Zimbabwe is rich in natural wonders, cultural and historical highlights. Visitors to Bulawayo should definitely follow the steps of Cecil John Rhodes and experience the grand mysticism of Matobo Hills (or Matopos), and amateurs of history would enjoy visiting Great Zimbabwe ruins, at Masvingo.
Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Parks are also of great interest to the traveller, and offer exceptional encounters of wildlife close to water based activities.
WIth 2,000 km of shoreline, Lake Kariba is the 4th largest man-made lakes in the world and the 2nd largest in Africa: it was built to generate hydropower from the powerful Zambezi river and Nyaminyami – the River God. There were many stories and even legends attached to the dam construction. Matusadona was proclaimed a non-hunting area on the 7th November 1958 before the dam was built. By the opening of its operations in 1959, as water levels rose dramatically, a huge rescue operation called “Operation Noah” had to be organized: it saved some 5,000 animals of 35 different species from drowning, only on the Zimbabwean side.
Located on the shores of the lake, the Matusadona National Park hosts most of these animals who had to adapt to the initial flooding and annual fluctuation. Matusadona now has three distinct ecological areas. First is the lake and shoreline grassland; second, the Zambezi Valley floor, a mass of thick jesse and mopane woodland, and; third, the Escarpment area of Julbernadia and Brachystegia woodlands. The Jesse/ Mopani area is sparsely grassed, but provides habitat for browsers, most notably the black rhino. Elephants range throughout the Park, seeking the shade of the Jesse in the heat of the day.
With a ready supply of regenerative grasses as a source of food and an abundance of water from the lake, buffalo, waterbuck, zebra, and even impala have thrived and with them the predators. Matusadonh a is an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) and home to several relocated rhino’s. The lake is teeming with massive Nile crocodiles, herds of swimming elephants, and the lake shores of Kariba include sightings of the big five. The bird life is exceptional with a very large population of fish-eagles, and the aquatic animal population is equally interesting.
Lake Kariba boat cruising and Matusadona game viewing can be accomodated in an itinerary between Victoria Falls and Mana Pools. This is a malarial area.
Located 40 km south of Bulawayo, Matobo Hills national park is a small, accessible game park with fascinating natural features, rich history and interesting wildlife. It is an excellent stopover for tourists in transit to Hwange and Victoria Falls.
The park is situated in the magnificent Matobo Hills, a range of domes, spires and balancing rock formations which have been hewn out of the solid granite plateau through millions of years of erosion and weathering. Massive granite boulders are piled up one on each other in a precarious balance, shaping giant open air sculptures. These grandiose rocks create a unique , mystical atmosphere – no wonder the hills were considered sacred by the Ndebele people. The majestic and rugged terrain of the park is a hikers paradise and the diversity of the vegetation supports a wide range of wildlife.
The region has a rich human history, starting with Bushmen 2000 years ago: they have left brilliantly preserved rock paintings and a valuable collection of rock art, which can be seen in the small museum and on live rocks in a number of caves – they depict the life that existed in the area many thousands of years before Zimbabwe was ever discovered.
More recently, the hills were named by Ndebele chief Mzilikazi after their rocks, as they reminded him of bald heads – Matabo. The great Ndebele king is buried in the Matobo Hills just a short distance from the park.
Matobo National Park is also the site of the grave of Cecil John Rhodes. He is buried at the summit of Malindidzimu – ‘ hill of benevolent spirits’. He referred to this hill as having a ‘View of the World’. A short walk from the parking lot will lead the visitor to his grave, which is carved out of the solid granite hill and surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of massive boulder .
The Park includes an Intensive Protection Zone where a large population of Black and White Rhinoceros are successfully breeding. The Park is home to a wide variety of animal species including: black and white rhinoceros, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, kudu, eland, sable, klipspringer, leopard, hyena, cheetah, hippo, warthog, rock dassies, waterbuck, wildcat, springhare, common duiker, crocodiles, baboons and monkeys. The park is famous for its large concentration of black eagles, which can be seen perched atop the rock formations or soaring along the cliffs in search of prey. Bird species that can be found include, fish eagle, martial eagle, francolin, secretary bird, weavers, pied crow and Egyptian geese. The absence of lions and elephants make it possible to walk through the small Whovi Game Park.
