Hluhluwe Umfolozi: Former Zulu hunting grounds
Set amid the rolling hills in the heart of Zululand, Hluhluwe Umfolozi is a park like no other in Africa. Though once the hunting grounds of the Zulu kingdom, Hluhluwe Umfolozi is now a provincial park managed by Ezemvelo, the KwaZulu-Natal parks board. While not as famous as South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe is a favorite destination among many South Africans, especially those with roots around Durban, a 2.5 hour drive away.
The verdant green hills of the park’s northern section provide for stunning vistas and spectacular sunsets, while dense valley vegetation houses beautiful forests and big five game viewing. The hills give a really unique feel to the park and offer a stunning sense of place. Plains in the south around the Black and White Umfolozi rivers give a more traditional savanna feel where herds of zebra and buffalo graze. On my most recent trip to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, elephants, rhino, lions, and wild dogs provided great game viewing. The best sighting, however, was a rare and beautiful bird, a Narina Trogon, nesting in one of the trees along the road in Hilltop Camp. As luck would have it, we heard another one calling out on a game drive and managed to locate it—two for one trip!
Hluhluwe Umfolozi achieved fame for pioneering conservation efforts for two endangered species—most notably, the white rhino, and more recently, African wild dogs.
African white rhino conservation
Africa’s white rhino would likely be extinct now if it wasn’t for the huge conservation efforts in Hluhluwe. In 1900, just 20 white rhinos were left in Africa following near total annihilation by sport hunters. Conservation efforts in the mid-1900s led to the rhino’s recovery, and following improved game capture techniques developed in Hluhluwe, rhinos were then translocated across the continent to repopulate their former range. Visitors to Hluhluwe can read all about it at informative displays in the museum at the Centenary Game Capture Centre within the park.
Today, Hluhluwe is one of the best places to see rhinos. However, the uptick in poaching since 2008 increasingly threatens rhino persistence across Africa. Hluhluwe Umfolozi is no exception—unfortunately, 29 rhino have already been poached in Hluhluwe in the first four months of 2015.
Reintroducing African wild dogs has been another of Hluhluw-Umfolozi’s major conservation endeavors. Wild dogs and other predators including lion and cheetah were formerly extirpated from the park, but have since been reintroduced. After reintroduction beginning in 1980, wild dogs in Hluhluwe, and much of South Africa, are managed by continuously moving individuals into and out of specific parks to maintain diversity of the overall population. However, wild dogs remain one of the rarest predators in Africa, so the opportunity to see them in Hluhluwe is a special privilege.
Besides rhino and wild dogs, visitors to Hluhluwe Umfolozi can see elephants, buffalo, lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, zebra, giraffe, impala, and many others. Birding is also fantastic. Beyond the lovely Hilltop Camp, road and facilities maintenance throughout the park could use more attention. Infrastructure is relatively undeveloped, so come prepared with food and drinks, especially if you’re staying in Umfolozi. On the positive side, Hluhluwe Umfolozi is a fairly quiet park compared to the likes of Kruger. Visitors wanting even more isolation can check out the wilderness trails—guided, multi-day hiking trips to experience the park up close and personal.