This beautiful country has sizeable game parks that soak up the roughly 2 million travellers visiting the country annually: consequently, it offers adventurous travellers an authentic wilderness experience.
Elephants are the celebrities of Zimbabwe’s safari landscape. Parks like the famous Mana Pools, expansive Hwange and remote Gonarezhou glory in thousands of the pachyderms. Game is strictly protected in the country’s 11 national parks. Hwange and Mana Pools are both home to the Big Five — lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo — and Big Cats are found in most parks. Four Intensive Protection Zones (IPZs) conserve black rhinos (under threat from poaching), with two IPZs located in Hwange and Matusadona National Parks.
Private ranches and conservancies, and communal lands extend the area in which wildlife can be viewed, or hunted. State Safari Areas allow hunting under tightly controlled conditions. Hunting and culling continue to be controversial issues in Zimbabwe. The country’s most famous Big Cat, Cecil the Lion, was shot just outside Hwange National Park by a trophy hunter on a legal hunting trip.
National parks cover 13% of Zimbabwe’s land mass, but the adventure does not stop there. Zimbabwe boasts no fewer than five UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the superb natural wonders of the Victoria Falls and the Mana Pools and Matobo national parks, and the fascinating ruined cities of Great Zimbabwe and Khami.
The remarkable Great Zimbabwe, in the southeast, has given its name to the country and to the hundreds of smaller ancient sites scattered throughout the highveld, all of which feature dry-stone walls. Great Zimbabwe was constructed between the 11th and 15th centuries, most likely by the ancestors of the modern Shona people. The Zimbabwe Bird, which appears on the national flag, is based on the famous soapstone carvings that once topped walls and monoliths in the city.
The great Zambezi River carves its way along Zimbabwe’s northern border, sustaining stunning parks and creating the splendour of the Victoria Falls. The damming of the Zambezi in the Kariba Gorge created the largest manmade lake in the world, by volume. Lake Kariba may have been intended for hydro-electric power and irrigation, but it is an adventure playground like no other. A houseboat voyage, replete with thrilling fishing, excellent birding and encounters with the Big Five on the shores of the Matusadona National Park, puts this dam in a league of its own.
The mere sight of the magnificent Victoria Falls is enough to get the heart racing but committed adrenaline junkies have an extraordinary array of exciting activities to relish, from bungee jumping from the railway bridge over the falls to white-water rafting below them. More relaxed folk may opt for sundowner cruises on the Zambezi River or breathtaking helicopter flights.
A unique wilderness activity is the annual game count, which takes place at the end of September in Hwange and Mana Pools national parks. It is usually held during a full moon. Volunteers from far and wide act as ‘counters’, given checklists and posted at designated points in the parks. There they stay for 24 hours, observing the animals. The game count enables Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe to estimate wildlife populations and changes that may indicate environmental stress.