This is one of the first bush walking experiences to have been introduced in South Africa, with emphasis placed on connecting with nature fully and escaping the trappings of modern life in a Big-5 wilderness setting. Wilderness Trails are run exclusively in the southern sector of the iMfolozi reserve, a 30,000 Ha (vast!) area to which no-one else has access, and where no man-made structures or tracks exist whatsoever. Groups are limited to 8 participants and are guided by national parks rangers. There are several formats for the trails, ranging from tented, fully catered and supported, to more elementary expeditions wherein you sleep beneath the stars, prepare your own food and rotate on fire watch through the night!
- Walk in an extensive area of pure wilderness – no man-made structures or tracks
- Part of an important national reserve containing Big-5 animals
- Lovely, rolling country incised by the meandering White iMfolozi River
- Leave your watch and phone behind and really connect with nature
- Set departures between mid-February & early December
- Maximum of 8 persons per departure, guided by National Parks’ rangers
- A choice of trail types at different comfort levels
- Inexpensive compared to other walking safaris
- Easy to combine with lodge-based safaris in neighbouring reserves
This is the comfiest option, although it’s still relatively low key when compared to most walking safaris found in other parts of Africa. Its run as either a 2-night (short) trail or a 3-night (extended short) trail. Although the ethos of discovering wilderness holistically lies at the heart of all trails at iMfolozi, on these particular adventures you will actively seek out wildlife in the company of an armed ranger when walking out from camp, examine and follow tracks, inspect native flora and get wonderful insights into the life cycles of the African bush. Mules are used to carry equipment and food into a fly camp, where you’ll sleep in dome tents on mattresses and you’ll be fully catered for. The camp has no ablution facilities save for a traditional bucket shower (warm water provided) hung from a tree, and a spade, loo paper and matches, which serve for a toilet – fine for a few days. This is a great way to experience wild African bush with sufficient pampering to make the experience appealing to a wide cross section of nature lovers, save for the very squeamish.
These trails are for those seeking a very raw wilderness experience – participants enter the iMfolozi territory on a minimalist basis and are requested to leave virtually everything except their clothes, rudimentary bedding, provisions and cooking equipment behind. Mules are not used and all kit has to be carried in by the trail party. Emphasis is placed on embracing the fundamental values of wilderness – solitude, timelessness, freedom from a world where man is in control and a place where the sounds and ways of nature pervade. You’ll be expected to assist with food preparation and will sleep beneath the stars for 4 nights. The aim is to immerse yourself in the bush at a more spiritual level, as opposed to seeking out wildlife (although you’ll encounter it, including the possibility of Big 5 animals), and a highlight is the night watch rotation when you are expected to keep the fire going – not for the faint-hearted!
This is the comfiest trail offered in the iMfolozi reserve and is suited to those who are drawn to nature and want to focus exclusively on walking, but for whom camping out in a Big-5 wildlife area is a step too far. Three nights are spent in the relative comfort of Mndindini, the trail’s base camp, and walks are conducted out into the wilderness area each day – you can expect to cover between 7 and 14 kms on each of the two full days, during which occasional crossings of the shallow river will be made. An afternoon walk is conducted on arrival day, as is a final morning walk on departure day. Mndindini camp and the trails area can only be accessed by trails groups, so you will not encounter anyone else when you are in camp or out walking. Although you will not be sleeping out deeper in the reserve, as you would on the other trails, you will still experience the magic of spending an extended period in the wilderness area and exploring on foot. The camp itself has a rustic, bush camp feel – it’s simple yet very pleasant and sited in a shady grove of trees overlooking the White iMfolozi River. You sleep in 2-bed dome tents erected on wooden platforms and have access to hot showers, flushing loos and a fridge; all meals are prepared for you and taken in the open-air dining area fronting the river.
A very popular trail that combines elements of the more comfortable Base Camp Trail and the relatively adventurous Primitive Trail. The first and last nights are spent in the comfort of Mndindini, the Trails’ base camp, where you sleep in dome tents sited on wooden platforms and have access to hot showers and a fridge, while the second and third nights are spent beneath the stars out in the Wilderness Area. This allows trail participants to start the trail feeling refreshed and to continue their onward journey having had a more comfortable night in a permanent camp with essential amenities, yet really immerse themselves in the bush for the middle two “primitive” nights, when small, minimum-impact camps are set up around a small fire. Water is collected from springs or rivers in the wilderness area and bathing is done in the river wherever possible. Walks are undertaken during the day. A very important part of the primitive stage of the trail is spending time alone on fire watch rotation during the night – a time to embrace solitude and silence, broken only by the trills and night calls from the bush.
the hluhluwe-imfolozi game reserve in detail
Situated about 3 hours’ drive north of Durban, on the north-eastern fringes of Zululand and before the flat coastal plains running up to Maputaland, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is KwaZulu-Natal’s most impressive national reserve and one of Africa’s oldest. Formerly two neighbouring reserves, with only a road separating them, Hluhluwe and iMfolozi are now run as one national park and cover a wide range of habitats over 96,000Ha. It is the only national reserve in the province where the Big-5 occur, although predators are elusive and not frequently sighted. It is famed for its rhino thanks to major conservation efforts which were made in the 1950s and 60s to rescue this species. Numbers of white rhino have risen from 20 to somewhere around 2,000, and the park has become a breeding bank used to export rhino to other reserves. The reserve also supports around 320 Black Rhino, the densest population worldwide. Thanks to the park’s efforts, the white rhino became the first species to be removed from the World Conservation Union’s endangered list in 1994.
Although about a twentieth of the size of the Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is highly regarded as a game-viewing destination and features some particularly appealing topography and habitats. Hluhluwe, the northernmost of the two sectors covers more hilly terrain, much of it covered by a mixture of veld and dense thicket, whereas iMfolozi is charaterised by flatter, bushveld type plains and undulating countryside, incised by both the Black and the White iMfolozi rivers. The Hluhluwe river runs through the Hluhuwe sector, and is a comparatively narrower, slithering waterway, less easy to get close to, and punctuated by elongated pools.
The southern half of the iMfolozi sector, covering about 30,00Ha, is a pure wilderness area which formerly served as the hunting grounds of the Zulu Kings during the early 1800’s and is where the Wilderness Trails are now operated – significantly, there are no roads or mad-made structures, ensuring the area remains pristine and inaccessible to anyone except those who sign up to the trails.