Expert Reviews – Hwange NP
Paul is a travel writer, author of the Bradt guidebook to Zimbabwe and is closely involved in promoting tourism to Zimbabwe.
13 people found this review helpful.
Big Game Metropolis
Hwange, the size of Belgium, is Zimbabwe’s premier park, one of Africa’s finest. And these days with Zimbabwe’s low tourism figures, you’ll have the park to yourself giving an excellent, uncrowded, wildlife experience. And with 108 species, it has the highest diversity of mammals of any national park in the world. The Big Five, with both black and white rhino (both very rare), is on show here plus a healthy population of wild dog. Huge numbers of elephant free-range between here and Chobe across the border. The three main centres are Main Camp, Sinamatella and Robins with the latter two currently being renovated. Most of the upmarket lodges are situated in the northeastern Main Camp area simply because this is where one sees truly phenomenal game concentrations around the pumped waterholes in the dry season. You’ll see predators and prey in abundance. As well as the expensive lodges, independent travellers can camp or stay at the National Parks accommodation which is basic but generally acceptable. I’ve had some of my very best wildlife experiences here with a rumbling, inquisitive elephant right by the tent, hyena spoiling my sleep with their amazingly loud vocal repertoire right beneath the platform, and one night I spotted a scary little honey badger within inches of my bare feet. Hwange’s a great place to start ticking the animals off your list.
Brian is an award winning travel writer, author of safari books and regular contributor to magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa.
8 people found this review helpful.
Zimbabwe’s wilderness flagship
Hwange is Zimbabwe’s biggest and finest national park – more than 14,000 sq km of crackling dry teak forest, thornveld and mopane woodland reaching away to the Botswana border. That’s an area the size of Belgium, so there’s plenty of space in which Hwange’s famous elephant herds can roam at will. The rest of the big five are here, too, with lion and buffalo in good numbers, and tons of other wildlife including magnificent sable antelope and 400 bird species. For me the best time to be here is in the dry season. This is the African winter, when the ordeal trees turn to gold, when the Kalahari sands shine white as snow under the full moon and the cries of jackals carry far in the cold night air. It’s also the time when lack of rain draws all the animals to what few waterholes remain, making for spectacular game viewing.
My favourite areas are the open parklands around Somavundhla Pan and the mini-Serengeti of Ngamo Pan, its far horizons rimmed with ilala palms. Explore them from Makalolo or Little Makalolo bush camp– both run with great style by Wilderness Safaris. Ngamo Pan was bone dry the last time I was there, with sable running through the sun-dried grass. But if you come in the rains it’s more like the Okavango – water lilies everywhere and storks hunting frogs in a foot of water.
Kim is a travel writer who authored and updated over 15 guidebooks, including Lonely Planet's South Africa and Bradt's Tanzania guides.
6 people found this review helpful.
An elephant’s tail
Once a royal hunting ground, Hwange is Zimbabwe’s most game rich national park. Boasting one of the highest concentrations of elephants in Africa it is also one of the best places on the continent to see the lumbering giant of the bush in large numbers. Elephant lovers take note. Beyond elephants, other large mammals you can expect to spy include giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, kudo, impala, sable, ostrich, hyena and jackal. All ticked off on my last visit. Frustratingly, as I discovered, lions are more often than not heard but not seen. Unlike the vast open plains of the national parks in East Africa, Hwange’s landscape is dominated by extensive stands of teak woodlands and rugged hilly areas of exposed rock, so you certainly have to work harder to find the game. But that’s all part of the park’s charm. While accommodation in and around the park ranges from the sumptuous to the basic, for me the best way to experience the magic of Hwange is to camp as at night the air comes alive with the serenades of the savannah. Lying back in your tent with little more than a sleeping to protect you can be a little unnerving as you listen to the screech of bats intermingling with the whoops of hyena and the deep-throated distant growls of lions but it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.
5 people found this review helpful.
