As we were reaching that part of the school holidays when the joy of the freedom to do anything and nothing starts to pall, we decided to head off to the wonderful Matopos for a couple of nights of camping fun. It was our aim to not only find out which sites were still functional (despite seemingly up to date information on the Internet, some sites are now redundant) but also to go off the beaten track and explore some of the places which are less well-known.
Our first stop, although we did not stay here, was at Lake Matobo, previously known as Matopos Sailing Club, located just outside the National Park. Although the old clubhouse is slightly down at heel, the setting is quite beautiful and a variety of activities are on offer, including canoeing, sailing, fishing and pool. Now run by National Parks, this spot is popular with day trippers from town and gets quite busy at the weekends. The bar is open all day, which may not be conducive to a quiet break from the madding crowd. The ablutions, although clean, are also part of the clubhouse and not reserved specifically for campers and there is also no hot water. We were told by the caretaker that caravans can also be accommodated, but the actual site that he motioned to was well over-grown.
Matopos Sailing Club,
Camping fees: $7 per two-man tent
Entry for day-trippers: $1 adults 50c children
Sandy Spruit is located right near the entrance to the National Park and is ideal if you want a quick escape without going very far. It is also perfect for those without a four-wheel drive vehicle. Out of all the campsites we visited, it was by the far the most well-maintained: the grass is cut, the ablutions are tiled and clean and there are two gazebos in good condition. The flat, open area is great for playing games with children and riding bikes, and if it’s relaxation you are after, just park yourself under a tree and soak up the tranquillity of the surroundings. Unfortunately, however, there is currently no hot water and fishing is not allowed.
They say that difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations and this is certainly true if you take the 4×4 route to Mtshelele and Toghwana dams. It is also true that the most difficult roads are themselves the most beautiful, being largely untrammelled by human traffic. A 4×4 vehicle is not absolutely necessary, but what is vital is one with high clearance. Successive rainy seasons have worn the road into gullies quite badly in places and a very short part of it is underwater, but for the most part, this road is passable, if a little bumpy.
However, any discomfort is countered by the beauty of the drive and soon forgotten upon reaching one’s destination. The allure of Mtshelele is its serenity. One feels the worries of the world floating away as you drink in its exquisite peacefulness. Rarely visited except on weekends, and then by only a few, it is a great place to lose oneself for a couple of days. The best campsites are, however, quite far from the ablutions and again there is no hot water, despite the presence of a solar geyser. Swimming is prohibited, although we were assured there were no crocodiles, while fishing is allowed and one may also bring a boat.
Toghwana dam is perhaps one of the least visited of all, but my favourite overall. On the boundary between the park and the communal lands, its strange lunar landscape has a particular appeal and some may not like the great sense of isolation that hangs over it. The campsites are neat and well-maintained and basic ablutions are available (again, no hot water). For those intrepid enough, Inake cave, home to some of the most interesting and mysterious of bushman paintings, is a six-kilometre trek through the bush from here, but if attempting a visit for the first time, it is advisable that you take a guide, for the route is not always clear, especially after the rainy season.
For those without a four-wheel drive vehicle, it is possible to reach Mtshelele on a better road (take the turn off for Silozwane), although even this is rather worn in places, but going on to Toghwana is not recommended. Maleme dam is far more accessible, although, as a result, more populated with visitors. Sadly, the ablutions are not very well looked after and the area in its entirety could do with a bit of tidying up. Visitors should also beware of the baboons; some of them can get quite cheeky and easily spoil one’s stay. Campers are allowed to use the sports facilities at the chalets, such as the volleyball, tennis and basketball courts and the pool table, although some cost may be involved.
Another rarely visited place within the park is Mesilume dam, situated towards the far entrance on the Kezi road. Again, this is a beautiful spot and very near to Nswatugi cave for those with an interest in bushman paintings. Although very secluded, it is not far off the road and is prolific with bird life. Despite their neat outward appearance, the ablutions are quite run down and this may deter anyone staying longer than a night.
National Parks fees:
Camping: Sandy Spruit $15 per site
All other dams: $5 per person
Firewood: $5 per wheelbarrow
Perhaps the most spectacular of all the camping sites we visited is not found in the park itself, but at The Farmhouse, situated along the Kezi road. The drive from the road seems never-ending, but when you get there, you realise why it is so far away. It’s not called World’s View for nothing. Situated on the edge of a rocky outcrop, the site overlooks a great expanse of bush and a watering hole where giraffe and wildebeest can be spotted at sunset. The ablutions are clean and there is hot water (hooray!). There is also a sheltered dining area and a bar. Campers are also welcome to take part in any of the activities available such as game drives and bush walks.
The Farm House
Camping: $10 per person (includes firewood).
Popular with overlanders, Big Cave Camp is another option. The spotless ablutions come with hot water and for those wishing to take a break from camping, it is also possible to upgrade to a small rondavel which sleeps two. There is an extensive dining area and a bar at which it is possible to buy Wi-Fi if you would like to connect to the outside world. Campers are welcome to take part in any of the activities available at the lodge, such as rhino tracking and visiting nearby caves, providing they give adequate notice.
Over landers- Big Cave
Camping: $15 per person (includes firewood).