Umfolozi Big Five Game Reserve Opens its Doors

My family and I were privileged enough to be amongst the first guests to experience the Umfolozi Big Five Game Reserve – newly opened in partnership with the Mantis Collection in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal region.

North of Durban and adjacent to the Hluhluwe iMfolozi National Park, Umfolozi is the first 5-star game reserve to open alongside this national park and is clearly bringing a renewed energy to the local community.

Mostly Zulu staff employed and trained from surrounding areas welcomed us with big smiles and warm, genuine hospitality.

Warm welcome to Umfolozi Big Five Game Reserve
(Left) Welcome drinks await as we return from an early morning game drive. (Right) Our girls, Caitlin and Jessica get to know waitress, Sthembile dressed in the stunning traditional attire.

Nothing is too much trouble at Umfolozi, even as the staff find their feet, having just opened the doors!

The vision for the reserve is exhilarating.  Landowners, Barry and Sonya Theunissen shared with us the journey they’ve been on to get to this point, as well as their dreams for the future.  Instantly, we could feel the positive energy of this property.

The land that Umfolozi occupies was long ago given to two chieftaincies by the famous King Shaka Zulu.  The chieftaincies have managed to protect and conserve both people and nature in this area.

Today, the land has been entrusted to this new 5-star venture by the chieftaincies who recognises the value in using it to create jobs for locals through tourism.  It’s a spectacular piece of land with breath-taking landscapes and vistas.  It would be a shame not to share this with guests to the region.

Currently there are two lodges on this reserve.  Mthembu Lodge (named after the current chief) is the first to be completed and this is where we stayed.  What I love about this location is that you can see the original horse stables where well-known conservationist, Dr Ian Player kept his horses for anti-poaching patrols.  Not only is Dr Player remembered in this area of the reserve, but also King Shaka Zulu.  You can feel history come alive as you drive past Shaka’s Spring which runs year-round close to Mthembu Lodge.

Meeting Zulu Chief Mthembu
Our family was privileged to meet current Zulu Chief Mthembu after whom the lodge is named.

The lodge itself offers villas that run along a ridge overlooking the White Mfolozi River.  The villas are spacious, private and beautifully decorated with a subtle, chic African style.  There’s an easy interaction between guests in common areas such as the pool deck and bar, as well at the fire pit.  On our first morning, we opened the curtains to an elephant peering over our deck!  You can imagine our delight.

Elephant at the deck of Mthembu Lodge, Mfolozi
Our wake up call!
Mthembu Lodge swimming pool overlooking Mfolozi
Communal pool area with a view overlooking the Mfolozi River.

You can feel touches of Zululand as you settle into the lodge.  From the in-room local coffee brew to the delicious local wine ‘Bayede!’, there is a definite sense of place.

The second lodge (still under construction) is named after Chief Bayela and is situated in the section of the reserve that was ruled by him.

Game drives at Umfolozi are diverse with 6,000 hectares of private reserve to explore as well as access into South African’s oldest park, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi National Park where Rhino Conservation is world renowned.

Vic, our passionate ranger, guided us through untouched, private, lush African bushveld (some of this wilderness has never been accessed by vehicle before!) as well as through national park which has clearly been enjoyed by elephant!  Views throughout are unbelievably spectacular.  We loved that Vic shared his intense bird knowledge with us in-between seeing the bigger animals.  It’s natures’ little treasures that count too!

Sundowner stop in Umfolozi Big Five Game Reserve
Ranger, Vic with our girls enjoying a picturesque sundowner spot on the reserve.

We left Umfolozi Game Reserve with so much joy for this region.  It’s easy to feel the passion and excitement for this exceptionally unique product.

Guests who choose to visit this precious piece of land will no doubt feel fortunate and will almost certainly leave touched by this region’s rich history and abundant nature.

By Bridget Gardiner

To start planning your own Umfolozi safari, simply drop us a message.