The Matopos National Park forms the heart of the Matobo Hills, a region covered in undulating hills and wooded valleys that begins approximately 35 kilometres south of Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe. The hills were formed more than two billion years back, with rock being pushed to the surface – which has since eroded, resulting in smooth ‘whaleback dwalas’ and broken hills, peppered with boulders and scattered plant thickets. The Park was given its name by Mzilikazi, founder of the Ndebele nation, and means ‘Bald Heads’.
The Hills spread over around 3,100 square kilometres, of which 424 square kilometres are National Park, with the rest being mostly communal land and a small section of commercial farmland. The Park stretched along the Thuli, Mtshelele, Maleme and Mpopoma river valleys. A portion of the reserve is set aside as a game park that has been filled with plenty of wildlife, including white rhino. The tallest point in the Hills is the promontory, ‘Gulati’, at 1,549 metres just outside of the north-eastern edge of the Park.
The Matopos National Park is one of Southern Zimbabwe’s most stunning and well-loved areas. It can be easily reached from the good tarred road, and is a real treasure to be explored. The region is in fact a World Heritage site and is renowned for its balancing granite rocks. Baboons and monkeys are common in the area, and the Park holds the largest population of leopard in the entire country.
The reserve has worked very hard over the years in order to preserve their game and exquisite scenery. In this Park, you will be able to spot more than 200 tree species, 100 grass species, 175 bird types, and around 88 different kinds of mammals, including 39 snake species. The entire region is protected and fenced off. Within the National Park is the small game reserve where rhinos have been transferred from Hwange. Due to this reserve’s small size, you are almost guaranteed to spot a rhino at a very close range.
From November through to March, the Park is turned into dense greenery due to this period being the rainy season. However, you will still be able to scale the rocks and spot various Bushmen artworks concealed under rocks or inside hollows at any time of the year. From the highest rocks’ summit you will have a wonderful vantage point from which to observe the stunning sunsets of the area. With no urbanisation around, the skies at night are crisp and clear, giving you a chance to enjoy beautiful evenings beneath a blanket of sparkling stars.
Though Zimbabwe has experienced horrific inflation of more than 200 million percent per year, trading is now in American currency and the economy has become much more stable. The country is a safe place, but does contain wild animals that can be unpredictable and dangerous. Despite the people of the country, especially those in Matabeleland, having suffered heavily over the past thirty years or so, they continue to smile and are always friendly and hospitable to any visitors.
There is plenty to do in Matopos National Park, including hiking amongst stunning landscapes. Take a stroll to Maleme Dam, hike up Mount Pomongwe, or venture to check out the rock paintings in Pomongwe Cave. Horse rides are conducted near Maleme Dam and in the actual Park itself. You could also take part in some fishing at some of the Park’s dams, where you can usually catch tilapia and bass with no risk or crocodiles. Boating is also available to do in the bigger dams of the area.