Located in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, Umfolozi is certainly not the most well-known of safari destinations in Africa. But the beautiful rolling hills, meandering rivers, great game viewing and vibrant history create a special sense of place here; a sense as unique as the environment. For one, Umfolozi is the oldest Game Reserve in Africa. And one of the oldest in the world.
Proclaimed as a protected area with national status in 1895, Umfolozi pre-dates the South African flagship, the Kruger National Park, which only received official recognition in 1926. And how do these dates compare to international game reserves? Yellowstone National Park in North America was proclaimed as early as 1872 and has long since been considered the oldest in the world. Indeed, the National Parks Act passed through government at the time may be the forerunner to most conservation principles, but Yellowstone is not the oldest. Believe it or not, the honour goes to a national park Bogdkhan Uul in Mongolia, which is almost a century older than Yellowstone. But what about our Umfolozi?
The history of the hills can be traced back for centuries, but perhaps the most influential era occurred during the 1820s during the time of the old Zulu order, during the reign of the most pulsating and enigmatic King of all … Shaka Zulu.
Due to the proliferation of game in the region, Shaka proclaimed the hills around the confluence of the Black and White Umfolozi Rivers as protected land. Entire villages were relocated, and residents were heavily fined for entering the ‘reserve’ without permission, and for any illegal ‘poaching’. Even the hunting of birds was prohibited. The end result of this dynasty was a local conservation culture which would spearhead the proclamation of Umfolozi as a gazetted game reserve some 70 years later.
And indeed up until present day, this spirit remains. Often overlooked in favour of more glossy destinations, Umfolozi is one of our most endearing and stunning of game reserves. If a good dose of natural history is on your safari menu, it’s certainly worth a visit.