After spending a wonderful few days at Ponta Malongane, it was time to move on. The date was December 7th. Inland folk were escaping the cities and beginning their annual mass migration to the coast for their annual holidays. Arriving early at the border for my re-entry into South Africa there was already a long queue from the opposite side waiting to cross into Mozambique.
The stations on both sides were each manned by only one official and the process was rather slow. Even this early in the day the heat and humidity was intense as we waited patiently in the sun for a turn to get our passports stamped.
The Village of Hluhluwe
Hluhluwe is a small but busy little town in a sub-tropical setting. The blooming flamboyant and deep-green mango trees reminded me of the towns of my youth in Zambia. With reasonably good shopping facilities it is a perfect base from which to explore the many attractions in the area. To the southwest lies the well-known Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. To the east, the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park and heading northwards it’s an easy day trip to Mkhuze or Phinda Game Reserves, Sodwana, Lake Sibaya or Pongolapoort Dam for tiger fishing. If you become tired of too much nature, the larger towns of Richards Bay and Empangeni are a quick jaunt down the N2. Certainly enough to keep anyone busy.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve
The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve lays claim to being the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa (1895). I’d always been under the impression that the honour of this title went to Groenkloof Nature Reserve in Pretoria (also 1895). Nevertheless, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is far larger and it is the only state-run reserve in Kwazulu-Natal to host the Big 5. Its unofficial protected status goes even further back to the Zulu Kings Dingiswayo (c1780 – 1817) and Shaka (1787 – 1828) who saw to it that the land, used as their royal hunting area, was safeguarded from the degradations of settlement and agriculture.
Seeking respite from the midday heat.
A far more significant claim to fame for this 960km2 reserve is the vital role it played in the preservation of rhinos in Africa. Operation Rhino commenced at iMfolozi in 1961. During the 1950’s and 60’s the famous conservationist Dr Ian Player, who was the warden here, played a significant role in bringing the species back from near extinction.
In the early 1900’s less than 100 white rhino roamed in the wild. Today the number has grown to around 18 000. As the populations of both white and black rhinoceros grew, the offspring of this successful venture were sent off to re-populate other reserves, mostly in South Africa but also north of the borders. If you encounter a rhino in Kruger today, you have Operation Rhino to thank for it. Sadly, we all know of the relentless threat to this iconic animal.
Two Reserves In One
Previously two separate entities, Umfolozi and Hluhluwe were joined together in 1989 when the Corridor Game Reserve was established to link the older two reserves. I found the two reserves offered a very different experience. Although it’s possible to visit both in one day, I’d recommend enough time to explore each area as an individual reserve. The network of around 300km of roads could take a few days to explore properly.
Hluhluwe’s landscape is hilly, varying from 80 to 540 metres. From several viewpoints one can sit and gaze over vistas dotted with numerous herds of animals. Perhaps because of the higher altitude and cooler climate, the vegetation here was lusher. Hilltop Resort offers accommodation in chalets and also has a small shop and a restaurant. The view from the terrace while enjoying a cold drink and a meal is superb.
Separated from Hluhluwe by a public road, iMfolozi has a very different feel to it. The lowland landscape is flatter, the climate hotter and the vegetation not quite as lush as that of Hluhluwe. iMfolozi is situated between the White (Mfolozi emhlope) and Black (Mfolozi emnyama) Umfolozi rivers. Here game viewing is much more up close and personal. As a result of the drier landscape and scorching heat, sightings were plentiful where the animals gathered closer to the rivers and waterholes.
Home to 340 species, the entire park is aflutter with birdlife. The Hluhluwe River Floodplain is one of the only places in South Africa where birdwatchers can see the yellow-throated, pink-throated and orange-throated longclaw species together.
There are no campsites inside Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve so campers need to look for accommodation outside the reserve.
Unlike many establishments, Bushbaby Lodge kept their already reasonable rates fixed for December and I chose their campsite as a base from which to explore the area. Situated just outside Hluhluwe town, it’s an easy 25km drive to the Memorial Gate entrance. It is equally central to all the other attractions I’ve mentioned above.
Bushbaby Lodge is a relatively small, owner-run outfit. Excellent home-cooked meals served on request make a stay here feel all the more homely. I really enjoyed my stay camped under the large shady trees.
A highlight for guests every evening is the feeding of the adorable primates from whom Bushbaby Lodge takes its name.
In the next episode I’ll share my visits to the nearby iSimanganlisi Wetland Park