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Ithala Game Reserve 1

Ithala Game Reserve

Ithala Game Reserve is a truly beautiful and fascinating safari destination. Located at the foot of the Ngotshe Mountains, the reserve offers magnificent views of the surrounding valleys. Ithala covers an area of 290 km2 and is situated in a mountain thornveld, in the province of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.

The reserve is a haven for a wide variety of herbivore species, due to its distinct lack of predators. Ithala offers animals and birds a diverse range of habitats, including riverine valleys with thick vegetation, grassland plateaus, cliff faces, and ridges. The beautiful rock formations found within the park have been carved over time by the Phongolo River, and are a must-see for any visitor. Ithala Game Reserve gets its name from the Zulu word ‘Ithala’, which means ‘the shelf.’

The‌ ‌History‌ ‌of‌ Ithala Game Reserve

The land is known today as Ithala Game Reserve has a rich cultural history. In the past, it provided a refuge for people during wartimes. The San Bushmen also inhabited the area prior to the war. During this period, the land flourished with an abundance of vegetation and wildlife alike.

  • 1884: Zulu King, Dinizulu gifted the Boers with 11,000 km2 of land in the northern province of Kwazulu-Natal, recognising their contributions to the war. The Boers formed the Nieuwe Republiek on this land.
  • 1888: After the second Boer war, Nieuwe Republiek was dismantled, falling into the hands of the British colony of Natal.
  • 1896: As a result of negligence and the rinderpest epidemic, the local game population was severely affected.
  • 1900-1943: The discovery of two gold mines in the 1900s didn’t lead to the yield of much gold, and eventually, both the mines were abandoned.
  • 1919-1950: During this time, the anti-nagana campaign was created to get rid of the tsetse fly. As no solution could be found to the tsetse problem, the infected animals, in their thousands, were shot.
  • 1973: The Natal Parks Board started purchasing farms in the region to turn into a game reserve. Eventually, Ithala Game Reserve was established.
  • 1982: Ithala Game Reserve was expanded to include an additional 300 km2 of land.

Wildlife in Ithala Game Reserve

Ithala provides a home to numerous antelope species, including eland, grey duiker, impala, kudu, oribi, red hartebeest, and waterbuck. Apart from an extensive list of antelope species, the park also has a wide variety of big game, from elephants, buffalo, and giraffes to white and black rhinos. Smaller game in the area includes herbivores such as the blue wildebeest and zebras.

The scarcity of lions and other predator species within the reserve means that herbivore species are able to exist peacefully.  While predators such as leopards and hyenas are present within the park, they are rarely sighted, and hard to find.

Ithala has more than 300 recorded bird species, including the swee waxbill and ground woodpecker, both of which are endemic to the region. Some other commonly spotted birds in the park include the African hawk-eagle, blue crane, hoopoe, mountain wheatear, Cape vulture, Verreaux’s eagle, and Goliath heron.

Ithala Game Reserve Camps and Lodges

✔     Ntshondwe Camp

The main camp in the Ithala Game Reserve is so skillfully camouflaged that it isn’t visible until you arrive up close. The lodge is equipped with a swimming pool, a conference centre, a curio shop, and a kid’s play area. The camp offers a luxurious sanctuary in the jungle and has plenty of space for a large group of visitors.

✔     Mbizo Bush Camp

Located within the Ithala Game Reserve, next to a series of rapids at the spot where Mbizo and Ngubhu rivers meet, Mbizo Bush Camp is ideal for relaxation. The environment around the camp offers visitors the opportunity to swim in the rapids and bath in the refreshing waters. Even though it is smaller than Ntshondwe, Mbizo Bush Camp is equipped with everything a guest could need.

✔     Ntshondwe Lodge

Ntshondwe Lodge is located close to the Ntshondwe Camp, below the cliffs overlooking the famous Ntshondwe valley. Ntshondwe Lodge is equipped with luxury facilities such as a DSTV compact, oil heaters for all rooms, and a lovely braai area. It is also wheelchair-friendly.

When to Visit Ithala Game Reserve

Like most parks in South Africa, travel is limited to the dry seasons. The months from May to September are the best times to visit the Ithala Game Reserve, as the animals can be seen out in the open. The rest of the dry season experiences strong winds, making it impossible to see animals, as they hide away and take shelter.

Although the conditions during the wet season aren’t adverse, animal sightings are rare. For avid bird watchers, November to April is an ideal time to visit the game reserve, as migratory species arrive from the northern hemisphere.

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