Hwange National Park:
One of the 10 largest national parks in Africa and the largest in Zimbabwe, at 14,651 sq km Hwange (‘Wang-ee’) has an enourmous amount of wildlife. Some 400 species of bird and 107 types of animal can be found in the park, including lions, giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs. But the elephant is what really defines Hwange, being home to one of the world’s largest populations of around 40,000 tuskers.
The best time for wildlife viewing is July to October, when animals congregate around the 60 water holes or ‘pans’ (most of which are artificially filled) and the forest is stripped of its greenery. The park is situated on the road from Bulawayo to Vic Falls, making it the most accessible and convenient park for many visitors. Access is possible in any sturdy vehicle between May and October, but you’ll need a 4WD during the wet season.
Lake Kariba is the nation’s Riviera where it’s all about houseboats, beer, fishing and amazing sunsets. It’s one of the world’s largest artificial lakes, covering an area of more than 5000 sq km. Its location adjoining the Matusadona National Park means it’s home to plenty of wildlife, including the Big Five – lions, leopards, buffaloes, elephants and rhinos (including the endangered black rhino). Ghostly dead trees act as roosting places for fish eagles, cormorants and darters.
There’s no better way to experience the peacefulness and beauty of Lake Kariba than by renting a houseboat. The climate here is much hotter than in other parts of the country, so try to avoid the summer months (November to January), when the humidity is stifling. Swimming in the lake isn’t possible due to big crocs and reported bilharzia
Mana Pools National Park:
This magnificent 2200-sq-km national park is a Unesco World Heritage–listed 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 and elephants, and almost guaranteed to see lions and possibly wild (painted) dogs.
What sets Mana Pools apart from just about any other park in the world is that it’s all unfenced. 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 dangerous – and fast. Hence walking with a guide is highly advised.
The greatest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Heritage–listed Great Zimbabwe is one of the nation’s most treasured sites. “Zimbabwe” means “House of Stone” and it is this city (ruins today), that gave the country its name.
This mysterious site provides evidence that ancient Africa reached an unsuspected level of civilisation by earlier scholars. As a religious and political capital, this city of 10,000 to 20,000 dominated a realm that stretched across eastern Zimbabwe and into modern-day Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa. The best time to explore is dawn and dusk when the sunrise, or sunset, enhances what is already a stunning site and means you beat the heat. Allow at least three hours to explore.
Matopos National Park:
Just half-an-hour’s drive south of Bulawayo is Matobo Hills National Park. This small, easily accessible national park contains some of the region’s most arresting scenery. It is a beautiful area and very under-rated.
Huge piles of red-tinged granite boulders (kopjies) litter the landscape, interspersed with wooded valleys and vegetation; giant smooth whalebacks rise up from the plains; rocks and boulders balance at improbable angles. The area has a rich human history. Bushmen lived in this area 2,000 years ago, and left a superb collection of rock art behind, much of which has been well preserved. Game is found throughout the Matobo Hills, including rhino, leopard and Africa’s largest concentration of leopard and Verreaux’s (aka black) eagles. It is here that Cecil John Rhodes chose as his final resting place.
Stretching for 300km down the eastern side of Zimbabwe, bordering Mozambique, are the Eastern Highlands – the combined name for three ranges of hills and mountains – the rolling countryside and tea plantations of the Nyanga range; the granite peaks of the Chimanimani Mountains; and the green meadows and the coffee plantations of the Bvumba range.
These areas are sparsely populated, making it a peaceful place to visit. It enjoys a cool, wet climate providing relief from the higher temperatures of the lower lands. Hidden within the rolling landscape are great little places to stay, beautiful scenic drives, fantastic walking trails and magnificent sights. Distances here are small, but differences in landscapes are great.
Victoria Falls, locally nicknamed “Vic Falls” is one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world. Declared World Heritage Site, Victoria Falls – and most of the town of Victoria Falls – are part of a National Park Mosi-Oa-Tunya, bordering the Zambezi National Park 573 km ².
Today, the town of Victoria Falls rightfully bears the name “adrenaline capital of Africa” An incredible number of adventure sports are practised here such as bungee jumping, rafting on the mighty Zambezi or microlighting over the falls. Rest assured, for the less adventurous, helicopters or small planes allow you to enjoy similar sights. Take a sunset cruise on the meandering Zambezi River upstream from the falls or, for the more energetic crowd, enjoy a guided canoe trip to discover the stunning scenery and wildlife whilst paddling along quietly.