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Mkhuze Game Reserve (often spelt ‘Mkuze’) is a part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal, combining steep cliffs with riverine forests, where wetlands and lakes alternate with rare sand forests. It’s no wonder there are 420 species of birds recorded here, along with rhino, elephant and giraffe. Take time out to relax with a glass of something cold at a hide or a waterhole.
It’s hard to believe, as you gaze inland from the reeds and mangroves of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, that Mkhuze Game Reserve is so close, with its gently rolling acacia savannah and woodlands, including groves of scented thorn trees.
It also features swamps, riverine forest, mountains and grasslands. In fact, Mkhuze crams a bewildering array of habitats into its 40 000 hectares. There are spreading lake-like pans ringed by yellow-barked fever tree forests, rare sand forests with dark sherbert trees, and wetlands that thrum with birdlife.
In winter, there are huge concentrations of game at the pans and waterholes – black and white rhinoceros, elephant, zebra, giraffe, nyala, blue wildebeest (gnu), eland, and if you’re lucky, cheetah, leopard, hyena, red duiker and the tiny suni antelope.
The black rhino you see are descendants of animals that were here since the park was declared in 1912. The white rhino, though, are some of the first that were brought in from what is now the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve by Dr Ian Player and his team in their heroic rhino-rescue efforts of the 1950s and 1960s.
There’s also a chance of seeing serval cats, which love hunting in a wetland habitat. Around the camps you’re almost certain to see large-spotted genets after dark.
Mkhuze is also one of South Africa’s top birding spots, with 420 species recorded here. At pans like Kubube and Kamasinga you can leave your car for the cool shade of the hides and contemplate birds and animals for hours. Here you might be lucky enough to spot a red-billed helmet shrike, and almost certainly the gorgeous bush shrike and pink-throated twinspot.
At Nhlonhlela Pan, you can sit in quiet tranquillity on the shaded viewing platform, watching as jacana birds tread delicately across lily pads and fish eagles stand sentinel, on the lookout for unwary tilapia in the depths below.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife Reservations
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1000
How to get here
From Durban, drive north along the N2 to Hluhluwe – about 300km. About 35km north of Hluhluwe, you’ll see a signpost to Mkhuze Game Reserve. Follow the signs from there. You could also fly to Richards Bay and drive south on the N2 for about 110km before finding the signposts 35km from Hluhluwe.
Best time to visit
This area can be oppressively hot and humid in summer. Rather visit between March and September if you can. Autumn and winter here (April to August) are particularly pleasant.
Visitors mostly use their own vehicles for game drives. But you can also book a guided night drive, which is highly recommended.
What to pack
Don’t forget a swimming costume – there is a pool in the park, or you may head off to the beach for the day. A hat and sunscreen are strongly advised too, and in this part of the world, anti-malaria prophylactic pills are a must.
Where to stay
You can choose between Nhlonhlela Bush Lodge, which overlooks a bird-rich pan and sleeps eight, or the Tented Safari Camp. There is also a camping area for those ready to pitch their own tents.
It’s easy to explore parts of the extraordinary iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site that includes stunning Lake St Lucia, before or after visiting Mkhuze.