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).

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