The Matobo National Park forms part of the Matobo or Matopos mountain range, just south of the town of Bulawayo. It is easy to imagine why Mzilikazi, the founder of the Ndebele nation, named these hills as he did, as the name means ‘bald head’ in the local vernacular. The landscape is a cascade of two-billion-year-old granite outcrops that have been weathered smooth by the passing of time. Amongst these ‘bald heads’ stand countless rocky columns that balance a staggering variety of boulders, one on top of the other.
The Matobo National Park is the oldest park in Zimbabwe and was put forward as a reserve by Cecil Rhodes himself. In fact, he so loved this area that he chose the summit of ‘Malindidzimu’ or ‘the hill of the spirits’as his final resting place, and his grave is carved out of the granite rocks he adored so much.
There are over 3 000 rock art sites in the Matobo National Park, some dating back as far as the Middle Stone Age, as well as clay ovens and other artefacts left behind by the early San people. It is a place of timeless majesty. The ancient mystery of the place has given the hills a hallowed reputation among the local tribes, and was the home of many spiritualists and oracles in times gone by.
In the western section of the mountain reserve lies the 105km2 game reserve known as the Whovi Wild Area. Animals were relocated here from Hwange, and it provides guests with good game viewing against the backdrop of the dramatic hills and rocks of the Matobo.
It is perfect leopard habitat, and is thought to have one of the highest densities of these elusive cats in the country. Both black and white rhino breed successfully here, which makes it rather special.
Safe from the bigger predators such as lions, the rest of the reserve is a hiking and walking heaven. The area has a rich diversity of plant life, with over 200 species of trees and 100 different species of grass. The views are spectacular, and the birding is excellent. The horse trails are great fun, so bring your sugar lumps if that is your thing! Unlike most of the waters in Zimbabwe, the area outside the Whovi is crocodile-free, so fishing for big bass or bream can be done without having to constantly scan the dark pools for the menace that lurks below the surface.
The Matopos does not offer ‘The Big 5 Tourist Experience’, where you drive around ticking off as many of the large and dangerous animals as you can. Rather it is a place to recoup, reflect, and reconnect with nature. The hills echo with the voices of kings long departed, and towering rocky columns stand sentinel at improbable angles, reminding us of the enduring nature of the natural world.