests as the seasons changed. Today they are free to roam where they please, and the natural ecosystem is blossoming. An estimated 1 200 plant species can be found in the region, which includes the Natal giant cycad and pepper bark tree, which are protected species. The southern parts of the reserve are cordoned by the Black and White Mfolozi rivers, whilst the Hluhluwe River originates in the north. Damage to the riverine forests caused by cyclone Demoina in 1984 destroyed many of the old trees, but saplings have sprouted all around.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is an ideal Big Five safari destination. Open vehicle game drives with experienced rangers are conducted in the mornings and late afternoons, and night drives are also available for those overnighting in the park. Supervised walks are also offered and self-guided foot trails can be explored on your own time. In addition to the game drives and hikes, hides also offer visitors the opportunity to view the plentiful wildlife at waterholes and pans. There are also several picnic sites in the area which have ‘braai’ facilities - ideal for an casual brunch or lunch whilst enjoying the captivating scenery.
The park is one of the few places where guests can enjoy first-hand experience of the activities that encompass the conservation of rhinos. The Centenary Center, which is situated in the iMfolozi section, is open to the public, and depicts via video and display the history of game capture. Any animals that are being kept at the center at the time may also be viewed. Interestingly enough, visitors should keep an eye in the sky, not only because of the wonderful birding opportunities, but also because animals such as rhino are regularly transported via helicopter to and from various sections of the park.
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