Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is the oldest nature reserve in the country and offers the best game viewing in KwaZulu-Natal. Pronounced Shloo-shloo-way Em-fo-loo-zee, it was established in 1895, and the 960 square kilometers of lush rolling hills and grassy plains of these former Royal Zulu hunting grounds offer expansive, breathtaking views. It's not as big or as crowded as the more popular Kruger National Park, but therein lies its charm. It's the only place in the province where you can sneak a peak at the Big 5, and it serves as an important breeding ground for white and black rhinos. It isn't long after entering one of the three gates that you could come across zebra, buffalo, elephant, rhino, impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, crocodile or skittish giraffes. Baboons and warthogs often travel along the gravel roads traversed by self-guided drivers. The elusive lion, leopard and cheetah can be tough to find on your own, so your best bet to spot these expert hunters is with a trained guide. The park is also a birder's paradise with over 350 species of bird found in its varied terrain.
The park is split into two sections, bisected by the R618 highway. Hluhluwe is the northern section marked by rugged hilly terrain and dense forests that can sometimes make viewing more of a challenge. But atop its hills you are greeted with an expansive panorama of the untamed wilderness and you may spot a watering hole visited by a variety of local animals. Imfolozi in the south is characterized by more open savannah. It can get rather cold here during the winter so make sure to pack accordingly.
Self-Guided Drives are a cheap and stress-free way to experience the park. Maps that indicate main attractions, viewing sites, picnic spots and camps are available at all gates, but you'll have to ask for them.
Guided Safari Drives can be arranged through private tour guides or at Hilltop Camp or Mpila Camp. Open-air drives with experienced guides give you the best game-viewing experience, especially if you are on the lookout for some of the more hard-to-spot cat predators. Night drives are also available to experience the nocturnal side of the park. For an expert safari guide not associated with the large camps, call Dave at 035-562-0357 or 076-375-3831.
Centenary Centre is the base for the park's wildlife replenishment program where you can often see animals inside enclosures waiting to be transferred. There is also a small takeaway restaurant and craft shop at the Centenary Centre.
Hiking opportunities are available in the Imfolozi section of the park and range from short self-guided foot trails to overnight hikes. Base Trails and Bushveld Trails are a series of day hikes that set out from the Mndindini Bush Camp, which has 10 elevated luxury tents that are rustic, yet comfortable and include fully catered meals. Wilderness Trails are guided hikes that take you from one catered bush camp to another. All you have to do is carry your daypack. For the more adventurous hikers, try the Primitive Trail to really experience nature. After a long day of traversing the untamed wilderness, you'll set up camp and sleep under the stars. Hikers take turns keeping watch at night. All guided trails are arranged through the Mpila Camp (S 28 18.698 E 031 51.686, iMfolozi).