Zimbabwe’s classic Big Five reserve, for old-school safari adventures
Once the pride of Zimbabwe’s safari circuit, Hwange has suffered from chronic underfunding in recent years. Despite this, it still has huge numbers of elephants. Within minutes of entering this enormous park, I found myself watching a large herd approach a waterhole for the elephant equivalent of a garden party, with adults drinking and socialising amiably and youngsters splashing about in the mud. And as I continued my game drive, we came across many more elephants – along with plenty of evidence of the damage they can do.
It’s easy to see baboons, antelopes and big cats in Hwange, too. Leopards and wild dogs are also present but, as usual, harder to spot. Mechanised boreholes spoil the atmosphere somewhat, but it’s thanks to them that the animals are here, and some of the watering places they feed have fantastic hides from which to observe the day’s comings and goings.
Hwange is close to the tourist hub of Victoria Falls but its accommodation options tend to have a reassuringly authentic feel. You won’t find any luxury-hotel-style places here – instead, you’ll find comfortable, timber-built camps with highly professional staff and excellent guides, proficient in bushwalks as well as game drives.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
5 people found this review helpful.
Hwange National Park, an oasis for elephants
Depending on budget and taste, Hwange National Park can be experienced in different ways. The nice thing of a park like Hwange is that is so affordable and accessible to almost everybody. There is nothing elitist about it. Park and camping fees are very reasonable and the roads can be driven in an ordinary saloon car. Main Camp, with comfortable but simple accommodation, is an unpretentious affair. Several waterholes are in close-proximity. If you like to do your own thing, without a guide, this is a great place to go. If you prefer some luxury and you like the style of safaris offered by private camps, there are several private concessions in the park that offer just that. Being the largest park in Zimbabwe, this park encloses a full eco-system that supports a big variety of animals. Hwange has a very big elephant population attracted by the many waterholes, but which disperses in the wet season. Birdlife is prolific throughout the year, but at its best in summer.
Mark is a travel writer who grew up in Africa and has written over 700 titles for CNN Traveller, Travel Africa, BBC Wildlife and others.
4 people found this review helpful.
The Zimbabwean Giant
Hwange delivers. I spent eight days on assignment searching for painted (wild) dogs…and a pack of ten finally kept me awake for half the night as they bickered with a small herd of elephants right outside my tent at The Hide.
Hwange is more than twice the size of Devon (or slightly bigger than Connecticut) and, while most of the camps and lodges are arranged along a strip in the northern half of the park, there are great tracts of wilderness to remind visitors of the immensity of the African bush. You drive across vast areas of elephant-ransacked thornscrub and through vast teak forests (inviolable even to the pachyderm diet) and from time to time come across pockets of incredibly dense wildlife such as the dry-season waterholes at Makalolo Plains where I saw 22 lions (and a leopard) in a single morning’s game drive.
A longer stay in Hwange will give you time to get acquainted with the ever-changing lion dramas – the tales of ‘pride and prejudice’ which the park’s ace guides can recount through an in-depth knowledge of predator’s social lives. You’ll still hear tales of the famous Cecil (whose roar is said to have been so tectonic that it could shake the vehicle) and Hwange is known for its powerful lion prides – such as the Nehimba Seeps pride that has become famous for preying on elephants.
Wankie National Park (as it was known then) was gazetted in 1928 in an area lacking permanent water. The park’s elephant debacle can be traced back to the first boreholes. Since then elephants have had no need to migrate in pursuit of water. Contrary to popular myth elephants do forget and even the oldest matriarch no longer knows the ancient migration trails and the impact of vast elephant herds can be seen everywhere.
‘There were less than 1000 elephants in this area in the 1920s,’ wrote Dick Pitman in Wild Places of Zimbabwe, ‘today probably 13,000 or more...as it stands Wankie probably now supports its viable maximum number of elephant.'
Pitman wrote those words in 1980. Now, almost 40 years later Hwange is home to an estimated 46,000 elephants and the landscape, the herds themselves and other species are all starting to feel the impact.
Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.
3 people found this review helpful.
Hwange was my introduction to the African bush and still holds some of my fondest wildlife memories: a crocodile pulling down a kudu; a snouted cobra raiding the nest of a capped wheatear; a honey badger snatching my dinner from the table. Zimbabwe’s premier national park, this 14,500 sq km reserve is best known for its huge concentrations of elephant and buffalo, which dominate waterholes in the dry season. The wooded terrain in many areas makes game viewing harder than on the open plains of East Africa, however, and nothing is guaranteed. Lions are relatively elusive, for example, though I have always been lucky with leopards, and the park is good for both cheetah and wild dog.
Other highlights include large herds of sable. Conditions are semi-arid, with no permanent rivers, but the park’s mix of habitats means an unusual biodiversity – including a rich birdlife, with many Kalahari species. A decent network of roads and public camps makes this a popular self-drive destination for locals, but the infrastructure has been neglected, and today many visitors prefer upmarket private concessions along the eastern boundary. Either way, Zimbabwe’s difficulties mean that these days you won’t meet many other tourists. For spectacular views, head northwest to the Sinamatella plateau.
Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
3 people found this review helpful.
A wildlife extravaganza in an easy game-viewing landscape
Hwange is Zimbabwe’s answer to a typical African game reserve; unspoiled bush teeming with all the animals people expect to see on safari. But because of the relative lack of visitors in recent years, it’s without the normal camera-clicking crowds. I’ve had some incredibly rewarding game viewing experiences here, especially along ‘Ten-Mile Drive’ from Main Camp, where I’ve seen most of the park’s major mammals including elephant, lion, cheetah, buffalo and hyena, and plenty of the ubiquitous warthog and impala. The Nyamandlovu Pan is a special place too. In the dry season it can be crusted and cracked, and the grassy plains yellow and parched, but I once remarkably watched at least a dozen species of grazing animals here at the same time, and it wasn’t long before a pride of hungry lion appeared to investigate the relative ‘smorgasbord’ of choices.
Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.
2 people found this review helpful.
Cecil’s homeland – and much more besides…
Hwange holds very special memories for me. Now famous as the home to Cecil, that gorgeous black-maned lion killed by a trophy hunter, I first visited in 2012 and was lucky enough to see him on Kennedy 2 plains. I recently returned to write about Cecil’s Legacy and Hwange a year after his tragic death. For several days, we searched and searched for his pride, three lionesses and seven 18-month old cubs, seemingly to no avail. But on our very last drive we found them all on the Somalisa concession, dozing under a tree. Seeing them alive and well after all their tribulations (and all our efforts!) brought tears to my eyes and we stayed with them in silence for a full four hours until they eventually moved on to hunt.
But of course, there’s more to Hwange than lions (although their population is actually rising here). This vast park is home to the Big Five including thousands of elephants, there are rare antelopes like sable and even rarer carnivores like wild dogs (which have always eluded me), and much, much more besides. Perhaps what draws me so much to this place is the commitment to conservation and communities that many of the lodges share here –operators like Imvelo, African Bush Camps and Wilderness do some fantastic work with schools, women’s groups and healthcare, and I would strongly recommend you visit some local villages while you’re here – you’ll never forget the welcome you receive. The Long Shields Lion Guardian project is also doing great work in helping local people to live alongside the lions, helping to protect their cattle and save the predators at the same time.
Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
2 people found this review helpful.
