Lodge Name: Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge
Address: Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Usually when I write accommodation reviews I write about the hotel separately from the destination. This case is a little different because the destination and attractions and part and parcel of the accommodation experience. So for this review it also includes the safari activities, which is why you come to stay at the lodge.
The lodge is a base to explore the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and I stayed at the Rhino Ridge Lodge as a guest of the lodge and South Africa Tourism (Australia).
The group I was in was made up of five Australian and New Zealand travel writers from various mediums of media. None of us had heard of this park. In fact the only park we knew of was Kruger National Park, which ranks as one of Africa’s most famous. Kruger’s relatively close proximity to Johannesburg, which is the biggest air hub of Southern Africa, ensures that it gets a constant stream of visitors. And perhaps it is the easy-to-say name that makes Kruger more brandable (Hluhluwe is a Zulu word and it sounds more like “Shoushlooee”). Either way Hluhluwe–Imfolozi was a real surprise for me.
Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa, covering 960 square kilometres of territory. The park has a wide range of animals, including the coveted big five game animals, that tourists flock to Kruger to see. The great thing about not having the name of Kruger is that there is hardly anyone here and we often felt like we had the whole reserve to ourselves.
The park is about 280 kilometres north of Durban, depending on where you are staying in the park. We started the day in St Lucia where we saw the hippo reserve, and after a few hours of driving we arrived at the lodge.
As the name suggests the lodge is on a ridge, and it comes into view on the final approach up a hill. Just seeing this view made me excited to be staying here.
Once we arrived we had a light lunch as there as a bigger afternoon tea service provided. We checked into our rooms, or more appropriately called villas. Each villa is self-contained and spread out along a path on the ridge, with villas on either side of the main building.
I loved that the lodge and villas were of a modern design yet still had a lot of warmth with wood fittings. I imagined a safari lodge to be an old and stuffy affair, so I was surprised with the modernity of the lodge.
Inside my room the centrepiece is the beds with mosquito nets. There are large windows which looks out over the valley.
The bathroom continued with the modern touch and had lots of natural light from the windows. The shower faces the balcony and if you so choose you can shower while looking out in the wilderness. With our early morning starts I showered while watching the day break over the horizon.
The villa had a nice lounge area and there is also a fire place, though we were there in autumn and it didn’t feel cold enough at night to need a fire.
During our spare time in the day I liked to sit out on my balcony, make a coffee from my room, and look out into the open. I also went out here at night and gazed at the stars.
After checking in and checking out our rooms it was time for lunch.
Enjoying our afternoon of leisure it was time for the main event – the safari. The lodge has a dedicated staff of safari guides who drive the specially-modified safari vehicles. There was a total of seven in our group and the vehicles have three rows and being able to take ten passengers in total.
While driving to the lodge with our guide from Durban we had already got a sneak preview that there were lots of animals to see. With our dedicated guide she went to where the best chance to see animals are by talking to the other guides and knowing the animals behaviours.
Of course there is no guarantee that you will see any animals but it didn’t take long before we started seeing the wonderful animals that Africa is famous for. First off we saw lots of giraffes, which is an animal I will always be in amazement of.
Another horsey kind of animal that we found is the zebra. The zebra has a straight back and it not suitable for riding, incase you were wondering why no one rides zebras. We found many of them by the side of the road grazing, obviously used to the cars by now.
The park is home to white and black rhinos. We saw numerous of them on our expeditions, but they are still in grave danger from poachers. We were instructed by our guide to put mobile phones on airplane mode because poachers search social media for rhino photos that have GPS co-ordinates. Unfortunately rhino poaching is still a big problem in South Africa.
This was not my first safari. Last year I was in Namibia but we did not see any elephants. On this trip I hoped to see some elephants but I didn’t let my expectations get too high. I needn’t have worried as we saw elephants everywhere.
On our way back to the lodge we got about as close to an African elephant that I was comfortable getting to. We encountered a bull elephant on the road and the car in front of us stopped to let him walk by. After a few nervous minutes the elephant decided to move on. We were told to stay still with no sudden movements while the elephant walked by. I seem to remember it as one giant eye and a background of grey looking into the back of the vehicle as it walked by. Fortunately there was no incident.
