Exploring the Spectacular Game Reserves in KZN Near Umkhumbi Lodge

When it comes to game reserves in KZN, Umkhumbi Lodge serves as your ultimate basecamp for wildlife adventures. Situated conveniently close to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Mkuze Game Reserve, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and Tembe Elephant Reserve, our lodge offers an unbeatable location for nature enthusiasts.

When you stay at Umkhumbi Lodge, you’re not just booking a comfortable and affordable safari experience; you’re opening the door to a world of incredible wildlife adventures. Situated in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Umkhumbi Lodge offers easy access to some of the most renowned game reserves in the region. Just a stone’s throw away is the legendary Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, known for its remarkable conservation efforts and the Big Five.

Mkuze Game Reserve, another jewel in KZN’s crown, is also within an hour’s drive, as is the coastal iSimangaliso Wetland Park, both of which offer a diverse array of wildlife species, an astonishing number of bird species and stunning landscapes waiting to be explored. For an encounter with the gentle giants of the animal kingdom, Tembe Elephant Reserve is not far away, where you can witness some of the largest elephants in the region.

Plus, if you’re yearning for a more intimate connection with these majestic creatures, there is an African Elephant interaction a short drive away, providing an opportunity for an up-close experience. Your adventure into the enchanting world of game reserves in KZN begins right at Umkhumbi Lodge’s doorstep.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

game reserves in kzn

This is the main attraction for guests staying at Umkhumbi Lodge, offering a chance to experience a Big-5 safari game drive. It is the oldest game reserve in Africa. 25,000 hectares of the park were set aside as a ‘wilderness area’ in the 1950s thanks to conservationist and Ranger Ian Player. It was originally a royal hunting ground in the Zulu Kingdom, and was the place of legendary battles fought by Shaka’s lieutenants. Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park holds a prominent place in Zulu history and is one of Kwazulu-Natal and South Africa’s top wildlife attractions.

River beds, hilly slopes with valleys through to mountainous regions. Rising from sea level to a height of 540 meters.

Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park is home to the Big 5: Lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. The white rhino population is the largest in the world. In addition to the Big 5 there are most of Africa’s iconic species, including giraffe, zebra, wild dog, cheetah, hyaena, crocodiles, hippos, warthogs, and the list goes on…

The reserve has a diverse population of over 300 birds. Birders have the chance to see Longclaw, Temmink’s Courser, Black-bellied Korhaan, Klaas’s Cuckoo and Crested Barbet.

Options include a full day, half day and 3 hour drives to suit your itinerary. Speak to us about your needs when you book, on arrival or nearer the time – that way we can let you know what the weather’s doing and provide local game reports too. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve is approximately 30 minutes drive from Umkhumbi Lodge.

You’ll find it’s best to meet your open safari vehicle at the game reserve itself – saving you from getting blown about in the chilly temperatures at 5am! Your guide will arrange the tickets at the gate as you transfer your binoculars and camera gear from your car to your game vehicle – don’t forget your breakfast packs!

There is no need to book to enter the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve and Umkhumbi is only a 30 minute drive away! Just pay your entry at the gate and you are free to explore. Take one of our maps with you (you’ll get a full brief on where’s best to go).

Want to get to the park as it opens at 6am? Take one of our breakfast packs for you to eat at your leisure in the park – you’ll find plenty of fantastic picnic sites, or you could even eat them as you wait for the elephants to cross the road.

If you’re travelling in open game vehicles, wear layers to stay warm to and from the park. It warms up later in the day – bring a bag to put your extra layers into! The game vehicles have a roof to keep light rain and the sun off, but there are no sides. Waterproofs are recommended (they will help keep the wind off when travelling as well).

Most importantly, don’t forget your sun cream and insect repellent.

Is a drive in the park too tame for you? Looking for something more memorable? How about an overnight wilderness trail in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve? – You must book in advance as availability is limited.

Please contact us by email for full details and availability.

The Centenery Centre is in Imfolozi Park on the eastern side of the reserve – it’s a good place to stop for lunch or just a break. Enter the large rondavel (round house) filled with many different curios, or pick up hot food, drinks and ice creams from the cafe. There’s also game capture bomas (enclosures). These don’t always have animals in them, but you may be lucky and see a Rhino or antelope. The centre was established to allow visitors to view animals in transit to their new homes.

Visitors pay a park entrance fee of R240 (subject to change) per person per day (children 50%). Persons with a South African ID get a discounted rate.

Mzuze Game Reserve

game reserves in kzn

Also known as uMkhuze, uMkuzi, uMkuze and Mkuze Game Reserve it is renowned for year round bird sightings with a list of over 420 species. Mkuzi is one of the lesser known game reserves in kzn that make up the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, but is not to be missed!

This 40 000 ha reserve is a place of great beauty and high contrasts with an astonishing diversity of natural habitats, from the eastern slopes of the Lebombo mountains along its eastern boundary, to broad stretches of acacia savannah, swamps and a variety of woodlands and riverine forest. Even a type of sand forest occurs in the reserve which harbours the elusive suni!

As if that wasn’t enough the Mkuzi River curves along the reserve’s northern and eastern borders with a luscious fig forest along its banks. It is not uncommon to see Fish eagles swooping over the pans, snatching their prey from their roosts in the lofty fever trees.