Walk with Giants
Zimbabwe’s premier wilderness area was once one of the biggest names in African safari, but as the country has languished in the doldrums and the years have ticked by Hwange has, by and large, fallen off the mainstream safari radar (although in mid-2015 the park received worldwide, and not very positive attention, thanks to the exploits of a gun-toting American dentist and a certain lion that few of us had heard of before…). The thing is although the park is no longer cool with human visitors it remains an ‘in’ spot with the animals and this huge park is still bursting with mega-fauna. Some say it has the highest density of large mammal species in the world. The park is perhaps most renowned for its buffalo, lions and elephants. Indeed the elephant population is now so large that some experts consider the number beyond the carrying capacity of the park. Part of the reason for this concentration of wildlife is the habit of creating man-made, pumped water holes which means that thirsty animals can get a drink no matter how dry it is and this means that, unlike in areas where water isn’t pumped, there’s no natural cycle of animal population boom and bust to keep numbers under control.
For a visitor though the large numbers of animals and generally low human visitor numbers makes for a wonderful wilderness safari experience (especially if you get to a remoter camp in the south and east of the park). For me though, what I most like about Hwange is the opportunity it affords to walk in the footsteps of large animals. Across Africa this is forbidden for safety reasons in many parks so it’s a rare privilege to be able to do so in Hwange. And if, like me, you prefer you’re parks a little off-beat and to get out of the vehicle and stretch your legs then Hwange is going to impress.
Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.
2 people found this review helpful.
Big is Best and Elephants Rule in Hwange
Zimbabwe’s largest national park is awesome. Overflowing with elephants and home to in excess of 100 mammal species, this is a place that won’t disappoint avid wildlife enthusiasts. Once, while on an afternoon game drive, I sat for two hours and watched a super-relaxed leopard going about his business without a care in the world. I would argue that Zimbabwe’s ongoing political woes are actually a real bonus for safari lovers, because tourists can currently visit a world-class park like Hwange and expect to have the place pretty much all to themselves. Night drives in the private concessions adjoining the park can also be very rewarding for sightings of seldom-seen nocturnal critters; I was lucky enough to see an aardvark during my last Hwange visit!
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
2 people found this review helpful.
Zimbabwe’s top all-round safari destination
Long regarded to be one of the largest and best national parks in southern Africa, the 14, 540 sq km Hwange has fallen off the tourist map slightly under the present regime in Zimbabwe, but it remains a very special place. It is most memorable for its large herds of elephants, which are ubiquitous in the dry season, when up to 20,000 individuals congregate on its waterholes. The public sector of the park also provides rewarding viewing for big cat enthusiasts, with lion and cheetah being especially visible in some areas. Like the Kruger, it is unusually well-suited to self-drive safaris, thanks to the network of overnight rest camps, campsites and hides. Better still are several exclusive private concessions set deep within the park, where we have enjoyed game viewing to rival most of East Africa’s better known parks.
Melissa is an award winning travel writer for Fodors, Frommers and Insight, including guides to Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
1 person found this review helpful.
Hwange – the elephants’ stamping ground
Hwange gave me my first introduction to the African bush as a very small child. We sat in the tent by the light of a hurricane lamp in Robins Camp listening to the lions roaring outside the fence, and watched through the windows of our family car while herds of buffalo hundreds strong swirled around us in dusty clouds. Once the hunting ground of Ndebele king Mzilikaze, the land was too dry for farming. It was a miraculous reprieve for the local wildlife. In 1929, it became Zimbabwe’s biggest national park, one of the greatest wildlife preserves in Africa. It covers over 14,651 sq km (5,656 sq miles), houses a staggering 105 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, 100 species of trees and shrubs.
What it doesn’t have is spectacular scenic beauty or much natural water. This is the western fringe of the Kalahari much of it is arid scrub. Lush and green in the rainy season, in winter the animals are almost entirely dependent on a network of artificial dams and pans fed by boreholes. With the political upheavals in Zimbabwe, it has become increasingly difficult to find the funds and manpower to keep these operating. In the dry season, many of the vast herds simply wander across the border into Botswana where the rivers continue to flow.
There has been poaching here but there is still plenty of game, in particular some of the world’s largest elephant herds. There aren’t huge numbers of luxury lodges, but there are some, such as The Hide, where I stayed on my most recent visit – a wonderfully sybaritic idyll.