After leaving Ithala Game Reserve (read here for more about Ithala and Ntshondwe Resort) our next December holiday destination was the wilds of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and our much loved Mpila Camp.
We love Hluhluwe-Imfolozi because of its wilderness atmosphere (the Park covers almost a thousand square kilometres), its fascinating history and the enormous contribution it has made to the conservation successes of our country. We love Mpila most because of its unspoiled character. The camp is not fenced (except for a single strand of electrical wiring supposed to keep the elephants out – they come into camp and destroy the water pipes looking for a drink) and a wide variety of animals, including predators from time to time, move freely among the accommodation units. Surrounding the camp, the Imfolozi-section of the Park offers some of the best game viewing available in South Africa, and there’s few game-viewing roads as rewarding as the Sontuli Loop, just half-an-hour’s leisurely drive from camp.
December is one of the wetter months in this part of the country and by the time we arrived in the Park the vegetation was lush and green and the waterholes, streams and rivers filled to capacity. What a contrast to the huge swathes of veld burnt to ashes just prior to our visit last year and yet again we were amazed at nature’s resilience.
Of course, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is known as a Big-5 reserve and within 24 hours of our arrival we were rewarded with excellent sightings of all these sought-after animals: elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard.
The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is world renowned as the place where the Southern White Rhinoceros was rescued from the brink of extinction in the middle of the previous century. Today the reserve is home to a substantial number of white and black rhinos – let’s hope that the current tide of poaching can be halted before we find ourselves that close to losing these enigmatic animals again…
Elephants were shot out of the area by hunters before the Park’s proclamation in 1895, and were reintroduced to the Park in the 1980’s. Today, the park boasts a healthy population of 550 of these majestic animals. We had wonderful encounters with several mature bulls, but our most memorable sighting was of a very large herd of cows and calves of all ages crossing the Imfolozi River.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi protects the second biggest population of Cape Buffalo in South Africa – almost 5,000 – and we regularly encountered these apparently placid but actually extremely dangerous animals on our drives through the reserve.
The lion is another species that was hunted to local extinction before the reserve came into being, but unlike the elephant they made their own way back to the reserve in the 1960’s (well, just one male, probably from Mozambique, which was later joined by a pride of females translocated by the reserve management) and today there’s about 200 lions in the Park.
The Park is estimated to be home to only about 80 leopards and, given their secretive nature, any encounter should be considered extremely fortunate. We were very happy to spot a female at the bridge over the Imfolozi River early one morning – only our second ever sighting of leopard in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
The Park is also home to three other big African predators. On this visit we missed out on seeing the African Wild Dogs and Cheetahs, but we did get to see Spotted Hyenas a couple of times
As magnificent as the “Big Five” and large predators are, there’s so much more to enjoy when visiting Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. The Park harbours thousands upon thousands of primates, antelope, zebra, warthog and giraffe, and a multitude of birds and reptiles.
You’ll easily imagine how sad we were when our four nights at Mpila and in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park came to an end – seemed it was over in the blink of an eye. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is one of South Africa’s genuine wildlife treasures and we’re already planning our next visit there.
From Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park we headed back home to Pretoria to enjoy Christmas with the extended family before heading to Golden Gate Highlands National Park (yes, again! And we’ll be posting photographs from that trip soon 😉 )