Hluhluwe-iMfolozi: green hills and abundant game

Africa’s oldest park holds evergreen appeal, says Karin Theron. For wildlife lovers – even those without a 4×4 – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is a rewarding destination.

Having been curious about the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve for many years, we recently got the opportunity to visit northern Zululand’s prime Big Five park. The oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa did not disappoint us!

The lush green rolling hills and varied vegetation over 96 000ha are a feast for the eyes and wildlife abounds. Even though it was the rainy season (we visited in February) and therefore very bushy in places, we saw a wide variety of animals. We spotted elephant, big herds of buffalo, rhino, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, warthog, kudu, nyala, impala, baboon, monkey and leguaan (monitor lizard). Early one morning I heard a hyena calling.

Wildlife sightings are abundant in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. Pictures by Karin Theron
Buffalo enjoying a mud bath.
Early morning mist rising from the valley below.

Although we weren’t lucky enough to spot them during our short visit, the park does have lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog.

What to expect

The park is well run and the facilities are excellent. Established in 1895, it was seen as the conservation stronghold for white and black rhino. It is from here that Operation Rhino translocated many of these beasts to other reserves and parks.

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve consists of the northern Hluhluwe section and the southern iMfolozi section. Its main rivers are the White and Black Umfolozi and the Hluhluwe, but there are many smaller rivers and pans that provide water.

There are many viewpoints and picnic sites scattered throughout the park as well as hides from where you can view the animals and birds. We stopped at a few of the viewpoints and enjoyed our morning coffee at the viewpoint overlooking the Gqoyeni River where game rangers had seen a lioness a few days before. Some circling vultures gave a hint of a possible kill not too far off in the bush.

Blue skies over lush green bush: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is beautiful. Handsome giraffe complete the picture.

Hilltop Resort is the main camp in Hluhluwe and has a unique ambiance. The name is apt as the camp is situated on a hilltop with beautiful views of the surrounding rolling countryside. Big, age-old trees provide plenty of shade and facilities include a restaurant, curio shop and swimming pool. Fuel and diesel are available here.

The Hilltop Restaurant overlooks the Hluhluwe landscape.

Mpila Resort is the main camp in Imfolozi and has a curio shop and sells petrol. No diesel available here.

Where to stay

Unfortunately, there is no camping available in the park. The most affordable accommodation options are the safari tents at Mpila and the two-bed bungalows at Hilltop. Both camps also offer self-catering chalets.

At Mpila we stayed in a self-catering two-bed chalet and found it charming, comfortable and well-equipped with a little verandah to enjoy your morning coffee. All chalets are serviced daily.

The self-catering chalets at Mpila Resort.

At Hilltop we opted for a two-bed bungalow with shared ablutions and kitchen facilities. The ablutions were very nice but may be too small if all the bungalows are full. The kitchen facilities are basic but kept impeccably clean and tidy. However, we did not make use of the kitchen facilities as we had dinner at the restaurant and breakfast is automatically included in all accommodation options at Hilltop.   

Apart from these accommodation options, there also are ordinary lodges and bush lodges for groups, scattered over both sections of the park. The difference being that a bush lodge is exclusive use and comes with a guide and cook.

Even though the camps are fenced, visitors are often spoiled with zebra, warthog, impala, baboons and monkeys wandering through camp.

A warthog family grazing on the lawn in front of the chalets at Mpila.

The park is also the site of the very popular Imfolozi Wilderness Trails. There are various multi-day hikes ranging from backpacking and sleeping wild to slackpacking and staying in a fly camp.

Also read: Five walking trails to tackle


You don’t need a 4×4 vehicle to visit Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. The main road linking Nyalazi and Memorial gates with Mpila and Hilltop is tarred. Apart from this main tar road, there are a myriad of good gravel roads criss-crossing the park. You will find many game drive loops to choose from.

You will see a lot of game even if you stick to the tar road.
The little Hyundai Atos reflected in a zebra’s eye.

We managed the dirt roads in our little rented Hyundai Atos. However, you might be able to see more game if you have a vehicle with higher seating. You would also be less nervous of navigating the low-water bridges and few muddy patches we encountered during the rainy season.

The dirt roads are mainly all-weather roads.

Good to know

Both Mpila and Hilltop camps offer guided morning and afternoon walks (R350 p/p) and morning and night game drives (R380).

To make a reservation, visit Exemvelo KZN Wildlife online bookings or call +27 33 845 1000.

For planning trips and navigating while on the road, you can’t go wrong with our Southern Africa Traveller’s Atlas. The A3 size atlas is ring-bound so you can lie it flat or fold it over. Across 223 map pages it covers 518,350km of road network as well as important points of interest for overlanders.

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