We had a great 2 nights in the Hilltop Camp in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve.
What an amazing experience to be so close to the amazing wild animals. We saw lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and loads of antelope and giraffe. It was a great thrill to be slow close to these animals in the natural, unspoilt environment.
It was a privilege to be allowed into their world, where they are protected from mankind and have the right to exist much has they have for thousands of years all over Africa.
Driving around the park in our hire car allowed us to enjoy the park at our own pace. Visiting waterholes and hides and taking time to enjoy the African bush.
The camp at Hilltop was superb, with stunning views and the chalets we stayed in were large, comfortable and clean. We could barbeque in our private area or enjoy a meal at the restaurant in the main reception area, but we opted to enjoy own barbeques, sitting under the African stars.
Arranging our own accommodation and driving ourselves around was easy and remarkable cheap way to visit this part of the world. At 500 rand (about 35 pounds) per person, per night, the chalets are great value. They are clean and comfortable, with en-suite bathrooms, equipped kitchens and ceiling fans.
An truly awesome experience, not to be missed.
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is a self-drive game park (unless you are staying in some of the private lodges or going on a morning/night drive).
Easy to read, clearly illustrated maps are sold at every entrance to the park. Take some time before you leave the main gates, to look at the map and navigate your route. The park also offers three self-auto trails - you can buy the map and booklet at the main gates or the camp receptions, and you can follow the trail in your car, stopping off at points of interest along the way, that are highlighted in your book.
I have often found that it is best to spend a few hours driving around the park before checking in on your first day. Head into your camp just after lunch, check in, unpack and then throw a few snacks together before heading out to a nearby water hole for some sundowners as the sun slips over the savannah.
Take note of the speed limit and keep to it! There are often speed traps (believe it or not) throughout the park.
Wild Dog is one of the most amazing carnivores in Africa. It is also one of the most endangered and is very difficult to see. They require enormous territories and have been hunted as nuisance animals by farmers to protect livestock. Their densities are low and number continues to dwindle.
Here at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi they have been successful in maintaining healthy populations of Wild Dog. The dogs are doing so well that their numbers are increasing as well as their territory. Wild Dog were spotted in Mkuze Game Park 100 kms to the north where they were not supposed to have any Wild Dog at all. They must have come from Hluhluwe.
Wild Dogs are fun to watch as they are very social animals. They hunt together, rear young together and live together. Each member of the pack has its own job and works for the benefit of the whole.
I saw this group at sunset hunting in a group of 5. They nearly got an adult male impala right in front of my car.
Hluhluwe-Umfulozi is much hillier than Kruger. Much of its land area is covered by rolling hills with a few hundred meters change in elevation top to bottom. Down in the valleys, you have rivers with lush tropical vegetation, while the higher elevations have broad grasslands dotted with trees. We enjoyed a number of the hilltop views, especially in the morning when there was still some fog down in the valleys.
In South Africa, you constantly see and hear references to the Big Five. The Big Five game animals are lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and cape buffalo. They were viewed as the five most challenging big game animals to hunt. Of the five, leopards are by far the most difficult to find, because they are nocturnal. Lions are the next most elusive. Rhinos are endangered through out Africa, but are somewhat plentiful in Hluhluwe and Kruger National Parks. Of the two main rhino species in Africa, white rhinos are far easier to sight than black rhinos, which are less common.
While we were in Hluhluwe, we saw four of the Big Five (lions, elephants, rhinos, and cape buffalo). We did not see a leopard until a week later near Kruger National Park.
We arranged through our hotel to take a guided tour of the park. We only had one day at Hluhluwe, and a guided tour was the best way to cover the large area that the park encompasses. Our guide was excellent, and could recognize animals that were a kilometer away. We leaned a ton of things over the course of the day.
We saw a ton of animals in Hluhluwe, including lions, elephants, cheetahs, cape buffalo, rhinos, giraffes, warthogs, zebras, and impalas. The only major species that we did not see in Hluhluwe was a leopard. It took us about eight hours to cover the major areas of the park, with hour-long breaks for breakfast and lunch.
One can visit the game park on its own, either as a day visit or to stay inside the reserve. There are entrance gates close to Hluhluwe, to Mutbatuba.
The recommended route from the north or south is to turn off the N2 at Hluhluwe village and follow the tarred road to Memorial Gate.
An alternative route is to turn off the N2 at Mtubatuba on to the R618 and proceed towards Hlabisa and travel for 27 kms to Nyalazi Gate.
Gate Opening and Closing Times:
Summer(November to February ) 05h00 to 19h00
Winter ( March to October ) 06h00 to 18h00
There are two types of Rhino in the park: the White Rhino and the Black Rhino. The White Rhino was brought back from the very brink of extinction by conservation efforts in the park during the 1950-1960's...in fact, most of the Rhinos found in Southern Africa stem from being transferred from Hluhluwe-Umfolozi game park.
