By the time we arrived at Rhino Ridge Lodge, we would have been grateful for any port in the storm, however rustic. The drive from Joburg to northern 
KwaZulu-Natal had been punctuated with lashings of can’t-see-the-road rain. Having been granted somewhat grudging access to Imfolozi by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the hour it took to grind over the muddy gravel once inside the park almost proved too much for our decidedly urban car and indeed, the frayed nerves of its occupants.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi boasts the largest white rhino population
in the world

However, our evening was to improve 
drastically. The entrance to the lodge, beautifully lit, opens up into a long dining area, lounge and bar that run along the edge of the ridge. Once we had been welcomed warmly, drinks were pressed 
into our hands and we sank down next to a roaring fire while our car was gently parked and our luggage unloaded. 

The lodge’s main area is kitted out in an understated modern style, with warm wooden flooring and animal-print cues. Surveying miles of savannah from its mountainous position in Africa’s oldest game reserve, Isibindi’s four-star Rhino Ridge (designed and built by Frencken & Associates) is the park’s first private concession. Opened last year, the lodge is the result of a decade’s work and a partnership between the Mpembeni community and various development stakeholders.

The land on the western boundary of the park has meant an expansion of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, which, despite having a rich heritage, has long been under threat by surrounding mining projects. The only state-managed big-five nature reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi boasts the largest white rhino population in the world, thanks largely to the conservation efforts of Ian Player.

Isibindi Africa Lodges was established by Brett and Paige Gehren to further private conservation efforts in some of the most beautiful and vulnerable 
landscapes in SA, in collaboration with communities and government. Carefully curated offerings include lodges in the Kruger National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and on the Anglo-Zulu War battlefields. Rhino Ridge, the group’s 
newest property, is a welcome addition to the park’s varied offerings.

Within the greater Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, Ezemvelo offers self-catering accommodation at Hilltop rest camp and guided wilderness trails, which can be combined with a stay at Rhino Ridge. Although Rhino Ridge is a four-star property, touches of luxury firmly nudge the bedrooms into five-star territory. The 22 villas are beautifully appointed and contain private balconies, indoor/outdoor showers and lavishly furnished sleeping and lounging areas.

The clever design is luxe-rustic with slabs of timber, large concrete bathtubs and scree floors dotted with exotic carpets. While the food is wholesome and tasty, dinner tends to be fairly unimaginative and the wine list is uninspiring, if easy on the pocket. But this was quickly forgotten with the warmth of the staff. Leaving the next day (having fitted in a pre-breakfast game drive and spa treatment) we felt as though we had stayed for a week. Next time, we will.

March 2016

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