Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve
Safari suitability: 9/10Find your tour
Rhinos galore, the big five and a host of other beasts!
What YAS members think
- Big five
- A haven for rhinos—black, hook-lipped and white, square-lipped
- Zululand culture
- Stone age settlements
- Oldest established game reserve in Africa
About Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve
On the east coast of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, 450 km (280 miles) north of Durban, is Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve, the oldest established park in Africa. Located on 960 km² (370 miles²) of Zululand between the two Umfolozi Rivers—Mfolozi emnyama and Mfolozi emhlophe—Hluhluwe Umfolozi boasts mountains, rolling savannah and stone age settlements.
The wildlife of Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve
The park is the oldest game reserve in Africa, established in 1895; its history includes protection of the white rhino through “Project Rhino” in the 1950s and ‘60s, and it has since been known for its efforts in rhinoceros conservation. Today, Hluhluwe Umfolozi retains the largest population of white rhino and remains a haven for black, hook-lipped and white, square-lipped rhino as well as the rest of the big five—lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo. Game viewing is popular in the park as a result, where crocodile, lion, cheetah, hyena, blue wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra and a host of pigs, baboons, monkeys and reptiles also meander and speed. More than 300 bird species flit within the reserve, particularly near its floodplains.
Visitors can walk wilderness trails—self-directed and guided alike—tool around on self-guided driving trails (no off-road or night driving) and take guided boat tours on the Hluhluwe dam.
When is the best time to visit Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve?
The winter dry season, from May to August, is pleasantly temperate. Rain falls from September to April, up to 1,000 mm (39 inches) annually.
I've been lucky to visit Hluhluwe and Umflozi a few times in 2013 and absolutely loved every visit. In addition to having the full big 5, this park has some truly spectacular landscapes and is, by SA standards, fairly quiet and easy to navigate. Hluhluwe, the northern half of the park, is certainly the more beautiful half. The landscape becomes quite hilly and there are little offshoots from the main tar road that lead to rivers and ponds. We were surprised by quite a large heard of elephant at one river and sunset, who allowed us to stay fairly close to them and their calves. Umflozi perhaps has better game viewing. We quickly came across numerous rhino, loads of impala and zebra. The highlight of this park was certainly crossing the river near the main gate where two elephants were having a drink as the sunset. The paved road in Umflozi doesn't extend as far as it does through Hluhluwe, but the dirt roads generally do not require 4x4. We did not see any larger predators, and I heard of few people that did. I would recommend a guided tour if looking to see lions and leopards. We opted to stay at a backpackers just outside the park, since accommodation in the park begins at about USD 100/night. The backpackers (Hluhluwe Backpackers) sits a few km outside the Hluhluwe park gate offers rooms and camping, with a great kitchen and bar. No restaurant. I believe they run tours during high season. We also visited the park as a day trip from St Lucia which is possible but makes for a fairly long day in the car. I'd definitely recommend staying closer and spending a few days in and around the park. As a point of interest - I understand you can do 4-day hikes through the park in areas inaccessible by road along the southern river. We didn't have the time to do it, but it is supposed to be spectacular.
This reserve is about 2.5 hours from Durban on the north coast, a nice stop on the way is at St Lucia and I suggest doing a boat cruise on the estuary. When you reach Hluhluwe Umfolozi, there is a large area on the right as you enter the gate, I often see elephants there so great for viewing as you enter the gate. The main restaurant area has a large wooden deck with amazing views over the game park and you can see for miles. I highly recommend you do 2 game drives per day in this park. It is well known for its animal conservation. You can book game drives directly with the park at the reception by the restaurant or go with your lodge when staying inside the park or outside the park.
One of South Africas most beautiful and scenic reserves and the birthplace of rhino conservation in South Africa. The park plays host to one of the largest concentrations of white and black rhino in South Africa. The park has a large diversity of wildlife and carnivores are present with lion being the most common. In my previous visits to this beautiful reserve in northern Kwazulu-Natal on the northeast coast of South Africa we have had luck with cheetah sightings and have seen the wild dogs on one occasion. The reserve is easy to navigate around and can be visited for a day trip but I would recommend at least 2 nights in the park or one can stay just outside the park. This is an ideal park to visit as part of a longer South African safari itinerary. Accommodation in the park is comfortable and very relaxing but facilities are limited and I would suggest bringing most of your supplies with you. Some of the camps have a small shop and restaurant. The Park hosts some incredible bird life, with many special and localised species possible. A visit to Hluhluwe could be include into any Southern African trip to make the wild life experience more rewarding and enjoyable.
I have been to the game reserve many times and have always had great game viewing. Suggest you fly into Richards Bay which is not a far drive from Hluhluwe. There is a private lodge inside the reserve or a few lodges that we recommend also outside the park but very close by. This is a Big Five reserve as well which is known for its conservation and wildlife efforts. Close by is St Lucia or Kosi Bay so you can have some beach areas to explore as well.
I speak to a lot of tourists who didn't realize how 'rustic' Hluhluwe-umfolozi is and didn't come prepared and therefore didn't enjoy it as much. The density of carnivores in this park is insane, it's not a busy as Kruger and it really is a beautiful area. There is only one restaurant (Hilltop camp) but I will 100% recommend staying at Mpila, although no restaurant, all the animals are here, especially in the dry season. Be prepared though, there is also nowhere to buy proper groceries but the camp is open and often has lions roaming through at night- really really special.
Some people say that if you've seen one game park you've seen them all. Not true! Each game reserve has its own personality and distinct character that will make it simultaneously attractive to some and unattractive to others. While some may criticise Hluhluwe Umfolozi for being small, for instance (compared to the Kruger National Park), I on the other hand, particularly love the landscape and the lush, green vegetation. There is a sense of wildness and danger here. Its a different kind of bush. An almost jungle-like, primordial wilderness that comes alive after the rain. It is well-stocked with Big Five animals, other game and many, many bird species. There is something invigorating and exciting about an early morning game drive in Hluhluwe. Umfolozi is the southern section of the park more open grassland, even easier game sightings. We saw lion, elephant, loads of antelope and impala as well as leopard. The highlight of our trip was seeing black rhino, an increasingly rare sight on the continent these days. The park accommodation is rustic but adequate, clean and not too pricey. Ive heard some people complain about the service but I hardly notice the people when I visit a game reserve. Im not there for the people, quite frankly. Im there for the animals, for the nature and the wildness. And Hluhluwe Umfolozi has lots of these and then some. It is the regions top game reserve and any visitor will see why right away.
The Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve in Northern Natal has a reputation (in South Africa) as a great location to choose if you want to see Elephant and Rhino; of course, they have all of the Big 5, but there are really large herds of elephant and you are sure to see quite a few. We saw a large herd of at least 40 ellies on several occasions. It is a great park for do-it-yourself safaris, as the roads are generally good and you do not need a 4 X 4 to get yourself around, although I would still recommend a guided game drive at least once during your visit, as the skilled rangers have the latest info on sightings, and can take you directly to where the action is. Hilltop Camp is one of the most popular rest camps - try to book one of the self-catering units if you can - they have a great view out over the plains and are generally nicer than the bungalows with shared facilities and kitchens. You do not have to do your own cooking -the restaurant is very pleasant and serves a good buffet, or you can barbecue on your patio. If you are travelling in a crowd, (6 or 8 people) do try and book the Munyawaneni Bush Lodge - this is luxury, African Style, but still affordable. The camp is set off in a private location on a river bank. (Be warned though, there are no fences to keep the animals out!!) There are four double bedrooms linked to the main Boma by walkways and you will have your own cook and game guide! On our last visit we witnessed a baby warthog being taken by a crocodile right outside the boma. Perhaps not what everyone would choose to see, but this is Nature after all! It is very hot in Summer! Try to visit from April to October to avoid the worst of the heat and check if Malaria meds are required.
Getting to Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve from Johannesburg
It is about a six hour drive, in normal conditions, from the main international airport. It's also about a six hour drive from Maputo, Mozambique, but this route involve toll roads.
It is also possible to fly here, with flights being around 75 minutes in duration.