South Africa’s oldest game reserve is not only home to the Big Five, wild dog and cheetah, a beautiful concession on its border offers luxury accommodation and exciting cultural experiences too. Find out why a visit to the uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve by Mantis should be on your bucket list…
Where in the world?
The Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park, formerly Hluhluwe–uMfolozi Game Reserve, is situated 280km from Durban in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve shares borders with the park and is home to the Mthembu and Biyela lodges, which are part of the Mantis stable of luxury accommodation.
Know before you go!
Travel: The drive from Durban via the town of Empangeni to uMfolozi Big Five main gate takes three hours. The road leading to the reserve is fine but animals frequently cross the road, so be cautious while travelling there.
Remember: If you are going to arrive at uMfolozi after 18:00, rather overnight in the town
Stay: For large multigenerational families, book Mthembu Lodge on an exclusive-use basis. The villas are grouped closer together, making it ideal for family time. No children under the age of six are allowed at Mthembu and under the age of 10 at Biyela. Both lodges are unfenced.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park has an interesting history. This area in the heart of Zululand once served as the hunting grounds of King Shaka of the Zulu Kingdom, but it has an important conservation element to it too. Most of the white rhinos in the world today can be traced back to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, the oldest proclaimed protected area in South Africa.
In the 1950s, when white rhino numbers plummeted to just 437, Dr Ian Player (as warden of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi) spearheaded Operation Rhino, an initiative that helped save the white rhino from extinction. After translocating rhino to reserves and parks across the globe, their numbers grew to nearly 20 000.
This magnificent history lives on through a unique offering by the Mantis Collection. The area where Player
stabled his horses used to patrol the reserve, is now home to the Mthembu Lodge. Visitors can immerse themselves in this history, while enjoying views of the river and the bush surrounding the lodge. The lodge consists of nine villas, seven of which are suitable for couples. The other two are suited to families as they have two bedrooms. Apart from air conditioning, en-suite bathroom, an electronic safe, guest lounge, outdoor shower and a minibar, the lodge also treads lightly on the earth as it makes use of solar power. It has Wi-Fi connectivity, and a swimming pool to cool down on hot days.
Biyela Lodge is another Mantis offering, located on the banks of the White iMfolozi River. The design of the lodge is inspired by the traditional Zulu homestead with its thatched peaks perched on a flat stone roof, consisting of 12 one-bedroom villas. Ten of these have their own private plunge pools, an ideal spot from which to enjoy the spectacular scenery. The facilities in the suites are similar to those at Mthembu, but the lodge itself also offers spa facilities for those with weary bodies. The dramatic cliffs on the other side of the river are a great attraction to vultures as they are able to use the cliffs as a vantage point to catch the thermals. The cliffs to the right of the lodge are said to be the spot where Mzilikazi, one of King Shaka’s most rebellious commanders, once hid from the warrior king.
True to the Mantis philosophy, the rural community is vital to the success of these lodges. Both Mthembu and Biyela are built on tribal land and the community members gain from this investment. In addition, both lodges were named after descendants of Shaka’s warrior chiefs, to honour their commitment to conservation and the economic development of the people through the uMfolozi Big Five Reserve by Mantis wilderness project.
Immerse yourself in rare experiences
Apart from game drives, the lodges also offer special interest safaris that take an in-depth look at various research projects within the park. These include the annual vulture density and nesting census, hippo and crocodile density surveys, game density surveys, predator monitoring, and elephant contraception projects.
Researchers are also on hand to educate guests on the history of the reserve, how they work to protect and preserve their animal population, particularly endangered species, and offer any other information guests might be interested in.
In addition, guests with an interest in South African heritage can embrace the Zulu culture by visiting a sangoma. These traditional healers play a vital role in the culture, communicating with the ancestors and throwing and reading bones.
Visitors are also encouraged to learn more about the Zulu tradition of beading. This beautiful craft has been a way of communicating for centuries, with different shapes and colours indicating feelings and expressions.
By spending time with the local people visitors can gain valuable insight into their communities.
Visit www.umfolozibig5.com for more information on exclusive deals.
Five things to do
Game drives are perfect for spotting some of the game in this Big Five reserve.
Birdwatching: The White iMfolozi River and its surroundings attract a variety of bird species, making the location of the lodges ideal
Stargazing from the comfort of the deck is extremely rewarding.
Cultural experiences such as beading and visiting a traditional healer are popular.
Spa treatments at Biyela Lodge offer pampering relaxation.
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