On our first night we stopped for Sundowners (drinks) at a little fenced off camp spot, where drinks and snacks were pre arranged.
Returning to the lodge at around 6.30 or 7.00 and it is time for dinner. For the first night we had a set menu, which makes sense considering the the resources it takes to bring food out here.
On the second night we had a braai, which is South African for barbecue. It was set up outside in an enclosed area because those sweet barbeque smells could smoke out all sorts of animals that you don’t want to meet at night.
At night we had to be escorted back to our villas with guides, just incase there was a surprise waiting in the bushes. There is an electric fence around the perimeter of the lodge, but its always good to play it safe. This is the wilderness after all.
The next day we were out again and saw more elephants on the road and in the bushes.
Cape buffalo are common here, though these old fellas were reluctant to cross the road.
This was the muddiest rhino I have ever seen.
Warthogs are also common here.
Apart from the big game animals there are plenty of antelope species as well, such as springboks and impalas.
And there are monkeys too, as you would expect, with the most prominent being the vervet monkey which has bright blue testicles. Yes, this monkey has blue balls. I spent much of my time hoping that I would get a good picture of one so I could post it on Reddit and reap the link karma, but someone beat me to it.
After the morning safari we returned to the lodge at around 9.30, where breakfast is waiting. I was concerned when they said that we leave at 6.30am without breakfast, but they just meant no full breakfast. Before leaving there was cereal, pastries, fruit, and – most importantly – coffee. I didn’t go overboard but I didn’t want to go out on an empty stomach, lest my grumbling stomach upset the wildlife.
With the morning safari done we were at leisure for the rest of the day until the afternoon trip. One thing I always get asked (and ask myself) is “how’s the wifi”. There is wifi here, but as you would expect being in the middle of nowhere it is pretty slow. The wifi is in the main lodge and brought my laptop in to check up on some emails and save some things to read for later.
If you absolutely need internet in your room we had all bought a Vodacom sim card when we arrived in the country, and 3G data was working from here.
Unless you have to though I would leave the laptop alone and enjoy the downtime. This is a great place to read a book.
There is an infinity pool here that overlooks the valley, and despite the chilly mornings the day heated up enough to be shorts and pool weather.
Each excursion into the bush was about 3 to 3.5 hours. To break up the driving there is a drinks break halfway through. Our guide popped the back of the vehicle and had quickly set up a little drinks and snack station.
On the second night we were on the way home when we got a call that there had been a lion spotting, so we raced to the general location in the hope of getting a view. It turns out the lion wasn’t going anywhere as it had just eaten and was now in a food coma. He was faced away from us but he did turn around briefly to look at us before resuming his nap. This is a crappy photo but I present it here for the story narrative.
On our last morning we were buoyed by the lion sighting the night before, and we were confident that we might see a pride of lions in the morning. We had started at 6.30 the first day but on this day we departed at 6am. I’m not the earliest riser but every single time I get up to greet the day I always think how I should do so more often. I guess there is not the same incentive living in a city, but to see the day break in the wilderness is something you should not miss.
This trip was in May – autumn in South Africa – and mornings are cold here before warming up by mid morning. Blankets are provided in the vehicle to rug up against the cold.
We drove to a place in the hope to see lions, while stopping to view other animals that we passed along the way. We arrived at a river bend with a high bluff that overlooks the water.
Instead of finding lions we found a large herd of elephants that were drinking. There were some elephants in the trees behind the river. You could see the trees shaking, and some trees did go down. There was loud trumpeting emanating from the jungle, and it sounded exactly what I thought elephants in the jungle would sound like.
So we didn’t see the lions that morning but instead I had what was one of the most memorable animal viewing experiences anywhere.
In all we stayed at the lodge for two nights which gave us four safari opportunities; once on the first evening, a morning and afternoon drive on the second day, and then another morning expedition before checking out on the last day.
Of the big five we saw elephants, rhinos, a solitary lion, and buffalos (no sign of the leopard). We did see an abundance of animals to make it a worthwhile trip, and staying at such a nice lodge added to the overall experience.
More information about Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
The Nomadic Notes South Africa travel resources page.