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National Parks Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe National Parks

Most of Zimbabwe’s national parks are – or contain – Unesco World Heritage Sites. With the current paucity of tourists, you will have the parks and reserves to yourself – or feel as though you do. Close to 20% of Zimbabwe’s surface area is protected, or semiprotected, in national parks, privately protected game parks, nature conservancies and recreational parks.

Each of Zimbabwe’s national parks has its own special attraction.

 

Hwange National Park is well known for its abundant wildlife (100 species of animals and 400 species of birds) and for being one of the few great elephant sanctuaries left in Africa – herds of up to 100 can be seen.

Hwange is the largest (14,651 sq km) and most wildlife packed park in Zimbabwe. Hwange (‘Wang-ee’; sometimes still pronounced ‘Wankie’) is home to some 400 species of birds and 107 types of animals, including one of the largest populations (30,000) of elephants in the world. The best time for wildlife viewing is July to October, when animals
congregate around the 60 water holes or ‘pans’.

But when the rains come and the rivers are flowing, successful viewing requires more diligence, because the animals spread out across the park, seeking a bit of trunk and antler room. Most visitors will only see a fraction of this park, though wildlife viewing is good throughout. 

Access is possible in any sturdy vehicle between May and October, but seek advice if driving a 2WD during the wet season. And always consult a ranger (at any of the three camps) about road conditions before heading off too far into the park, regardless of what sort of vehicle you’re driving.

Maps and information about the park are available at the rangers’ offices at the Hwange Main Camp, Sinamatella Camp and Robins Camp. Robins Camp is 60km west of
Sinamatella, and park regulations stipulate that you must leave Robins by 3pm to reach Sinamatella (and vice versa). Robins is 150km west of Hwange Main Camp, so to get there you must depart Robins by noon (and vice versa). Similarly, Sinamatella is 125km northwest of Hwange Main Camp, so you must leave Sinamatella by 2pm.

 

Matobo National Park has a bizarre and stunning landscape of round, balancing boulders and has long been considered the centre of spiritual power in Zimbabwe. It is also one of the bestplaces in Zimbabwe to see black rhinos up close. The Matopos is one of the unsung highlights of Zimbabwe. Another of Zimbabwe’s Unesco World Heritage Sites, it has some of the most majestic granite scenery in the world.

The park is essentially separated into two sections – the recreational park and the game park. The recreational park includes World’s View, from where one can see the
entire scope of the park and, if you’re interested, the grave of Cecil John Rhodes, whose final request was to be buried here. It’s easy to see why. The stunning and unique landscape of balancing rocks – giant boulders unfeasibly teetering on top of one another – makes it easy to understand why Matobo is considered the spiritual home of Zimbabwe.

Dotted around the 425-sq-km park are 3000 officially registered rock-art sites, including one of the best collections in the world of San paintings (many over 20,000 years old).
Some hidden niches still shelter clay ovens, which were used as iron smelters in making the infamous assegais (spears) used against the colonial hordes.

The game park does not have the most prolific wildlife in Zimbabwe, but is one of the best places to see white rhinos. 

The bird life is also extensive. You may see black eagles, African hawk eagles or rare Cape eagle owls. Matobo is home to one-third of the world’s species of eagles. Just 33km south of Bulawayo, Matobo National Park is an easy day trip from the city.

 

Chimanimani National Park has lush, top-of-the-world mountain scenery. Chimanimani National Park is a hiker’s paradise. The northern end of the park, called
Corner, is still very wild and unspoiled, but the road there is not good.

To go hiking in Chimanimani National Park 19km from Chimanimani village, you must sign in and pay park fees at Mutekeswane Base Camp. The road ends here and the park is then only accessible on foot. From base camp, Bailey’s Folly is the shortest and most popular route to the mountain hut (around three hours). Another option is the gentler Banana Grove Track. From the mountain hut, it’s an easy 40-minute walk to Skeleton Pass, a former guerrilla route between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Go in the late afternoon for an unsurpassed view into Wizard Valley in Mozambique.

The highest point in the Chimanimani Range is the 2437m-high Mt Binga on the Mozambican border, a stiff three-hour climb from the hut. Carry plenty of water. The last stream for a fill-up is less than halfway between the hut and the summit. 

Hadange River Track is a good but challenging exit route that emerges near the Outward Bound School (%0912-918032; outwardboundzim@stargaze.co.za) and Tessa’s Pool, a lovely swimming hole and a great place to cool off. If you exit this way, you’ll need to walk back along the road to sign out at base camp.

The Bundi Valley is riddled with caves and rock overhangs, which make ideal (free) camp sites. The most accessible caves lie near the valley’s northern end. North Cave, a 30-minute walk north of the mountain hut, overlooks a waterfall and opens onto views of the highest peaks. Above the waterfall is a pool, ideal for a teeth chattering dip if you need some refreshment. Red Wall Cave lies 10 minutes further on.

 

Mana Pools National Park and its Zambezi riverside environment is about walking with the animals – or gently paddling right past them in a canoe. This magnificent 2200-sq-km national park is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and its magic stems from its remoteness and pervading sense of the wild and natural. This is one park in Zimbabwe where
you’re guaranteed to see plenty of hippos, crocs, zebras, antelopes and elephants, and almost guaranteed to see lions, and perhaps some painted dogs.

The defining difference to Mana is that none of it is fenced in, so there can be elephants strolling by while you have your breakfast. This is what sets Mana Pools apart
from just about any other safari park in the world. You’re also allowed to walk around without a guide, as you can see for miles around. But be aware, this is about personal
responsibility: wild animals are incredibly dangerous – and fast.

Fishing and canoeing on the Zambezi provide some breathtaking experiences. Also for the brave at heart: book a side trip to the famous Chitake Springs; these isolated springs have prearranged camping only, and are known for the number of lions that live and roam around there.
 

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