Babanango Game Reserve, located in the heart of Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal, is a showcase for one of the most ambitious rewilding projects in Southern Africa in recent years. Set among the breathtaking topography of the upper White Umfolozi River Valley, the reserve occupies a vast wilderness area of over 20,000 hectares that is steeped in Zulu history and layered upon geological features that date back to the beginning of time. The rugged mountains and valleys provide refuge for an extraordinary diversity of birds, plants, insects, reptiles, and mammals, including the elusive aardvark and aardwolf. With the recent return of the African elephant, Babanango Game Reserve is Big 5. With highly knowledgeable guides and a range of activities to choose from, visitors to Babanango Game Reserve can be assured of an unrivalled safari experience. Significant historical battle sites, such as Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, are located close by.
Upon arrival at Babanango Game Reserve you will be warmly welcomed by our caring team whose sole purpose is to ensure that your stay is as comfortable and memorable as possible. Every detail has been thoughtfully considered, from our celebrated cuisine and hand-picked wines to the carefully curated activities on the reserve. The reserve has four discrete lodges which cater to personal preferences. The unfenced Madwaleni River Lodge sets the standard for timeless luxury. Set on the banks of the White Umfolozi River in the centre of the reserve, guests will delight in the comfort and opulence reminiscent of a bygone era of indulgent travel. The unfenced Zulu Rock Lodge, located in the northern part of the reserve and perched on an ancient granite mountain is defined by its free-standing villa-style rooms with expansive views. Protected by a perimeter fence and nestled in the South of the reserve, the secluded Valley Lodge is ideal for families and intimate groups. For guests seeking a ‘back-to-basics’ wilderness experience, with either catered or self-catered options, Matatane Camp is the perfect destination for couples, families or groups. With its separate entrance and 130 hectares of wilderness that excludes dangerous mammals, Matatane offers the freedom of hiking trails and other adventure activities.
The preoccupation with large and scary mammals can be such that we forget about the smaller, more elusive, but no less fascinating animals. With its complex ecosystems and topographic variability, Babanango Game Reserve is blessed with an abundance of endemic fauna and flora. The reserve is home to many lesser-seen animals and birds that are not easily found in other regions, such as the shy brown hyena, the elusive serval, the flamboyant purple-crested turaco, the majestic crowned eagle, the critically endangered oribi, and particularly rare aloe species. The ongoing commitment to rewilding and science-based conservation ensures that guests will experience an unforgettable safari experience that goes beyond the Big 5. Whether you’re an avid birder, a butterfly enthusiast, or just looking to experience breathtaking landscapes and the beauty of nature, Babanango has something special to offer everyone.
Babanango Game Reserve offers a range of activities designed to provide guests with an immersive experience on the reserve. For a classic safari encounter, guests can embark on a guided game drive that navigates the remote hills and valleys of the reserve, with refreshment stops along the way. Besides the wonderful vistas, you may encounter buffalo, hippo, rhino (black and white), elephant and lion, along with other notable wildlife such as caracal, klipspringer, and kudu. For those seeking a more ‘up close’ experience, and for those with a special interest in birds, or plants, walking safaris offer the chance to explore the reserve on foot, in the company of a specialist guide. History buffs can embark on a guided tour of the nearby Anglo-Zulu battlefields, while those in search of a peaceful retreat can enjoy a sumptuous bush lunch on the reserve surrounded by breathtaking views. Adrenaline junkies have the option of a zip-line adventure at Matatane. Valley Lodge guests can explore the ruins and shafts of an old copper mine. For guests who are eager to contribute towards wildlife monitoring and research we offer helicopter patrols, camera trap servicing, and other activities in conjunction with the reserve’s conservation team.
Babanango Game Reserve is the legacy of a unique partnership between forward-thinking local communities with land-ownership rights and committed philanthropic investors who recognized the importance of sustainable conservation practices in support of both people and planet. The land, now under formal conservation stewardship, was previously under severe duress following decades of intensive cattle grazing and illicit hunting. Following a landmark agreement with local communities, a major infrastructural investment and rewilding programme commenced and today the reserve is well on track to being returned to its natural state. Nearly 74% of the total reserve area has been contributed by the surrounding community trusts namely, Emcakwini, Esibongweni and KwaNgono, bringing the community land ownership into the core of this conservation project. The lease income generated by the community trusts from Babanango Game Reserve accrues to the beneficiaries to enhance their collective quality of life.
The real value for local communities has come from the wealth of new jobs, with 75% of the approximately 210 permanent positions being filled by staff drawn from local communities. The project is fully committed to skills development, upliftment, and vocational training and all around the reserve a new ‘wildlife-economy’ is beginning to take root as entrepreneurship emerges in the neighbouring communities.