Durban is becoming a popular city for visitors to travel to, especially since some airlines have decided to fly direct to Durban (or are planning to). It’s not just the city of Durban that’s popular though, or even the weather of friendly people, it’s also because Durban is within a few hours of some of the best game reserves in the country, and the Hluhluwe Imfolozi, Big 5 game reserve is one of the best!
A short History of the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
The Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve (or as some spell it, the Hluhluwe Umfolozi game reserve) is the oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa. Proclaimed a protected area in 1895, the reserve has a conservation history going all the way back to the days of the Zulu King, Shaka kaSezangakhona who decreed the area and it’s animals to be under his protection, this meant that certain animals such as Leopard were forbidden to be hunted as they were royal game.
As time went by, big game hunters from Europe (and the America’s) started arriving and simply blasted at everything that moved. One of the early settlers to Zululand where the park is situated was John Dunn, a professional hunting guide who plied his trade throughout the late 1800’s. He wrote in his diary of hunting expeditions where some 200 animals were killed killed each and every day over a two week period!
Towards the end of the 1800’s a group of hunters awoke to the fact that there were fewer and fewer animals to be found. By the time of the game reserves creation, lion were no longer found, neither was elephant. Thanks to this (obvious) realization, the hunters petitioned the Natal government at the time to proclaim the area as protected.
Initially the Hluhluwe Imfolozi was actually two separate game reserves (more correctly three, but it gets complicated), the Hluhluwe game reserve in the north, and the Imfolozi in the south. In 1989 the two reserves were joined together, in fact when entering at Nyalazi gate (the middle gate) and heading north, you do drive through the old gates.
Some Basic Facts About the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
The park is pretty big, 960km2 which is bigger than say Singapore. It’s situated in Zululand and is a 2,5 hour drive north from Durban direct to the entrance gate. There are actually three entrance gates, in the north and south and middle.
- Memorial gate in the north (3 hours from Durban)
- Nyalazi gate in the middle (2,5 hours from Durban)
- Cengeni gate in the south (3,5 hours from Durban). This gate is not often used and the approach road is sometimes in very poor condition.
Choosing which gate to enter depends on which direction you coming from (north, south or west) and to a degree which camp you want to stay at if spending a few nights.
There are approximately 300km’s of road system in the park with the main road being asphalt all the way from the northern gate to the the middle gate (Nyalazi Gate) and about 20km’s for so to the south, after which it becomes dirt road.
All the dirt roads are in pretty good condition and can be driven in pretty much any vehicle though there is one 4×4 only track but it is well marked and there are both free maps that are pretty basic and paid for map that are really detailed. Both kinds are usually available at reception.
Speaking of reception, when arriving at the park you’ll have to sign in,provide your vehicle details, have your passport handy and pay a conservation levy. You will be handed a receipt which you need to keep with you at all times and hand back to the gate when leaving the park. Oh and, you can leave through any gate you wish, you don’t have to leave through the same gate you entered.
The speed limit in the park is a comfortable 40km’s per hour. Unlike the Kruger National Park where speed trapping is carried out, here in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve everyone is left to their own devices but beware, if you speed and hit an animal, the fine is substantial and honorary rangers are always keeping an eye out.
One golden rule to always remember… animals have right of way.The quickest way to be banned from the parks is to endanger animals so be careful out there!
Malaria in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
A real attraction for the game reserve is the fact that it’s situated in a malaria free zone! There will still be mosquito and other bugs (though not as much as you’d think) but at least the chance of infection is next to zero.
It’s always a good idea to invest in some bug spray though, and at night (especially in summer) to wear long sleeves and pants.
The Animals of the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
I had initially planned to list out the animals of the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve and then I realized the list would simply go on and on and be never ending! So instead I’ll point out just a few of the most common animals you will most likely see and save a more detailed list for another blog post.
- Elephant – there are quite a few elephant and because of their size and poor digestive systems they are constantly on the move meaning you will most likely spot one on a Durban safari tour. Watch out for those that have young or are in musth – stick to the 50 meter rule to be safe.
- Buffalo – hands down the most dangerous animal in the park, they look and act like domestic cows but they are aggressive and unpredictable! Found mostly in the north but are well distributed.
- Rhino – the park has relatively healthy populations of rhino with the white rhino being most common. Fairly well distributed throughout the park with the black rhino usually spotted in the south.
- Impala – the old joke is apt, that impala are the “Macdonalds of the bush”. They are found pretty much every where but do concentrate around open plains rather than wooded areas.
- Nyala – Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve has the largest concentration of Nyala in South Africa (and I was once told, the world). Seen regularly in the north in thicker areas.
- Giraffe – you would think they are easily spotted but they are actually pretty stealthy! They found throughout the park and are constantly on the move. Lone bulls and “journey’s” are spotted fairly regularly.
- Zebra – like impala, they are pretty common, very often along the roadway.
- Warthog – Very often the first animal you see as you enter the park, sometimes even in the parking lot of the reception areas!
Staying at the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
There are a number of accommodation options at the reserve, from lodges to chalets, tented camps and rondavels. The two popular camps are Hilltop and Mpila.
Situated in the northern section of the park and is the only camp with a restaurant.There is also a small shop serving the basics including curios and a lovely area for lunch. When we conduct our overnight or extended Hluhluwe Imfolozi Big 5 game reserve tours, it’s here that we stay.Check out this blog post for a more detailed description of the camp.
Hilltop camp has both chalets and rondavels. Chalets are larger,, sleeping two to six, have a lounge area and en-suite bathroom, some have small kitchens for those wanting to self-cater. The rondavels are the budget option, 2 x sleeper room’s with a bar fridge and that’s it. Those staying in rondavels will have to make use of the communal bathroom facilities and if you wanting to cook, there is a communal kitchen.
