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Camp Amalinda

Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe

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Lovely accommodation, great food - a good base from which to explore Matobo

Camp Amalinda opened in the mid-1990s and was very popular in the early years, and continues to be despite Zimbabwe's recent troubles. The camp is owned by Phil & Sharon Stead who retain a daily interest in its operation and marketing. Amalinda is part of a collection that includes Ivory Lodge in Hwange and the newly refurbed Bulawayo Club in the nearby town of the same name.

Amalinda emerges out of the thickets and rock kopjes and takes you quite by surprise. Hidden as it is around the rocks and bush of a small private conservancy, it is invisible until you’re practically standing in the little reception hut. Any wish to standardise the layout of the nine rooms was clearly futile as each one has been built to accommodate the odd boulder, tree trunk or serendipitous view of the dam. One room is approached through a giant cleft between the boulders, another is sub-divided by the interference of an outsize stone. Some of the rooms sadly lack a good-sized veranda from which you could enjoy the unusual surroundings in private, but you can’t have it all.

The rooms are classically decorated along that sort of wicker furniture, monkey-and-palm-tree print, old travelling trunk kind of way...not sure whether this genre has a name. I suppose it is vaguely colonial but with a contemporary twist which means it doesn’t look in the least bit dated.

In line with the whole “use what nature hath provided" theme, the pool is formed by a cunning dam-type arrangement on a large sloping rock, creating a natural infinity pool a la Flintstones. There is a pleasant pool house and lunch-spot nearby if you can’t summon up the energy to clamber up to the main lounge and dining room.

Sir Cecil John Rhodes pitched up in the 1880s in this neck of the woods with (among others) the ambitious project in mind of building a railway from the Cape to Cairo. A little off-shoot of that same railway pootled down to the Matobo Hills. Later, the track was taken up and some of the Rhodesian teak sleepers now form the hefty dining table (and convenient conversation piece) at Amalinda. On this dining table, you’ll be served food of a standard that will doubtless impress you and a quantity that will most likely leave you a few kilos to the good.

Amalinda is located on the border of the Matobo National Park and Safari Area. It is not a vast piece of land but is sufficient for a number of half hour ambles, clamber around on the statuesque kopjes and get some good bird-watching done. Aside from a few quite docile zebra, there is little wildlife. However, there is masses to do in the surrounding area. At least a full day (and upto 3 for those with the right interests) can be spent looking for rhino, visiting Rhode’s grave at the “View of the World" and checking out the many really fascinating examples of Bushman art (including wagons and men in pith helmets) that helped earn Matobo World Heritage site status.

Accommodation:

9 en-suite cottages

Experience:

Lovely accommodation, great food - a good base from which to explore Matobo

Inclusions / Exclusions:

About Matobo National Park and Zimbabwe

See all areas & places to stay in Zimbabwe
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2/5 Mother & Child - one of many improbable natural granite "sculptures" in the Matobo Hills
Mother & Child - one of many improbable natural granite "sculptures" in the Matobo Hills
3/5 The Matobo Hills protects literally thousands of excellent examples of ancient rock art - in fact the largest concentration in the world
The Matobo Hills protects literally thousands of excellent examples of ancient rock art - in fact the largest concentration in the world
4/5 Matobo Hills is one of the few places you can encounter rhino on foot
Matobo Hills is one of the few places you can encounter rhino on foot
5/5 Although Matobo has the highest density of leopard, the perfect territory makes them hard to spot
Although Matobo has the highest density of leopard, the perfect territory makes them hard to spot

Matobo National Park

Sitting down to write this article after a trip to the area, I am at an unusual loss as to how to begin. Matobo (or Matopos as it is widely known) was a favourite place from my own travels ten years ago and remains so now. While many other parks in Africa might be fairly unremarkable if someone came along and swept up all the animals, the Matobo Hills is so rich in other ways that you might not even notice. Unfortunately, the wildlife here has come off worse due to poaching for meat and money over the last 3-4 years. The plains game especially has been thinned to token numbers. That said, the park has the highest concentration of leopard (estimated at 5 for every 16km2) in the world and it is one of the best places to see rhino. If you are fortunate enough to procure the services of a good professional guide, you may even have the heart-racing experience of tracking and seeing the rhino up close and on foot. The birdlife in the park is not to be sniffed at, with a particularly high population of raptors; there are 200 breeding pairs of black eagles in the park (there are only 23 breeding pairs in the whole of South Africa). For those that are that way inclined, a whole day can easily be spent on the birds of Matopos. The scenery of the Matobo Hills is what makes it truly special. Formed from the erosion over millions of years, of an igneous intrusion of granite, the area is a maze of 3 billion year old kopjes and rocks that balance in unlikely natural sculptures. So surreal are some of the formations that some clever bloke has even been heard to enquire after which artist was responsible. Between the rocky outcrops lie grassy vleis and wooded thickets but the other really special aspect is the Bushman art found throughout the hills. A staggering 50,000 paintings have been identified with whole new sites still being discovered. Interestingly, in addition to the stereotypical hunting scenes depicting stick-men and animals, the paintings also record ox wagons and men in pith-helmets. This leads on to the historical significance of this area. The hills were part of the San or Bushman territory for centuries. Latterly, Mzilikazi (a breakaway king of Chaka Zulu’s tribe) set up his royal palace nearby where Bulawayo now lies and consulted his spirit mediums (sangomas) who still dwell in the caves of Matopos today. The area was critical during the Matabele rebellion and was the meeting point for Sir Cecil John Rhodes and the Ndebele chiefs, and where they finally signed their treaty of peace. For such a spiritually important place for the Matabele, it is perhaps surprising that Rhodes requested, and was granted permission, to be buried here. His grave lies overlooking the aptly named “View of the Worldǃ?. You can easily spend two or three full days in Matobo enjoying the birds, views, rock art and rhino tracking. You shouldn’t come here expecting an animal behind every bush but you absolutely won’t be disappointed by the place. It’s very important to have an excellent guide here who knows the area, history and culture in order to get the best out of it. An example of a safari that includes Matobo would be: fly into Victoria Falls for a couple of nights, 3-4 nights in Hwange National Park, 3-4 nights in Matobo National Park, and fly out of Bulawayo (with an option of a night here to see this historic town). Read more?

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2/5 Elephant often feed along the rich shoreline of Lake Kariba
Elephant often feed along the rich shoreline of Lake Kariba
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4/5 An inviting waterhole
An inviting waterhole
5/5 The Chilocho Cliffs of sandstone are a unique feature to Gonarezhou
The Chilocho Cliffs of sandstone are a unique feature to Gonarezhou

Zimbabwe

Once a hallowed safari destination, Zimbabwe has emerged from a few troubled years and remains a safari destination to be reckoned with.  Although travel around the country is not as easy as it once was, there are some real gems here that are definitely worth considering. Read more?

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Who to talk to

Catherine Ronan

Rumour has it that Catherine Ronan used to be a spy. We find this slightly hard to believe as she loves nothing more than to divulge her travel secrets and infect other people with her enthusiasm.

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At Natural High, we've had long experience putting together trips in Africa that really work. Whether it's intimate bushcamps in out of the way places, or a private lodge in one of Africa's top-billing wildlife areas, light mobile camping or remote island escapes, we know there is a lot to choose from. We're absolutely confident that we can recommend the right places for you.

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