The oldest tourist resort in KZN, it’s been superbly updated to offer a restaurant and bar – everything the sophisticated traveler could want. For my taste, the reception/restaurant area is a little too sophisticated, but luckily the chalets and surrounds still retain the laid-back feel we diehards expect of a game reserve.
If you’re tired of driving around the park, have tea on the deck outside the restaurant and you might see the two elephant bulls who are regulars in the area. From your high vantage point, you may even see raptors flying below you.
Alternatively, you could walk Hilltop’s short, shady Umbombhe forest trail, take a dip in the swimming pool, or wander around reading the information displays planted here and there to teach you about birds of prey, trees and interactions with insects, spitting bugs, dinosaur cycads, bats, the fact that a fig is not a fruit, and so forth. Identification labels on many of the trees will satisfy your curiosity and send you home wiser.
Hilltop offers the usual variety of guided game drives and bush walks, and a sunset drive with bush braai should be available by early 2012. All these activities are an opportunity to learn from the park’s plugged-in field guides.
Hilltop’s hospitality services manager Jeffrey Makwala’s pick of the activities is the sunset drive. ‘It’s easy because you don’t have to wake up early and it’s the time when the cats are becoming active, walking on the road, so it’s a good chance to see leopard, serval and genet. Hyenas are also often seen on the sunset drive,’ he says.
My favourite drive from Hilltop is to head south to the Siwasamikhosikazi picnic site and then onto the gravel loop that goes to the Thiyeni hide where there’s a mud wallow. Unfortunately it’s dry in winter but Jeffrey says there’s a debate with conservation services at the moment about whether to pump water there or not. A scratching post polished to a smooth finish is proof that it’s certainly popular with rhino in summer. Next to the hide is a lovely area to have a picnic in the dappled shade of black monkey thorn and buffalo thorn trees.
From here you can continue south, under the R618 and into Imfolozi, but more about that in my next post.
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