Black and White do not refer to their colour - both are grey - the White Rhino got its name from its mouth: it has a long wide mouth. The early Dutch settlers in SA referred to them as "wide" mouthed Rhino - the Dutch word for wide sounds similar to the english word for "white"...or that is what I heard anyway - hence the name stuck.
The Black Rhino has a prehensile lip - a sharp pointed lip - they eat shrubs and their heads tend to extend upwards, while the White Rhinos are grazers and their necks naturally hang down. Another way to tell the difference is the way they walk when their baby is around: the White Rhino always walks behind their baby, the Black Rhino always walks in front of it!
The Black Rhino is the more aggressive of the two, and had a tendency to charge - so don't get too close!
The head of the wildebeest is large and box-like. The body looks disproportionate - the front quite heavily built, while the hindquarters are slender.
The wildebeest’s hide is grey (appearing slate blue is certain light) with several darker vertical stripes down its neck. It has a dark mane and a long tail. Both males and females have horns, making differentiating between the sexes difficult at a distance.
Active both day and night, they often string out in long single columns when on the move. They are the favourite prey of lions.
The Kudu is a beautiful antelope. Grey in colour, they have a wonderful array of white stripes running down their body. The markings on their hide make them rather difficult animals to spot when they are standing still in the bush.
Their regal faces usual have a white stripe running across their foreheads, just between the eyes.
Kudus (males) also possess a spectacular set of spiral horns. These horns have long been prized in Africa, and their uses range from musical instruments, honey containers and symbolic ritual objects.
An interesting fact about the Kudu, is their ability to leap at a great height: Kudus have been known to clear a 2.5 metre fence from a standstill.
The Kudu is most like the Nyala, but the Kudu male's horns are far more spiralled and there is no heavy fringe of hair hanging below the belly as in the case of the Nyala.
Buffaloes are large, cow-like animals. Unlike the cow (! )they are unpredictable and can be dangerous if cornered or wounded - one of the most ferocious animals when hurt, Buffaloes make up one of the big five.
They are usually dark in colour with a powerful set of thick horns.
On one visit to Mpila camp, a pride of lions took out a buffalo just outside the campsite. We heard the plaintive moo-ing of the poor beast as it was attacked. The next morning we went out to see if we could spot the carcass. We did. The lions were there too - an awesome sight - huge and powerful, eating their kill.
While a buffalo's sight and hearing is poor, they have a highly developed sense of smell.
We love to head out first thing in the morning, take a long drive through the bush, and then stop off somewhere nice for breakfast...Another way of breaking a day of sitting in a car, is to have a leisurely breakfast, head out into the bush and stop for lunch at a picnic spot...or, have a lazy snooze over lunch time after an early morning drive, and then pack the cooler bag and head out to a picnic spot for sundowners!
Whichever way you choose to do it, eventually you are going to stop off at a picnic spot and there are loads to choose from in the park! The picnic spots are clearly marked on the maps (which are available at the entrance to the park) and all the sites have set braais, dustbins, tables, chairs and toilets. Most of the picnic spots are chosen for their views. Our favorite is the one that overlooks the Black Imfolozi river: Siwasamakhosikasi picnic site.
There are some lovely wooden benches that overlook the river bed and cliffs in the far distance. We love to sit there with our binoculars as the food is cooking on the braai, watching and listening to Africa. We have seen elephants crossing the river as well as buck coming down to the water's edge to drink.
When in Africa...! A South African culinary delight is the braai (BBQ).
What better opportunity when in the bush, to whip out the charcoal and light up the braai; throw on some meat - perhaps a string of boerewors (farmer's sausage, a local delicacy) - cook up a bowl of potato salad (onions, cooked potatoes, mayonnaise and seasoning), salad, some chakalaka (spicy pickled vegetables) and maybe a garlic bread or two...all washed down with a beer or glass of pinotage.
There is something wonderful about eating out under the stars and the game park is the perfect place to do it! All the rondavels and cottages have braais. Some are a little further into the bush than you would like, but that just adds to the adrenalin of cooking in the real outdoors :)
Charcoal and firelighters are on sale in the camp shops.
Bush pigs are similar to warthogs, however you can tell them apart by their lack of facial warts! They also have smaller tusks and more hair than warthogs..
Bush pigs tend to be nocturnal. Interestingly enough, bush pigs are also the largest animals to build nests for their young!
I love watching warthogs in the park! They are frequent visitors to campsites and almost no day goes by without spotting them rooting about in the grass around your cottage!
They have quite large heads in proportion to their bodies, are grey in colour and usually have distinctive "warts" on their face - hence their name. They also possess very large tusks, which you can imagine they use to great effect when threatened.
I almost got too close trying to photograph one once and he had no qualms about letting me know he wasn't keen on me getting so close!
Warthogs are different to bush pigs in that they have much larger tusks. Their skin is covered in bristles while a bush pig is hairier. Bush pigs also have no warts. The warthogs also hold their tails straight up in the air - like small aerials - as they run, while bush pigs keep their tails down.