Zimbabwe’s 5 Lesser Known Gems

Article Shelley Cox

1. Gonarezhou National Park

Wild, rugged scenery stretching over an area of an estimated 5,000 square kilometres, Gonarezhou remains one of Zimbabwe’s least visited gems and a haven for a diversity of wildlife. Translating as the “place of many elephants”, Gonarezhou is fast becoming one of Zimbabwe’s conservation success stories and is worth a visit for those interested in exploring what our country’s parks have to offer. For those wanting to experience the park with a bit of comforts and luxury, Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge sits on the edge of the park, and has expert guides on hand to share all that the park has to offer both landscape and wildlife wise. For the more adventurous self-drive explorers, The Gonarezhou Conservation Trust has established a variety of accommodation options available; remote wilderness campsites with little to no facilities, comfortable chalets at Swimuwini (also known as Mabalauta), tented camps at Chipinda Pools, and even a starbed experience on the Malugwe Platform.  With an estimated 89 mammal species (including elephant, buffalo, eland, nyala, lion, leopard, wild dog amongst others) and an estimated 400 bird species, Gonarezhou’s wildlife numbers have been on a continual steady increase with its enhanced protection through the efforts of the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust. In addition, one of the most prominent and enduring natural features of the park is the spectacular Chilojo Cliffs. These magnificent red sandstone cliffs which stretch for an estimated 30km, have been formed through eons of erosion and overlook the scenic Runde River Valley.

2. The Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe

Running alongside the Mozambican border for an estimated 300km, is the Eastern Highlands.  A mountainous area of spectacular beauty unlike any other in Zimbabwe the highlands provide stunning views of rolling hills, lush green forests, rugged peaks, deep gorges, cascading waterfalls, misty valleys, and glistening lakes and rivers. Here the areas of Nyanga, Chimanimani and the Vumba mountains present a paradise for those who love cooler weather and the various activities such as hiking, trail-running, birding, golfing, and horse-riding that are common throughout the region.  Accommodation in the region is varied from the large long-standing Leopard Rock Hotel, to the recently refurbished Aberfoyle Lodge, and a number of boutique guest houses, bed and breakfasts, and self-catering mountain cottages. Major attractions include a visit to the Mutarazi Falls SkyWalk and Skyline, Zimbabwe’s highest peak, Mount Nyangani, Nyangwe ruins but don’t be surprised if you find yourself touring the tea estates, white-water rafting and kayaking, tree canopy tours, and if you are in the Vumba a visit to Tony’s coffee shop is a must! The Eastern Highlands are a joy to hike, but make sure you’re carrying an accurate map and someone knows where you’re going The Eastern Highlands are much colder and receive significantly more rain than the rest of the country.

During the rainy months of November through to April, some roads become inaccessible so be aware if you are self-driving.

3. Chizarira National Park

Currently under rehabilitation through a partnership between National Park Rescue and ZimParks, Chizarira National Park is fast on the road to becoming one of Zimbabwe’s most sought after destinations. Remote and away from the main tourist routes, Chizarira is probably the least known, and yet most diverse in terms of its different ecological zones within the park, ranging from lowveld valley vegetation with mopane forests and baobabs, to Highveld broad-leaf miombo woodlands. It is without a doubt one of the most mysterious, dramatic and remote wilderness areas with spectacular landscapes and breath-taking views. Road grading has been underway for the past year and new road developments, including 4 x 4 routings for varying levels of experience, are in the pipeline. The airstrip has been refurbished and the Mucheni viewpoint and Mucheni Gorge campsites have had a facelift and now have running water and toilet facilities. For self-drive adventurers this should be top of your list in 2020 of places to visit. It is fairly remote, but it is well worth it once you are there. Visiting Chizarira has never been about seeing large herds of animals, it has been about appreciating its pristine wilderness and biodiversity, savouring the epic landscapes and absorbing the incredible tranquillity which the park offers.

4. Matobo National Park

Located a mere 40 minutes from Bulawayo, lies the spiritual landscape of Matobo National Park. Matobo is translated as ‘Bald Heads’ and were formed over 2 billion years ago with granite being forced to the surface, that has eroded to produce smooth “whaleback dwalas” and broken kopjes, strewn with balancing boulders and interspersed with thickets of vegetation.  Established in 1926, Matobo National Park is the oldest in Zimbabwe, and due to exhibiting “a profusion of distinctive landforms rising above the granite shield that covers much of Zimbabwe”, as well as being an area of important ecological and cultural significance, Matobo Hills was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Accommodation is varied from the high and mid-end lodges such as Amalinda and Big Cave Camp, to more affordable options such as Matobo Hills Lodge, The Farmhouse and the recently refurbished National Park chalets. The hills are vibrant with birding life, a large assortment of eagles, including the spectacular African Hawk Eagle and Martial Eagles as well as various owls that call the caves and ledges their home. The valleys within the hills are home to a number of wildlife species including, sable, zebra and other antelope species, and occasionally one may be lucky enough to encounter the rare elusive leopard. Game drives, rhino tracking, walking safaris and rock art / cave painting site visits are the most prominent activities on offer in Matobo National Park, and the park has good access year round regardless of seasons.

5. Zambezi National Park

Hidden in the shadow of the majestic Victoria Falls, many are unaware of the surprising wildlife experiences that Zambezi National Park has to offer. Divided into two sections by the main tar road between Victoria Falls and Botswana (Kazangula) – the park essentially offers two different experiences. The Zambezi River Game Drive, has an extensive network of roads along the river accessed through the main gate of the Park, allowing for views of the Zambezi river and riverine vegetation along its course.  In the southern part of the park, the 25 kilometre Chamabondo Game Drive, which begins about 5 kilometres outside of Victoria Falls town (just off the main road to Bulawayo) allows for one to traverse an open grassland, which was once an ancient river line. The roads are in reasonable condition, but please note that they do close sections of the park aft er heavy rains. A wide variety of larger mammals are found within Zambezi National Park including elephant, lion, buff also, giraffe, zebra and leopard. In addition, large antelope is oft en seen such as sable, eland, kudu, waterbuck as well as many of the smaller species of game can be viewed. For those with a keen interest in walking safaris, there are some incredible guides available who will take you along the inland spring-lines for some incredible encounters and views of this relatively unappreciated landscape. Thanks to the eff orts of ZimParks, Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit, Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, Bhejane Trust and other tourism stakeholders, the Zambezi National Park has managed to ensure this important wildlife habitat has been preserved and as a result, the wildlife numbers have bounced back over the course of the last few years. Due to its close proximity to Victoria Falls, accommodation options are endless and include high-end luxury camps, hotels, boutique guest lodges, self-catering and camping options. For those seeking advice or wanting to explore options which are within your budget, reach out to local tour operators on the ground who would happily help plan your safari experience and your exploration of our country’s natural wonders. Look out for local specials as the tourism industry regularly advertise specials for Zimbabweans in an eff ort to assist with more cost eff active options for people to be able to appreciate their own heritage.

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