Northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is nirvana for those who love wildlife and nature, with an abundance of provincial and private reserves to choose from. Here in subtropical Zululand you’ll find game reserves in KZN that will pay rich dividends on your South African safari.
This collaborative post with other bloggers brings you the best of the game reserves in KZN for a wildlife safari. In most cases, a link at the end of the piece leads you to more information about that specific reserve.
This reserve is divided in two – Hluhluwe to the north and iMfolozi in the south. Mpila is a self-catering camp in iMfolozi. Hilltop in Hluhluwe is more luxurious, with a hotel-like feel, restaurant, bar and wi-fi for those looking for more comfort. There is also one luxury private lodge inside the park.
Guided game drives at Hluhluwe are a common day trip from St Lucia and also offered by lodges nearby, but this stunning park deserves more than a single morning. Self-drive is an ideal option. With two days of self-driving you can thoroughly explore both parts of the park from the scraggly bush of iMfolozi to the rolling green hills of Hluhluwe.
Erin Mushaway, Sol Salute
Read more about Hluhluwe-Imfolozi on Erin’s blog
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
iSimangaliso (meaning miracle and wonder) stretches from the uMfolozi River mouth in the south, up hundreds of kilometres of pristine beaches to Kosi Bay Mouth in the north. At its heart is Lake St Lucia, Africa’s largest estuarine system. Big 5 game areas surround the lake, offering self-drive and guided safari options, fascinating wetlands and rich coastal dune forest teeming with birds.
The eastern shores are renowned for angling and diving (Sodwana Bay is one of the top ten dive destinations in the world). Between October and March, you could spot endangered loggerhead and leatherback turtles laying their eggs or their hatchlings wriggling out of the soft sand into the sea.
Visit multiple times to experience all iSimangaliso has to offer, each time focusing on a different section of beach or bush. Whether you prefer game drives, hiking, fishing, diving, surfing, bird watching or just being one with nature, you’ll witness a living miracle. Much of the area has roads of soft sea sand, so it’s best to visit in a 4x4.
Sarah Dirsuwei, Chasing the Rainbow
uMkhuze Game Reserve
uMkhuze forms part of the sprawling iSimangaliso Wetland Park (see above) and is home to animal icons such as the Big 5, wild dog and cheetah, with an impressive cheetah research programme. It’s the ideal weekend away and you could easily self-drive most of the game drive routes in two days, but much of the reserve’s fame stems from the joy of sitting at the productive hides. Then there’s the rolling landscape. Thorn trees dot the plains, a unique sand forest harbours the secretive suni antelope, and it’s all easily accessible even in a sedan.
Nhlonhlela Bush Camp is an exclusive-use self-catering setup of four rustic chalets. The main rest camp at Mantuma may be a little worn, but the shaded camp is home to nibbling impala herds and charming braai areas. It’s laid back and open to the wild.
Don’t miss a guided walk in the sycamore fig forest, where a beautiful boardwalk weaves below the boughs and straddles the uMkhuze River. The ancient woods here are said to be more than 400 years old and they support a steady stream of life like monkeys, hornbills and even leopards.
Melanie van Zyl, www.melanievanzyl.com
Ithala Game Reserve
Ntshondwe camp and the rustic bush camps are set among the rocks, and there’s a campsite next to a river.
Go on a self-drive route like the Nghubu Loop, stopping at points of interest along the way. The roads are rugged so you’ll need a 4x4 or high clearance vehicle to get around the park; only the road between the entrance gate and Ntshondwe is tarred. You can also join a guided drive in an open vehicle. Other activities include self-guided nature walks, bush walks with a ranger, or spending time in Ntshondwe’s hide. Best of all, chill out and listen to the birds, breathe deeply and unwind.
Roxanne Reid, Africa Addict (yes, that’s me)
Read more about Ithala on my blog
Ndumo Game Reserve
As it’s a bit off the beaten track, Ndumo gets fewer visitors than many other reserves, making for a more intimate experience. Explore in your own vehicle or on guided game drives. A small resort offers camping and self-catering accommodation as well as a supply store, petrol station and swimming pool.
A real draw card are the guided birding walks. Ezemvelo park rangers lead the way through the acacia savannah, sand forests and marshy wetlands of the park in search of finds such as the pel’s fishing-owl, southern banded snake eagle and African broadbill.
