Despite its compact size, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is home to 84 mammal species and close to 350 varieties of birds. The Big Five are all here, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this is the best place in the world to see rhinos, both black and white. Extinct in Imfolozi until 1958, lions have been reintroduced, and today they number around seventy, although they’re not easy to see and their future hangs in the balance. Other predators present are cheetah, spotted hyena and wild dog. Herbivores include blue wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, impala, kudu, nyala and zebra. When it comes to birds, there are over a dozen species of eagle, as well as other raptors including hawks, goshawks and honey buzzards. Other larger birds include ground hornbills, vultures, owls and herons. Reptile species number in the sixties, including crocodiles and several types of venomous snake, none of which you’re likely to see. Along the Hluhluwe River, keep an eye open for the harmless monitor lizards.
Where Hluhluwe-Imfolozi really scores over the Kruger is in the variety of activities on offer. Apart from self-driving around the park, there are also self-guided walks near several of the restcamps, guided trails in the company of an armed field ranger, guided night drives and a boat trip on the Hluhluwe Dam. South Africa’s first wilderness trail started in Imfolozi, and the reserve has remained the best place in South Africa for these (all are available from mid-March to mid-Dec). The three-night Base Camp trail involves day walks in the Wilderness Area, with nights spent at the Mndindini Trails camp not far from Mpila; the three-night Primitive trail departs from Mpila and requires you to carry your own gear and sleep under the stars, wherever the ranger chooses; and the Short Wilderness trail starts and ends at Mpila. On all of these trails, which must be booked through the KZN Wildlife, you’ll be accompanied by an armed ranger; and all gear – including linen and food – is included in the price.