If it’s elephants you want, this is the place – vast Hwange’s famous pachyderms count for half of the country’s 80 000-strong herd.
The park may be the biggest and most famous in Zimbabwe but it remains blissfully uncrowded, unlike many major African parks.
In Zimbabwe’s west and easily accessible from Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, the park is close to the fringes of the Kalahari Desert, and its 14 650km2 encompasses semi-desert scrub in the southwest as well as granite hills, woodland, grass plains and wetlands. These diverse habitats are home to more than 100 mammal species, including the Big Five — elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo. Resident predators include lion (this was Cecil the lion’s home), leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena and Zimbabwe’s biggest populations of African wild dog and brown hyena. The park’s herbivores include buffalo, giraffe, wildebeest, sable, roan and impala, and Zimbabwe’s biggest population of the stately gemsbok, with its beautiful sweep of horns.
Hwange is dry but the abundant wildlife is sustained by water pumped to waterholes and pans. Most of the park’s wetlands, waterpans and rivers are seasonal, with only a few natural pools left in the northern rivers in the dry season. Sausage trees (Kigelia africana) with their massive pods indicate underground water.
Game viewers and birdwatchers will be enthralled by the various hides that are a feature of the park. Ngweshla, Guvalala and Nyamandlovu platforms are built on stilts over waterholes and offer close-up views of Hwange’s game. The driest months, July to October, offer the best game spotting because of the reduced vegetation and because wildlife is drawn to waterpans and waterholes – to those that are not fed by springs or rivers. Look for black rhino in the Sinamatella Intensive Protection Zone, a protected breeding area for the critically endangered beasts.
Hwange is located where the great 19th-century king of the Matabele, Mzilikazi, had his hunting grounds. The wildlife reserve established here in 1928 and named after the local chief was enlarged and proclaimed a national park in 1949.
Don’t miss Hwange’s archaeological and cultural treasures — ruins at Mtoa, rock carvings at Deteema and both at the most important site, Bumbusi National Monument, which has ruins reminiscent of those at Great Zimbabwe.
Hwange National Park