Established in 1953, the Park was awarded Unesco World Heritage Status in June 2003.
One of greatest African civilizations after the Pharaons, the Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe dominated the area from present Zimbabwe, East of Botswana and South East of Mozambique in the late Iron Age (between 11,000 and 14,500 AD).
An impressive granite stone complex was built by the ancient Kingdom of Munumatapa: It used a genuine building style with cylindrical constructions and an impressive enclosing wall with no mortar, and only primlitive tools. The complex, seat of the political power of the shona monarch, may have housed up to 25,000 persons organized in an elaborate social and economical society – to the extent that some do not believe this civilization was of African origin. A museum, to be visitined before exploring the ruins, gives insight into this amazing period.
The ruins that survive are built entirely of stone. The ruins span 1,800 acres (7 km2) and cover a radius of 100 to 200 miles (160 to 320 km).The ruins can be broken down into three distinct architectural groups. They are known as the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure. The Hill Complex was used as a temple, the Valley complex was for the citizens, and the Great Enclosure was used by the king. Over 300 structures have been found so far in the Great Enclosure. The type of stone structures found on the site gives an indication of the status of the citizenry. Structures that were more elaborate were probably built for the kings and situated further away from the center of the city. It is thought that this was done in order to escape sleeping sickness. What little evidence exists suggests that Great Zimbabwe also became a center for trading, with artifacts suggesting that the city formed part of a trade network extending as far as China. Chinese pottery shards, coins from Arabia, glass beads and other non-local items have been excavated at Zimbabwe. The site was not abandoned but rather the court of the king moved further north as his empire declined in order to gain more direct access to trade revenues.
The Great Zimbabwe ruins are located in the vicinity of Masvingo, the 3rd Zimbabwean city. The ChiKaranga-speaking Shona people are found around Great Zimbabwe in the modern-day province of Masvingo and have been known to have inhabited the region since the building of this ancient city. A second theory is that Zimbabwe is a contracted form of “dzimba woye” which means “venerated houses” in the Zezuru dialect of the Shona language. This term is usually reserved for chiefs’ houses or graves.
Situated in the south east of Zimbabwe, Gonarezhou National Park is located in a relatively remote corner of the Masvingo Province, south of Chimanimani and along the Mozambique border. Owing to its vast size, rugged terrain and its location away from main tourist routes, large tracts of Gonarezhou remain as pristine wilderness.
The Gonarezhou National Park was formed in 1975, by uniting former hunting areas and tsetse fly control corridors. At 5,053 km² Gonarezhou is the country’s second largest game reserve after Hwange National Park. Gonarezhou is the Shona word meaning “elephant's tusk." It forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park that links Gonarezhou with the Kruger National Park in South Africa and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. This huge area is set to become one of the finest "peace parks" in the world and is dedicated to conservation, biodiversity and the economic development of the surrounding local communities. The vast and diverse nature of the mega-park will provide world-class eco-tourism to the visitor and strive to re-establish historical animal migration routes and fragile regional ecosystems. Historically the Park has been a strong hold habitat for the endangered African Wild Dog, and it is thought that the cross-border link to National Parks in Mozambique would provide a good opportunity to restore and preserve the viability of the species in adjacent National Parks.
Three major rivers - The Save, Runde and Mwenezi - cut their courses through the Park, forming pools and natural oases from which hundreds of species of birds, wildlife and fish gather to feed and drink. As its name implies, Gonarezhou is famous for its elephants, and many of the largest-tusked elephants in the region maybe found within the Park.
One of the most prominent and enduring natural features of Gonarezhou National Park is the beautiful Chilojo Cliffs. These magnificent red sandstone cliffs have been formed through eons of erosion and overlook the scenic Runde River valley.