Bevan Langley, Stray Along the Way
Read more about Ndumo on Bevan’s blog
Tembe Elephant Park
The terrain is varied, covering forest, savannah and wetlands, with a mix of tropical and sub-tropical vegetation. This means there’s a great variety of animals and birds to spot on the game drives each day. 10 self-drive vehicles are allowed per day as day visitors, but you need to have a proper 4x4 vehicle to deal with the sandy areas. Day visitors may also book a guided game drive.
Accommodation is in a small tented camp in the centre of the park. A handful of tents, each surrounded by bush, give a wonderfully immersive experience. You’re deep in the wild at Tembe – and it feels like it. Monkeys and bush babies wander around camp.
Tembe is in a low-risk malaria zone. Although anti-malarials aren’t considered necessary, it’s still advisable to take precautions with the right clothes and decent repellent.
Ed Goldswain, Safaris Africana
Read more about safaris in South Africa on Ed’s blog
Pongola Game Reserve
Enjoy guided 4x4 safaris (no self-driving allowed) and private boat cruises, learn about the reintroduction of elephants more than 20 years ago, their careful monitoring and research on the integration of orphan herds into matriarchal ones. You’ll have the rare opportunity to track black rhino with specialised researchers, spot hippo and Nile crocodile from a boat over your morning coffee and track game on a guided bush walk. Among the wildlife are buffalo, leopard, hyena, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, warthog, numerous antelope species, and more than 350 bird species.
The perennial Pongola River meanders through the centre of the reserve and further north you’ll find the separate Phongolo Nature Reserve, which is under Ezemvelo/KZN Wildlife management. Day visitors are welcome to self-drive here, to launch their boats and to fish. Lake Jozini is renowned for its tiger fishing. There is one entrance to the nature reserve close to the border with Swaziland, with a basic campsite right at the lake.
Dawn Bradnick, The Incidental Tourist
Read more about Pongola on Dawn’s blog
andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve
The entire reserve is managed by andBeyond, which works in a responsible manner towards the environment, the animals, the local communities and its employees. Visitors go on two guided game drives each day. No self-driving is allowed. Your rangers and trackers try to accommodate your interests, taking you in search of the animals you most wish to see. Specials to look out for include the tiny suni antelope and red duiker. If you’re really lucky you may even be able to follow a hunt that pits predator against prey. Other experiences include nature walks and cultural activities.
There are six lodges at Phinda, each different but all immersed in nature, with forest, mountain or vlei settings. It’s not uncommon for animals to pay a visit to your backyard at the lodge.
Claudia Tavani, My Adventures Across The World
Read more about Phinda on Claudia’s blog
Amakhozi Private Game Reserve
On an early morning or late afternoon guided game drive (no self-driving is allowed) breathe in the sights and sounds of the bush. Watch cheetah cubs play and elephants bathe, follow tracks to find lions and learn about the eating habits of white rhino from their poop. Listen as your ranger tells of Zulu traditions and the medicinal use of plants, watch eagles soar and hear the tantalising call of the gorgeous bush shrike. Put on your hiking boots for a guided bush walk, or don gumboots and headlamps for a frogging safari (rainfall dependent between December and March).
A private lodge offers fabulous local cuisine, bushveld style and memorable encounters with both wildlife and people.
Tessa Buhrmann, The Responsible Traveller
Read more about a frogging safari on Tessa’s blog
Thanda’s guides have an affinity with this land, and a passion for leading you into their world and the wonders of nature. You’re not allowed to self-drive here, but the early morning and late afternoon game drives account for six hours of your day. The focus is not only on big game, but also on trees and plants, spiders and beetles.
Between game drives there’s plenty to experience, including the luxury tented camp, a cultural experience in a nearby Zulu community, guided bush walks and a complimentary wildlife photography lesson.
Di Brown, The Roaming Giraffe
Read more about Thanda Safari on Di’s blog
Manyoni Private Game Reserve
Manyoni is a first-class game viewing destination with beautiful, varied landscapes of open savannah, acacia thornveld and riverine forest. The reserve’s ten independent lodges provide guided early morning and late afternoon game drives in open safari vehicles (no self-driving allowed) and can also organise activities like tiger fishing or a sunset cruise on Lake Jozini. Don’t miss a guided bush walk where you might encounter big mammals but will also focus on smaller things you often miss in a vehicle.
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