Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Vervet Monkey

A Complete Guide to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve: On Safari & Beyond

If you’re after an unforgettable experience in South Africa, look no further than the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve! From rhinos and elephants to birds and antelope, this is one of the most diverse wildlife reserves in the country. 

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Giraffe

Whether it’s your first time in South Africa or you’re a repeat visitor, you’ll be in for an unforgettable experience. This article will give you all the information you need to plan your trip and make sure it’s as enjoyable as possible. 

So read on, and get ready for the trip of a lifetime!

Where to Find Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is located in Zululand, a region in the eastern South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. It sits on the Hluhluwe River in the north end, and the Black Umfolozi River and White Umfolozi River in the south. 

It lies just south of the town of Hluhluwe, a small municipality that is considered the tourist center for the area. Some may know it as the place where the 2000 movie I Dreamed of Africa was filmed.

How to get there

The reserve is a 2.5-3 to 3 hour drive from Durban, or a 7 hour drive from Johannesburg. Even closer is Richards Bay, just over an hour’s drive away. It’s also just a 54 minute drive from the holiday town of St. Lucia – not to be confused with the Caribbean getaway of the same name!

It’s clear across the country from Cape Town, however, and about a 19 hour drive. If this is where you’re coming from, you may want to consider flying Johannesburg, renting a car, and driving the rest of the way.

Another option is to catch a connection flight from Johannesburg to Durban or Richards Bay, and make the shorter drive from there.

Getting In: The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park Gates

There are 3 gates in the park, and which one you use will depend where you’re coming from:

• Memorial Gate is the only gate in the northern Hluhluwe section of the park
• Cengeni Gate is the farthest south in the iMfolozi section.
• Nyalazi Gate is technically on the iMfolozi side, but it lies very near the midpoint of the park.

2023 Fees for international visitors:

US$15.42 (R260) per adult and US$7.71 (R130) per child under 12. Pay by credit, debit card, or cash. Keep your receipt! It will be needed to exit. If you don’t have it, you will need to pay a fine.

SA Residents are discounted 50%.

About Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

Established in 1895, the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is also known as Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park or “HiP” (said “H-i-P”). In fact there are a few alternate spellings that you might run across. This is quite common in Africa, don’t let it confuse you! 

This area began as 2 separate sites – the Hluhluwe Valley Reserve and the iMfolozi Junction Reserve. Even today, the northern side of the park is referred to as Hluhluwe and the southern side as iMfolozi.

HiP is the oldest official nature reserve in Africa, known not only for its concentration and variety of wildlife, but also for its heroic conservation efforts.

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi White Rhino

It’s thanks to these efforts that today the park has one of the world’s largest populations of white rhinos – at least 1,600 – where they had once been virtually eliminated by hunters. The critically endangered black rhinos can be spotted here, too!

While in the park you can learn more about HiP’s efforts at the Centenary Center. At its animal holding facility, visitors can get a closer look at rhinos and various antelope species while they wait to be transported to homes in other parks. Find out more in the attached museum and information center , then browse the first-class craft market for something to remember your visit by.

In addition to the park’s own work, there are conservation groups that work within HiP to help protect and preserve animals such as lions, cheetahs, and the critically endangered African Wild Dog. You can even plan ahead to volunteer with one of these groups.

This incredible reserve covers around 960 km² (370.7 miles²) of land. It’s one of the few parks in the area where all of the iconic Big 5 can be seen—rhinos, elephants, lions, leopards and buffalo’s—as well as a huge variety of other wildlife. 

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Wild Dogs

In total, the area is home to 84 types of mammals and 350 species of birds, as well as hundreds of different kinds of amphibians and reptiles. As well, some 1200 plant species flourish in the park.

The stunning terrain itself consists of rolling hills dotted with thorny acacia trees, hilly grasslands, and rough bushveld. The three separate rivers are the jewels in the park’s crown. This fascinating ecosystem is the ideal setting for a safari adventure.

You’re going to love it!

Safari in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi

As you can imagine, with the abundance of animals and the spectacular landscapes, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is an amazing place for a safari. You can explore in your own car, or search through the variety of game drives and activities available to choose from in the camps.

I suggest that, if you don’t have time for all of these,  you take advantage of the opportunity to indulge in a self-drive safari! You can stay at a sighting for as long as you like, move on when you’re ready, and you won’t have to worry about getting a window seat on a safari vehicle. 

Set out early in the morning in your own vehicle for the most exciting sightings. You could come across enormous elephant and buffalo herds, or lions feeling sprightly after a night of hunting. 

You might decide to spend a fascinating afternoon at the Centenary Center while the animals snooze through the heat of the day. Head out again on safari again in the evening when it’s cooler, and the wildlife is up and feeling lively. 

Remember, to avoid being eaten while you’re out watching for animals,  stay in your vehicle, unless you’re at an area where your map or the signs tell you it’s ok to get out, such as at picnic spots. Even then, look around before you get out of your car.

Do I need a 4WD vehicle to safari in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi?

While the park itself may be gorgeously wild, the roads are generally well-maintained. Though the majority of them are gravel, you should have no problem navigating them with a 2WD vehicle.

However, if you will be driving a 4WD and want to have a little extra fun, there is a 4×4 route in the southern iMfolozi section. It’s a loop west of the Bhjane hide called Okhukho. 

It’s not too crazy, but it’s a bit of fun, and there are often lions sighted from the road. When you enter the park, be sure to purchase a map at the gate reception or at the curio shop. This route will be marked on it, along with all of the other places you need to know about.

This map will also show the few areas where extra caution should be taken during heavy rains, especially in a 2WD. These areas are signed, as well, so look out for those if it looks like it’s been rainy..

Even though they aren’t a necessity, one advantage to having a 4WD is the extra height of the vehicle. From the higher vantage point of a 4WD, it can be easier to spot wildlife that’s in the grass or on hilly ground. I’ve done both, and I recommend a 4WD for this reason alone!

The best routes for a self-drive safari

One of the reasons Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is so popular is that it’s so easy to indulge in an amazing self-drive safari. And with its two rivers and more open grassland, the southern iMfolozi section is a great place to start.

The Sontuli Loop, in the northern part of this section, runs close to the Black iMfolozi River, which is the perfect place to see wildlife wonder in for a drink. And because you’re calling the shots, you can stay here and watch for as long as there is something to see – no rush! 

If you’re anything like me, you might spend hours watching elephants come and go. But always be sure not to block other vehicles from the view. Give everyone a chance if there happens to be a lot of traffic.

Routes 17 and 21 are also excellent trails. Each of these has a selection of hides to watch from, and are good routes along which to see one of my favorite animals, African Wild Dogs, as well as big cats like lions and cheetahs.

Catching sight of rhinos is definitely a highlight! You might lose count of how many you see. These guys are a real live testament to the success of HiP’s conservation efforts.

Once you’ve driven these roads, carry on and cover as many others as you have time for! There are no bad trails in the park. But again, if there have been heavy rains, watch for the caution sign when you turn onto new roads.

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Lions

Be sure to ask any of the safari game drive rangers that you see where the best sightings have been. They are very friendly, and always willing to point you in the direction of where the animals have been spotted on any given day.

If you are going to be in the park for more than a day, a great option is to take one of the game drives offered by the park, as well as enjoying a self-drive tour. This is a great way to get the lay of the land, and to benefit from the expertise of the guides.

They know where you’re most likely to spot certain animals, for example in the grass or up in the trees. They can also share facts about the park and its wildlife that you might not discover otherwise.

Other ways to enjoy the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

• Self-guided hikes: There are 3 trails through safe areas that visitors are permitted to hike on their own. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can pick up the guides at the gate reception where you got your map.

• Guided hikes: Hikes from 2 hours to several days, accompanied by expert guides are available. The longer hikes include all of your food, water, and equipment. Some have burros packing everything, others have you carrying your own gear. This is a spectacular way to get to know the park, and I highly recommend them!

Some of the longer guided hikes are seasonal, available only from mid-March to mid-December. Also, some seasonal hikes are done only on weekends. Choose the right one and check the schedule on the KZN website.

These hikes are amazing – if you have time, do as many as you can!

• Game Drives: Day and night game drives are offered to visitors, with expert guides who know the park and its animals inside and out. Game drives are available at Hluhluwe Hilltop and Imfolozi Mpila camps.

Guided hike and game drive bookings are made on arrival, on a first come, first served basis. The alternative is to book in advance with your accommodation. You can do this from the KZN homepage.

How long should I spend in HiP?

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is a large park and you could easily spend a few days here. However, if your time is limited, be sure to allow yourself at least 3 hours to explore the Sontuli Loop and connecting routes.

It’s absolutely worth your time, even if you can only make a day trip here from St. Lucia. You can self-drive or book a day safari with an outside company, your choice.

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve Accommodation

Several options are available if you decide to stay in HiP. Note that there are no campsites where you can set up your own tent.

If you intend to self-cater, it’s best to bring food into the park with you. You won’t find the supplies available in the park sufficient to keep you alive for long. Hluhluwe does have a restaurant, though.

The Southern iMfolozi Section:

This is the open, grassy section of the park, with woodlands and rivers running through low areas, and rolling hills breaking up the landscape. Accommodations here are basic but still comfortable.

• Mpila Main Camp has cottages, chalets, and safari (permanent) tents for up to 7 people.
There are also 4 lodges in various areas of iMfolozi, 3 of which include the services of a cook/caretaker for your stay.

Find all the details, including current pricing, on this page. When you’re ready to book your stay, do it from right here.

The Northern Hluhluwe Section:

This section has more of a rough and wild feeling, cooler in the mountainous region. Accommodation options lean away from basic, more toward bliss. 

• Hilltop Camp has self catering and non self-catering units, including rondavels, which are round huts, and chalets for up to 4 people.
The stunning Mtwazi Lodge was the original home of Hluhluwe’s warden. It has room for 8, and includes a lovely, large veranda and a tropical garden.
• Rhino Ridge is a luxury safari lodge. If you’ve dreamed of living in a little bit of splendor while in South Africa, this lodge will make your dream come true.

Hilltop Camp is also equipped with a restaurant and pub, as well as a small store for necessities and a curio shop.

Find Hluhluwe accommodation details and current pricing on this page, and book your stay right here.

Camp Gate Times:

The gate times change according to the time of the year:
                        Oct – Mar                         5 am – 7pm
                        Apr – Sept                        6 am – 6 pm

Gate times are strictly enforced! You will be charged a fine if you are late coming through a camp gate.

* Most camps are surrounded by an electrified fence to keep larger animals like elephants out, but many other animals might be seen in camp. Don’t leave food out, and just be aware when you’re outside. This is a part of the fun, and seeing a hyena sniff past your veranda is just a reminder of the wonders of Africa!

The Best Time to Go to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Buffalo

Prime time for a visit to HiP is during the winter months of May through September. This is a dry period in this area. That means that there will be fewer places for the animals to go to drink, making their movements more predictable. 

The foliage is also much less dense during this time, giving wildlife less camouflage. 

In short – the wildlife is easier to find, and easier to see!

Tips for Visiting the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

 If you plan on spending a few days here, it may be worthwhile for you to join the Rhino Club. For US$18.70 (R320) for people under 60 years and US$15.20 (R260) over 60, it gives you free entry into this park, as well as other Ezemvelo KZN parks, for 365 days.

You will also receive a discount on your accommodations and your activities if you stay in HiP.

 If HiP is one of many parks that you will be visiting in South Africa, I recommend that you get a SANParks Wild Card. The card will give you free access to most South African parks for 365 days.

 The northern Hluhluwe side tends to be the busier section. South, in iMfolozi, there are more open spaces and more water sources, which make for better wildlife viewing.

Vervet monkeys are common all around the park, and they want what you have! Keep your car windows up when you’re not in it, or they will help themselves to any items or food they find inside. This goes for your accommodations, too. Lock the doors – they can open doors, but they haven’t figured out the locks yet!

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Vervet Monkey

You can find a lot of information in the EKZN Wildlife document here. This includes things like cancellation policies, accommodation details and prices, and senior and student discounts.

HiP is in a low-risk malaria zone, but there can be a lot of mosquitos. Be very sure to bring insect repellent with DEET along. Malaria medication may also be necessary – opinions on this vary. Visit your doctor or local travel clinic for help in making that decision.

 Obey the speed limits in the park – 40 km/hr – for your safety and that of the animals.

In conclusion: Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, Imfolozi, HiP – a spectacular destination whatever you decide to call it. Of all the choices you have for game parks in South Africa, HiP should be at the top of your list. 

From spotting the Big Five to exploring its diverse terrain, visiting the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is an experience of a lifetime. Whether you’re looking for a thrilling adventure or simply some time to relax, this park has something for you. 

With its convenient location, wide variety of activities, and abundance of wildlife, the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is the perfect place to make the most of your time in South Africa.

Whether you have all the time in the world, or just a few hours. Happy travels!

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