Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve

  • 01 of 08

    Off the Beaten Track

    Self-Drive Safaris South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve
    ••• Lioness Approaching the Waterhole, Mkhuze Game Reserve. Jessica Macdonald

    Located near the Mozambique border in the heart of northern Zululand, Mkhuze Game Reserve offers those with a sense of adventure the chance to get off the beaten track. There are no luxury restaurants, no floodlit waterholes or convoys of slick safari vehicles communicating by cell phone and radio. Instead, the park constitutes some 40,000 hectares of untamed bush criss-crossed with narrow roads - roads that are best explored independently on a self-drive safari. Self-drive safaris are a great way to experience Africa as it should be - unpackaged and raw, with the potential for the unexpected around every corner. 

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  • 02 of 08

    Getting There

    Self-Drive Safaris South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve
    ••• Rural Children, South Africa. Jessica Macdonald

    Established in 1912, Mkhuze Game Reserve has since become part of South Africa’s sprawling iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a vast protected area that extends from Sodwana Bay in the very north of the country, to St. Lucia near Durban. Mkhuze is approximately 320 kilometres from Durban and 150 kilometres from Richards Bay, and can be approached from the north or south. Whichever way you choose to enter the park, you’ll require good map reading skills to find the gates, both of which are obscurely located in remote rural areas. The north gate is accessed via Mkuze Village, and appears suddenly in a landscape otherwise dominated by haphazard shacks, scrawny chickens and gaping potholes. 

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  • 03 of 08

    Staying in the Park

    Self-Drive Safaris South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve Chalet
    ••• Braaiing on the Chalet Verandah, Mkhuze Game Reserve. Jessica Macdonald

    With so much to explore within the park, you should plan to spend at least two or three full days there. For those that prefer a touch of luxury, Nhlonhlela Bush Lodge offers exclusive en-suite rooms, as well as the services of a cook, caretaker and private field ranger. However, most visitors choose to stay at Mantuma Camp, where accommodations range from two-bed safari tents to six-bed cottages. The camp’s self-catering chalets are perhaps the best bet, offering private bathrooms, comfortable bedrooms and ample cooking facilities. Each one has a paved verandah with a dedicated braai area, so that you can experience South Africa’s greatest culinary tradition for yourself.

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  • 04 of 08

    Being Self-Sufficient

    Self-Drive Safaris South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve Mosquito
    ••• Mosquito Close-up. Janos Csongor Kerekes/ Getty Images

    Mantuma Camp has a take-away restaurant and a small shop, but the stock is limited and the opening hours are subject to change. It’s best to be self-sufficient and bring everything that you need with you - including drinking water.  If you’re travelling from the south, Hluhluwe town is a good place to stop for supplies before entering the park; while those travelling from the north can try the markets in Mbazwana. During the summer months (November - February), there is a low-risk of malaria in Mkhuze. Make sure to bring plenty of mosquito repellent with you, and consider bringing your own mosquito net in case there is a problem with the ones supplied. 

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  • 05 of 08

    The Safari Experience

    Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve Bushbaby
    ••• Thick-tailed Bushbaby, Mkhuze Game Reserve. Jessica Macdonald

    The effort of preparing for a stay at Mkhuze is well worth it for the feeling of living (if only temporarily) amidst a wilderness that has remained largely unchanged for over 100 years. In the evening, your chalet will reverberate to the drone of a thousand cicadas; and in the early morning, the dawn is heralded by the calls of countless birds. During the day, nyala and kudu antelope roam freely through the camp; and at night, bushbabies and genet cats are frequently drawn to the braai by the scent of cooking meat. Feeding them is prohibited, but watching the firelight reflecting in their gleaming eyes is a magical experience that one does not easily forget.

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  • 06 of 08

    Incredible Wildlife

    Self-Drive Safaris South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve White Rhino
    ••• White Rhinos Sleeping in the Shade, Mkhuze Game Reserve. Jessica Macdonald

    Of course, the best game viewing takes place outside the campsite. Mkhuze’s many habitats support an astounding variety of wildlife, including all members of the Big Five. They also act as a sanctuary for several endangered species, including white rhino, black rhino and the spectacular African wild dog. The park is traversed by 100 kilometers of road, all of which provide the potential for new sightings; but the best game-viewing usually takes place at the park’s hides. There are four hides - Kubube, Kumasinga, Kwamalibala and Kumahlala - each of which overlooks a waterhole. In the dry season, these are oases that sustain life in an otherwise waterless environment. 

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  • 07 of 08

    Unparalleled Birding

    Self-Drive Safaris South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve Twinspot
    ••• Endemic Pink-throated Twinspot, Mkhuze Game Reserve. Jessica Macdonald

    Mkhuze is also renowned as one of southern Africa’s best birding spots. More than 420 species have been recorded in the park, many of which are either endemic or near-endemic. One of the best areas for birding is Nsumo Pan, where innumerable waterbird species come to breed and feed alongside the park’s hippos during the rainy season (October - February). Guided walks through Mkhuze’s Fig Forest can be booked at Mantuma Camp, and offer the opportunity to spot area specials including broad-billed rollers and southern-banded snake eagles. Elsewhere in the park, rarities like the Neergaard’s sunbird and the Pel’s fishing owl have also been spotted. 

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  • 08 of 08

    Practical Information

    Self-Drive Safaris South Africa's Mkhuze Game Reserve Nyala
    ••• Male Nyala Drinking at the Waterhole, Mkhuze Game Reserve. Jessica Macdonald

    The best time to travel to Mkhuze depends on your priorities. For game-viewing, the dry winter months (June - August) are usually best, as the park’s animals are drawn irresistibly to the waterholes at this time. For birding, the wetter summer months are better, as winter droughts often drain Nsumo Pan, forcing the park’s waterfowl to move elsewhere. Whenever you decide to visit, advance booking for accommodation at Mantuma and Nhlonhlela is essential. Visitors to the park must pay a nominal per-person and per-vehicle fee at the gate; while night safaris, guided game drives and Fig Forest walks can all be booked on arrival at Mantuma Camp. 

    For photos of Mkhuze Game Reserve, visit my Instagram and Facebook pages.