This diversity of habitats means a wide variety of animal species including black and white rhinoceros, elephant, giraffe, nyala, blue wildebeest, warthog, eland, hippo, impala, kudu and other smaller antelope. Rare species occurring in the reserve are cheetah, hyaena, suni and leopard. There are now three game viewing hides at pans within the reserve. These are the Kubube, Kamasinga and Kwamalibala pans. Visitors park their cars and enter the hides on foot.

During the drier winter months, large concentrations of game may be seen at the waterholes, although this does depend on the amount of surface water e.g. recent rain in the reserve. Visitors are therefore offered excellent views of most of the reserve’s larger mammals. These hides offer unique opportunities to photographers and many famous wildlife pictures have been taken in them.

Two of the largest and most beautiful pans in the reserves, Nhlonhlela (in the North) and Nsumo (in the East) are home to communities of hippo, crocodile, pinkbacked and white pelicans, as well as a diverse selection of ducks and geese that gather in spring.​

Mkuzi Game Reserve has a diverse population with over 420 birds meaning that whenever you visit the park there are plenty of different bird species to spot! Birders have the chance to see pink-backed and white pelicans, gorgeous bush shrikes, vultures, bee eaters and even a red-headed weaver has been seen recently in the park!

Guided birding walks may be booked at the camp office, and these take place twice daily starting at 06h00 in summer, and 15h00 in winter. Checklists with the 420 most regular sightings are available from the curio shop.

Birding, game viewing and sitting quietly at the game viewing hides are the most popular activities in Mkuzi. Night drives, guided walks, the auto trail and swimming are also available (some activities may be restricted to those staying within the park). The reserve has 100 kilometers of tourist roads for game viewing.

Guided Game Walks can be booked at the camp office and these take place twice daily starting at 06h00 in summer, and 15h00 in winter.

A great self-drive option to one of the lesser known parks in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (South Africa’s first World Heritage Site). Best known for its abundant birdlife (approximately 420 species). Also good sightings of Buffalo, Black Rhino, White Rhino, Elephant, Wild Dog, Leopard. There is no need to book to enter the Mkhuze Game Reserve (about 1 hour from Umkhumbi Lodge). Just pay your entry at the gate and you are free to explore.

Want to get to the park as it opens at 6am? Take one of our breakfast packs for you to eat at your leisure in the park – You’ll find plenty of fantastic picnic sites, or you could even eat them as you wait for the elephants to cross the road.

There is also a take-away, the “Rhino Diner” which is open in the morning/noon and evening be sure to check the opening times for the day before planning your lunch stop!

Please note, if you’re travelling in open game vehicles, they have a roof to keep light rain and the sun off, but there are no sides. Waterproofs are recommended (they will help keep the wind off when travelling as well). Most importantly, don’t forget your sun cream and insect repellent.

Visitors pay a conservation fee (subject to change) per person per day replacing entry fees.

South Africans get a discount.
Gate entry times: Summer (1 October – 31 March) 05:00 – 19:00, Winter (1 April – 30 September) 06:00 – 18:00.

These times are strictly enforced.
Office hours are from 08:00 – 16:30 daily. Sundays and Public Holidays are 08:00 – 16:00 daily.

Tembe Elephant Reserve

Tembe Elephant Reserve is a great self-drive option for a day trip from Umkhumbi Lodge. If you have a 4×4 you can do your own game drive. If not, you can book a 3-hour game drive safari with the reserve (pre-booking essential). This is one of the lesser known reserves in KwaZulu Natal. It is best known for its large elephants and abundant birdlife. They also get good sightings of Lion and Leopard.

Times: Year-round, sunrise to sunset – season dependent.

Cost: Park entrance fees are R55 pp and R55 per vehicle (subject to change).

The cost of a 3-hour safari will depend on the number of passengers. Please enquire for details.

Distance: Approximately 1 hour 45 minutes’ drive from Umkhumbi Lodge to Tembe Elephant Reserve.

African Elephant Interaction

This is one of the most popular activities for our guests. Approximately 45 minutes drive from Umkhumbi is Bayete Zulu where we can get up close and personal to African Elephants like very few places. Discover why Elephants are so popular and see the human-like intelligence in their eyes at this reserve in South Africa. 

To the best of our knowledge there are no age restrictions, although very small children may not be allowed to touch Rambo (this is up to the keepers on the day).

Rambo the adult bull African elephant was hand-reared by humans after becoming an orphan. So strong is the bond between Rambo and his keepers that he would go down onto his elbows (that’s right elephants have two elbows!) and peer into the hut of one of his keepers every single morning.

Even after his keeper had to leave the country he would still go to the hut for months to look for him – Rambo and Rachel love their human friends. In fact they love humans so much that they will even protect them from predators! The keepers of this free-roaming elephant family have no fear as they walk beside their tall companions whilst they forage in the KwaZulu Natal bush – even past the lions!

To begin we wait for the elephants to come to the interaction area from wherever they have spent the morning exploring. Then the in-house specialist will give you a fascinating talk about the majestic elephants that stand before you. You will learn interesting facts about elephants that you had not even considered e.g. What does an elephants tongue feel like? You might even get the chance to touch Rambo and feed Rachel. Just imagine standing next to a towering elephant as he gently sniffs you with his trunk, his flapping ears causing a gentle breeze – it’s not an experience you will forget in a hurry!

Times: Year-round, 11am.

Booking: Bookings must be made in advance. We can book the elephant interaction for you before or during your stay with us. We do not book this activity without accommodation. Please book directly with Bayete Zulu if you do not need accommodation and only wish to do the elephant interaction.

Distance: Situated near Bayala. Drive time approximately 45 minutes from Umkhumbi.