Monday, June 6, 2016

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge, Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park - review by Jeremy Williamson

New and exciting developments at the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, the oldest protected game reserve in South Africa, where the white rhino was saved from extinction.

It all started some years ago, with the introduction of a Conservation Levy, a nominal fee charged to day visitors, or on a nightly basis for guests overnighting at one of the camps within the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park. A sizeable portion of this levy was made available to the various 10 tribal authorities on the perimeter of the game reserve. This, to help with providing a wide variety of facilities, such as extra class rooms for schools, clinics, crèches, water supply and such.
A new concept of interaction with the surrounding citizens, is the development of luxury private lodges built on neighbouring community land, the game reserve fence moved to incorporate this added property and Lodge infrastructure. There are a number of such lodges proposed for the border of the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, with them having access and traversing within the game reserve.

The first of these, initiated by Chief Daniel Hlabisa, was opened in March 2015 and has become an extremely popular 4 star accommodation venue, set on the western boundary of the Hluhluwe sector of the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park. Located just off the popular Seme Loop, is the Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge where 750 ha of tribal land was incorporated into the Hluhluwe game reserve. Staffed primarily by members of the ‘donor’ community of the Mpembeni Tribal authority, this very comfortable lodge is proving that community participation with respect to the game reserve, works. We were most impressed with the efficiency and friendliness of the staff.


Access to Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is through any of the three entrance gates to the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park. 

Take care to include the additional travel time one would incur, when driving at game viewing speed within the Game Reserve. Add an hour from Memorial Gate in the north, or Nyalazi Gate off the R618 from Mtubatuba further south, probably add over 3 hours from  Cengeni Gate, accessed from Ulundi. On entering the game reserve one is inclined to stop for sightings of the variety of wildlife, this could consume a fair bit of time. So allow some leeway with respect to arrival time. We had a variety of good sightings on the way.

Suggested check in is from 13h00, which allows adequate time to check in to your room, have the excellent ‘high Tea’ and be ready for the late afternoon guided game drive in the open game viewing vehicles.

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is virtually off the grid with respect to its electricity supply, with the intention to become totally self sufficient. This and the excellent attention to detail really impressed  Lana and I. Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is not fenced but does have a dual, electrified cable surrounding the camp, this to prevent elephant entering the precinct of the camp. After dark, guests are escorted between the main lodge and their rooms by security. 

Easy too, as there are phones in all the rooms to facilitate such a summons.
Access to the rooms is by electronic card key, which then automatically locks again on closing, secure against baboon egress I would say. 

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge has a variety of accommodation units, the smaller Safari Rooms which Lana and I were not able to view, there are 4 of these and 2 X family  Safari units, then the larger Villa's where we stayed. There are in addition 2 Villa Honeymoon suites as well.

The Villa’s are large units with a sleeping, lounging, deck area

 as well as a large bathroom with bath and shower with a view, a double vanity, and then a separate toilet. 

Between the bedroom and bathroom is a common fireplace. 

All have magnificent views of the rolling hills of Zululand  fading into the distance. 

Sunset looking east

 The unobstructed outlook is beautiful, in particular at sunrise and sunset.


Mist  early morning in the Mquanda valley

The rooms have ceiling fans and air-conditioning, with a tea station and well stocked bar fridge.
Recliners on the deck encourage relaxing and or sunbathing 

 ....whilst at the main lodge there is a large lap pool adjacent to the Spa where a variety of soothing treatments are available. Suggest guests book for these.

Meals are really good, with breakfasts providing juice, cereal, yogurts and fruit followed by the choice of a full “English Breakfast”, good coffee and that delightful view. Notice the waterhole below. We had buffalo and a giraffe visit it.

lunches / high tea is a mix of savory and sweet, 

followed by a three course dinner after the afternoon / evening open vehicle game drive, with two options for each course. These are ordered on arrival at ones table. The plated dinner is served surprisingly quickly.

 There is a cosy bar for drinks

With adjacent lounging area

The traversing within the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park is restricted to the public road network, with no off road driving allowed. The benefit of these Rhino Ridge game drives is;  being in an ‘open vehicle,’ with an experienced guide, there are also stops for tea / coffee, biscuits and rusks on the morning guided game drive

and sundowners and snacks on the evening game drive. These sundowner drinks are presently included in the tariff. This complimented by warm hand towels, a refreshment or a sherry, on return from the evening guided game drive.

Reception and curio shop

The Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park is 93,000 ha in extent, well now 93,750 ha, with the animals free to roam within this vast area. Consequently the game viewing depends on the proximity of the animals to the chosen viewing route. During our brief stay at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge, the elephant, buffalo and white rhino sightings were excellent. 

We also enjoyed more distant views of a variety of antelope, such as this lone impala ram,

some zebra


Male warthog

some rather distant kudu

A herd of Kudu cows
 and one lonely giraffe in the distance. Sightings of lion and wild dog are relatively frequent with the elusive leopard not sighted that often.

An excellent excursion offered at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is a guided walk. The resident ranger is an excellent trails guide, I will be opting for that on my next visit! Walking in the bush is such a rewarding experience. The little stroll around camp and at the morning coffee stop was enough for me to be attacked by numerous ‘pepper ticks’ You have been warned, a repellent such as Bayticol  is a must when walking through the long grass, I should know, careless I guess.

On check out, our bags were collected, (funnily this is not the norm, always portered to the room on arrival, but nary an offer to help one exit) our car brought from the parking to the Porte Couchere, where the windows were cleaned and we were given a packet of fruit and snacks and bottled water for the journey - "Padkos" food for the road.

Such a caring gesture, mind you, after such a delicious breakfast, we took a while before opening these reserves. More game viewing as we exited the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park.

White rhino

Rufous-naped Lark

We even stopped for some flowers too.

All photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson