If you are looking for an amazing place to explore nature and wildlife in South Africa, look no further than Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. This incredibly diverse park is known for its concentration and variety of animals and its wildlife conservation efforts.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is located in the Zululand region of the eastern South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. It’s just south of the town of Hluhluwe, known as the tourist centre for the area. It was also where the 2000 movie, I Dreamed of Africa, was filmed.
The park sits at the northern end of the Hluhluwe River and at the southern end of both the Black iMfolozi River and White iMfolozi River. It was established in 1895 from 2 separate reserves - the Hluhluwe Valley Reserve in the north and the iMfolozi Junction Reserve in the south. In fact, its respective sides are still quite often referred to as Hluhluwe and iMfolozi.
The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve is also called Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park or “HiP” (said h-i-p). Alternative spellings for the park are common, too, so don't let it confuse you. It’s all the same spectacular place. Hluhluwe is known for its wild, rugged terrain, whereas iMfolozi is a lovely savannah or grassland.
More than just an incredible place to explore and experience wildlife, HiP is known for its conservation efforts. Today it is home to a large population of white rhinos, numbering at least 1,600, where they were once almost extinct due to hunting. The park also supports many critically endangered black rhinos.
The best time to visit Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is during the dry winter months, from May to September. The trees and bushes are more sparse, making it easier to spot wildlife. Plus, the watering holes are fewer, so it’s easier to find the animals when they come down to drink.
The weather is milder, too, with sunny days and cooler nights. Keep in mind, though, that this is peak season, so the park can be crowded, and accommodation prices may be higher. If you prefer a quieter experience, you can visit during the shoulder seasons of April and October, when the weather is still good, and the crowds are thinner.
You might want to avoid visiting during the rainy summer months from November to March. The park can become muddy, and some roadways become impassable.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is full of sights and activities. Here are a few to get you started:
Explore the park on a guided game drive where you can spot the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo), as well as a variety of other wildlife, such as giraffes, zebras, antelopes and more. I’m always most excited to see the African Wild Dogs. These critically endangered carnivores are another focus of conservation efforts within the park, and seeing them gives me goosebumps every time.
For a truly immersive experience, take a multi-day wilderness trail where you hike and camp in the park, guided by experienced rangers. The organisation that manages the park, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, has an iMfolozi Wilderness Trail operation that runs 5 different trails. Each of them is an unforgettable experience. Be prepared for wild camping and a complete absence of modern conveniences. Try to do at least one of these!
If you don’t have time for the wilderness trails, you can take guided day walks, about two hours long, from Hilltop Camp and Mpila camps. Walking the trails is an entirely different experience than riding in a safari vehicle.
There are also three safe trails that you are permitted to hike on your own. If you’d prefer to do this, pick up a map at the gate reception to find the trails. You’re going to love it.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is home to over 340 bird species, making it a prime destination for birdwatchers. There are several bird hides and viewing points throughout the park - be sure to take advantage of these. While I’m not normally a birder, the birds in South Africa never fail to fascinate me. My favourites are the little bee-eaters and the crested barbets - make sure you look for these.
If you prefer to explore at your own pace, you can drive your own car around the park. This way, you can spend as long as you like watching a herd of elephants or a pair of lions. Just be sure to follow the park's rules and regulations - mainly, stay in your car to avoid being eaten.
I do both game drives and self-drive safaris when I’m in the park. I love to go at my own pace, but I also enjoy hearing the game drive guides share facts about the animals and the area. As well they have phenomenal skills when it comes to spotting even the smallest animals, and they know all the places they’re most likely to be found in. A 4x4 isn’t needed, as the park’s roads are well-maintained.
Learn about the Zulu culture and visit a traditional Zulu village to see how the local people live. The DumaZulu Cultural Village is in the town of Hluhluwe, just outside the park, and will give you a glimpse of a unique and interesting culture, very different from most of ours.
There are a few options to get to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, depending on your starting point.
If you are flying in from an international destination or from Cape Town, for example, you can take a connecting flight to King Shaka International Airport in Durban and then rent a car and make the 2.5 - 3 hour drive from there.
You can fly into the airport in nearby Richards Bay. The drive from there is only about an hour.
Another option is to take a long-distance bus to Hluhluwe town from where you are, and then take a taxi or rent a car to the park.
If you'd prefer to drive from your present location, rent a car, and do it! If you’re renting a vehicle, a 2WD will be fine, though 4WDs do have the advantage of being a bit higher, letting you see over the terrain a little better when wildlife spotting.
You can take a day trip from the holiday town of St. Lucia or from Richards Bay. These drives are each about an hour or you can do an organised tour from Richards Bay.
If you don’t have a car, there are several tour companies that offer guided game drives through the park. These are especially popular if you’re staying in St. Lucia or Richards Bay.
There are several camps in the park, each consisting of a variety of cottages, rondovals, chalets, and safari (permanent) tents. Here’s a list of your options. Each of these entries includes dozens of separate units within their own camps.
Hilltop Camp is in the northern section of the park, and has self-catering and non-self-catering units. These include rondavels (aka. round huts) and chalets for up to 4 people. There’s also an 8-bed luxury lodge at Hilltop called Mthwazi Lodge. Breakfast is included in the price at this camp, and they offer guided walks and game drives.
Mpila Camp includes the accommodation in the south iMfolozi area of the park. It has units for 2-8 people, non-self-catering chalets and safari tents. Guided walks and game drives are offered here as well. While there is a restaurant and pub in the park, if you plan to self-cater, I’d recommend bringing food with you into the park. The small shop won’t keep you alive if you’re staying for a few days.
A more upscale option is the luxurious Rhino Ridge, the only private lodge inside the park. If you dream of living in a little bit of splendour while you’re in South Africa, Rhino Ridge is for you. Indulge in some spa treatments, feast on the exquisite cuisine, and of course, take advantage of the safaris drives and game walks they offer.
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.
R260 (US$15.50) per adult
R130 (US$ 8) per child under 12.
You can pay by credit, debit card, or cash. Be sure to keep track of your receipt! You will need it to exit the park. If you don’t have it, you will need to pay a fine.
SA Residents receive a 50% discount.
Last Updated 12 September 2023