Mpunyane Restaurant (Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)

As I mentioned in the previous review of Ngweni Railroad Brewery, we did several side excursions while staying at Zulu Nyala, and one of the more enjoyable day trips was to the nearby Hluhluwe Imfolozi Reserve. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa, having been established in 1895 from the former hunting reserve of King Shaka as a preservation reserve for the Southern White Rhino, and it’s a very nice reserve; in addition to having populations of all of the Big Five game animals, it also has quite a bit of scenery as well, with several high ridgelines and hilltops overlooking the Imfolozi and Hluhluwe river valleys. One of the camps inside the Reserve, Hilltop Camp, has been around since the park opened, offering hotel, tent, and other lodging and accommodation for visitors, and it’s one of the parks attractions. So after a splendid morning observing sunrise, lions, and rhinos, our driver took us up to the Hilltop, where we had breakfast at the Mpunyane Restaurant overlooking the valley.

The name “Mpunyane” means “little rhino”, and the name is fitting: One of the big attractions at Hilltop is the view: the entire Hilltop Camp has a nice panoramic view of the Imfolozi valley to the west, with frequent sightings of monkeys, cape buffalo, and zebras up close, and the occasional sightings of rhinos and elephants in the distance.

The restaurant leverages this by having quite a nice dining room with panoramic windows, so as you enjoy your meal you can look out, almost as if suspended in air. It’s one of the nicer dining areas I saw in the area.

This is probably one of the better places to discuss “breakfast” in South Africa. While South Africa is extremely multicultural, especially when it comes to cuisine, when it comes to tourist restaurants (which Mpunyane definitely qualifies), the local breakfast cuisine veers towards “Traditional English Breakfast”, with eggs, back bacon, sausage, beans (with a bit of a tangier sauce than most English beans), and toast. I actually enjoy this sort of breakfast, but by this point in the trip I’d already had a half dozen English Breakfasts… but Mpunyane delivered a nice change up by having fresh to-order eggs and pancakes, so this was a hearty and enjoyable breakfast enjoyed over an outstanding view of the valley. Honestly, if you don’t stop here for that, you’re probably missing out.

However, after several hours of following elephants and rhinos, searching unsuccessfully for a leopard to complete our “Big Five” list, visiting the Imfolozi half of the Reserve (including a particularly nice visit to an arts center by the Cengeni Gate), and even helping our guide swap out a tire due a flat, we actually ended up returning to Hilltop again for a late lunch, this time out on the terrace. With blue skies and a nice breeze, this was a particularly relaxing way to spend an early afternoon…

…especially since Mpunyane has a bar. I had seen “Cane” listed on several drink menus around South Africa; it’s essentially a close cousin to Agricole rum or Cachaça, brewed from cane juice. Here, they had it in a cocktail, the Hluhluwe Blue Sky, with tequila, cane, blue Curacao, and (European-style) lemonade. This was a quite pleasant, albeit a vivid blue.

And during weekdays, Mpunyane also offers up a pretty good menu of lighter meals to enjoy on the terrace, mostly with pub fare like sandwiches, wings, and fish and chips. The version of fish and chips served at Mpunyane was made with Hake, and this was a reasonable and flavorful fish and chips.

We also did the Mpunyane basket, a mixed basket of BBQ ribs and Peri-Peri chicken wings. The BBQ ribs were pretty much what I’d expect as an appetizer anywhere, but the peri-peri chicken wings were a nice little treat. Like more peri-peri, these were quite spicy and bold, nicely crisped, and nicely tender, and the sauce dripping from the wings actually being a good accompaniment to the fries included in the basket.

If we were actually staying at Hilltop, I’d probably find the menu a little limited, but if doing like we did and having a day visit to the splendor of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve, it’s worth the trip up to Hilltop for a light meal, a great view, and some good wildlife spotting.

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