There is a cooling pool available for all guests to escape to when it gets too hot to drive about, and for those looking to enjoy a walk, there’s a lovely trail that’s about 30 min long.
There are braai (barbecue) facilities for rondavels and chalets if you’re planing one. The restaurant serves breakfast from 7am to 9am, lunch there after till 4pm and then dinner (usually a buffet) from 6pm till about 10pm.
If you are self-driving, there is fuel available at the camp.
Mpila camp is situated around about midway in the park, the easiest access is from Nyalazi Gate (the middle gate). This camp has not restaurant, it’s all self-catering.
The are chalets available, with kitchen and en-suite facilities as well as a tented camp. Braai facilities are available throughout. A word of warning though; because the camp is rather remote, electricity is switched on at around 5am, and lights out at 10pm.
Mpila has a fence around that really only stops elephant and giraffe, pretty much everything else can and does walk through the camp, especially at night! So the rule is simple, no walking about after dark, there may be wild dog, leopard, hyena, lions etc.
There is also fuel available at this camp and a small (very small) shop.
Getting to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
Obviously if you’re booking a Durban safari tour through us, getting to and from and around the park wont be an issue. There is no reliable transport to the game reserve from anywhere that we know of (and we asked around plenty).
If you traveling direct to the park as a group, then consider a transfer service to drop you off and collect you when you done. Usually the rate is per trip and so the more people you can get together the cheaper it becomes.
Gate times change according to the time of year…
- Nov – Feb: 5am to 7pm
- March – Oct: 6am – 6pm
Please note that if you arrive after the gates close, you will have to payfor an escort out the park or to your camp (at the time of writing,R500). The amount is not that much but you could also be asked to leave the park.
What is there to do at the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
If you are going to a game reserve, you are going to view the animals –that’s what it’s all about after all.
The park offers open vehicle game drive three times a day at all the camps. You must book at reception.
- Sunrise game drive (5am to 9am)
- Late morning game drive (10am – 1pm)
- Sunset game drive (5pm -8pm)
There are also game walks available that are 2 hours long. It’s best to inquire at reception at they only offer the walks if the camp has guides available.
If you are on a tour with us, we’ll spend most of the day viewing animals with the exception of midday when we have lunch and relax out of the midday sun. If you are self-driving, the same applies.
For those that are avid campers and hikers, there is also the option of the Wilderness Trails (detailed blog post coming up). There’s an option of 3 days and 5 day trails, there is a minimum group size though.
What’s nearby the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
The town of Hluhluwe is nearby, about 20 min from the northern gate and about 60 min from the center gate. In the town, there are two supermarkets which will stock pretty much everything you need.There’s is also a local doctor and pharmacy is needed.
Bayete Zulu Elephant Interaction
About45 min north of the park is Bayete Zulu. This private game reserve is well know for it’s three very friendly elephant who every day, make their way to the main gate where visitors can get a very close up view of these amazing animals. There’s a entrance charge and then a 30 min (or so) guided interaction with the elephant – this takes place at 11am most days. This is a very popular site and you must book ahead (details at the end).
Emdoneni Cheetah Project
Some25 min from the northern gate is Emdoneni Cheetah Project. Here you can enjoy a tour of the facility and learn more about the 4 African cats at the project, the Cheetah, Caracal, Serval and African Wild Cat. There are two tour times a day (10:30am and the 4pm or 4:30pm in summer). You can just arrive but I would also suggest calling ahead and booking.
Around 45 min from the northern gate is False Bay. This nature preserve is situated on a lake and has fantastic walks through the property.There is same antelope species about and the lake itself is home to hippo and crocodile (so no swimming).
If you leave the center gate (Nyalazi) and drive east for around an hour you will end up in St Lucia. This unique little town is situated inside the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. Here you can enjoy a 2 hour cruise on the estuary viewing hippo and crocodile, or enjoy a walk on the boardwalk to the beach (watch for the ever present hippo and crocodile). St Lucia is considered to be one of the best birding sites in South Africa and there are tours you can join. There’s also an amazing crocodile park and plenty of restaurants nearby.
Staying Nearby the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
The Hluhluwe Imfolozi, Big 5, Game Reserve is becoming busier every year and so accommodation may not be available especially during South African high season (June-July and Dec-Jan). There are many places to stay around the park that are pretty convenient. Here are our suggestions; these are places we have stayed before.
- Ubizane – about 10 minutes from the northern (memorial gate). A private lodge with upmarket accommodation including self-catering. There is a restaurant that serves amazing food and they also offer game drives into the Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve.
- Emdoneni – no more than 25 min from the northern gate. This upmarket reserve has the added benefit of having the Cheetah project on their property.
- Zulu Nyala – 40 min from the northern gate. This private game reserve has many of it’s own animals and offers game drives on it’s reserve and at the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve.
- St Lucia – the town is 60 min from the center gate and has loads of accommodation, from backpackers to more luxurious lodges.
Booking a tour to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi, Big 5, Game Reserve
Visiting the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve is a “must do” when visiting South Africa. It’s easy to get to from the city of Durban and offers safari go’ers the best opportunities to experience an African safari.
We offer a number of safari tours to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve from day tours and trips to longer overnight and extended stays. For more information on any of the tours, click on the links that follow.
- Hluhluwe Imfolozi day tour from Durban
- Overnight safari experience to Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve
- 3 Day safari experience at the Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve
- 5 Day safari experience to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve
We also offer a bespoke tour planning service, so if you have an itinerary in mind, simply let us know and we’ll put together an experience to suit your budget and travel.
Contact us to book your Durban Safari Tour
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Hluhluwe Imfolozi Image Gallery
Below are some images from recent tours to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve.