Hluhluwe Imfolozi: The Oldest Game Reserve in Africa
Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park or as it was formerly known, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa. The area was originally a hunting ground for the royals of the Zulu kingdom such as Dingiswayo and Shaka.
The reserve was initially established to protect the white rhino population of South Africa, which at that time was and is again, critically endangered.
In the late 1950s up until the 1960s, the game reserve was home to Operation Rhino headed by the world-renowned conservationist Dr. Ian Player. Operation Rhino was a highly successful conservation effort to save and protect white rhinos from hunters and poachers.
This initiative led to the successful conservation of white rhinos across the world and most of its practices are still being observed to this day. From having 25 rhinos at the start of Operation Rhino, the game reserve now has the highest population of both black and white rhinos across Southern Africa.
Geography and Climate
Spanning a massive land area of 960 square kilometers consisting mostly of hilly landscape, Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park is divided into two (2) main areas:
This section of the park has hilly ground where the altitude can range from 260 – 1,770 ft. above sea level. The coastal scarp forests are supported by its high ridges in a well-watered area with valley bushveld at the lower areas. Situated in the northern area of the park, Hluhluwe is rugged and mountainous with stunning sections of forests and grasslands.
Found at the southern part of the game reserve, this area is particularly situated between the two Umfolozi Rivers: Mfolozi emnyama or Black Umfolozi and Mfolozi emhlophe or White Umfolozi.
This section of the park is generally hot during the summer season and is mild to cool during the winter season. The topography in this section ranges from lowlands of the Umfolozi river beds to steep, hilly country which includes both wide and deep valleys. Vegetation in this area consists primarily of grasslands, acacia savannah and woodlands.
The climate in this area can be classified into Dry Season and Wet Season.
Dry Season – May to September
Very little to no rainfall in winter with chances of occasional rain showers due to its proximity to the Indian Ocean coastal region. Heat is less oppressive in the summer season with skies being mostly cloudless.
Summer ends in May which means less rain and the humidity drops. June until August presents more pleasant temperatures around 23 degrees Celsius that drops to 11 degrees at night. It’s advisable to bring warm clothing if traveling during these months and AWT will always provide a comprehensive kit and clothing list. With September comes spring season; temperatures gradually rise with an average of 25 degrees Celsius. Rain will also start dropping in September with occasional thundershowers.
Wet Season – October to April
It’s very hot and humid during this period with near-daily rains in the afternoon. Heavy thunderstorms are also to be expected during this season.
October and November have common afternoon rains with occasional rains all day. Temperatures range from 16 degrees Celsius in the morning to 26 degrees Celsius in the afternoon. December to February months tend to be extremely hot and humid. Storms occur mostly in the afternoon with average temperatures being higher than usual. March and April are when things cool down; temperatures range from 17 degrees in the morning to 27 degrees in the afternoon.
Wildlife in the Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park
Hluhluwe–Imfolozi is the only state-run park in the Kwazulu Natal region home to Africa’s Big 5: Lion, African Leopard, African Elephant, Rhino, and Cape Buffalo. In addition to the Big 5, the game reserve has a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Some animals found in the reserve are the Hippo, Cheetah, Nile Crocodile, Giraffe, Hyena, Impala, Bushpig, Warthog, Kudu, Wildebeests, Jackal, African Painted Dogs, and so much more.
For birdlife fanatics, this area is home to approximately 340 species of birds. It is the only place in South Africa where yellow-throated, orange-throated, and pink-throated longclaw species are found together.
Whilst a traditional safari in open safari vehicles is the norm here, many people choose to take their own vehicles into the park and self drive. When Africa Wild Trails groups go to this area we tend to go on foot, into the wilderness area which is legally protected and devoid of vehicles, buildings and humans… A trail in the wilderness area is an exceptional experience and one that gets us extremely close to nature as we sleep out around a campfire, under the stars during the night, relaxing and listening to the sounds of Africa. During the day we quietly walk the game trails, tracking elephants, rhinos and other species whilst learning about local flora, fauna and conservation efforts.
With its rich history, vast biodiversity, and jaw-dropping landscape, the Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park is certainly one of the most fascinating game reserves to visit in the world. I would certainly list it as a dream destination in terms of wilderness hiking, safari and wildlife exploration and conservation. A chance to immerse yourself in nature, to see Africa’s Big 5, a rare sighting of the African Painted Dogs, and many more, this location is definitely a must-see.