​Expert Reviews – Hwange NP

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Expert
Paul Murray   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Paul is a travel writer, author of the Bradt guidebook to Zimbabwe and is closely involved in promoting tourism to Zimbabwe.

18 people found this review helpful.

Big Game Metropolis
Overall rating
5/5

Hwange, which is roughly half the size of Belgium, is Zimbabwe’s premier park, and one of Africa’s finest. It also offers an excellent, uncrowded, wildlife experience. And with 108 species, it has one of the highest mammal diversities 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 African 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. 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. Visitors on a budget 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, hyenas 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.

Expert
Brian Jackman   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Brian is an award winning travel writer, author of safari books and regular contributor to magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa.

10 people found this review helpful.

Zimbabwe’s Wilderness Flagship
Overall rating
4/5

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 half 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 almost 500 bird species. For me the best time to be here is in the dry season. This is the southern 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 a 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 Little Makalolo bush camp – 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.

Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

10 people found this review helpful.

Elephants Galore & Reintroduced Rhinos
Overall rating
3/5

Due to its proximity to Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s most popular reserve. Its great variety of animals and good wildlife densities make it a good choice for first-time safari-goers. Just like Kruger, Hwange is well suited to a self-drive safari. The main roads are well maintained and there are several reasonably priced camps to choose from. If you get tired of driving around, it is always worth stopping at one of the waterholes with photographic hides. In the dry season these artificial pans attract thirsty animals from far and wide, and I’ve often spent hours enjoying the drama unfolding here.

Hwange is mostly known for its huge concentrations of elephants. From about July to October or November, you’ll see massive herds of them kicking up dust as they walk across the plains. Expect incredible photo opportunities when they congregate at the waterholes to drink and bath. Of the big cats, lions are most easily seen but I was lucky to see cheetah as well.

Although there are still a few free-roaming black rhinos in the remote hills beyond the Sinimatella area of the park, these are very rarely seen. A highlight on my recent stay was a visit to the Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary, home to two reintroduced white rhinos. The exciting Community Rhino Conservation Initiative is run by Imvelo Safari Lodges in partnership with the local community. Presently the activity is only offered to people staying at the Imvelo lodges, but hopefully the sanctuary will open up to all visitors to the park. After an informative talk we drove around the large fenced-off area in search of Thuza and Kasana, the resident rhinos. Once we spotted them we disembarked the vehicle and watched them peacefully feeding and eventually settling for the night as the sun set.

Expert
Kim Wildman   –  
Australia AU
Visited: June/July

Kim is a travel writer who authored and updated over 15 guidebooks, including Lonely Planet's South Africa and Bradt's Tanzania guides.

7 people found this review helpful.

An Elephant’s Tail
Overall rating
4/5

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, kudu, impala, sable, 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 bag to protect you can be a little unnerving as you listen to the screech of bats intermingling with the whoops of hyenas and the deep-throated distant growls of lions, but it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

Expert
Emma Gregg   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: April

Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.

6 people found this review helpful.

Zimbabwe’s Classic Big Five Reserve, for Old-School Safari Adventures
Overall rating
4/5

Hwange is the pride of Zimbabwe’s safari circuit, despite having suffered from chronic underfunding in recent years. 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 lions 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.

Expert
Mark Eveleigh   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Mark is a travel writer who grew up in Africa and has written over 700 titles for Condé Nast Traveller, Travel Africa, BBC Wildlife and others.

5 people found this review helpful.

The Zimbabwean Giant
Overall rating
5/5

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) on 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’ that the park’s ace guides can recount through an in-depth knowledge of the predators’ 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, more than 40 years later, Hwange attracts up to 50,000 elephants in the dry season, and the landscape, the herds themselves and other species are all starting to feel the impact.

Expert
Mike Unwin   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Mike is an award-winning wildlife writer, former editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

4 people found this review helpful.

Elephant Playground
Overall rating
4/5

Hwange is Zimbabwe’s premier national park and attracts concentrations of elephant and buffalo as impressive as any in Africa. During the Dry season these arrive by the thousand, migrating from as far west as Botswana to dominate the waterholes and surrounding bush. A rich variety of other herbivores that nibble their way through the park’s tapestry of mopane woodland, teak forest and open savannah includes plentiful giraffe, zebra, blue wildebeest, greater kudu and, of course, impala. Sable and roan are among the more notable antelope, the former occurring in good-sized herds in the eastern woodlands. All major large predators are also present, and the park’s small but healthy population of African wild dog is the focus of an excellent conservation centre just outside the main entrance – well worth a visit.

Hwange is highly seasonal, with game dispersing widely during the rains and congregating in the Dry season, and the dense bush in some areas can make wildlife viewing challenging. My most recent visit (October 2019) to the southeast produced some spectacular game viewing at the height of the Dry season. It is in this region that most private concessions are located, with game drives often exploring the open plains around Ngweshla and other permanent pans. The lion prides here are well known for preying upon young elephants – something that I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to witness. I also saw wild dogs, cheetah and, to my amazement, a pangolin.

Hwange remains a viable self-drive destination for the independent traveller, with several public camps and all-weather roads, although the infrastructure is today a little frayed at the edges. Private camps – most located in concessions along the park’s eastern boundary – are today preferred by many visitors. These offer an excellent safari experience, with guides well schooled in locating the large predators. Waiting at waterhole viewing platforms can often be more rewarding than driving around, especially during the Dry season. And with relatively few visitors, you will often have sightings all to yourself. Whatever your approach, Hwange’s diversity of habitats means a corresponding diversity of wildlife, and persistence, in my experience, is generally rewarded with something special. Birding is always excellent, with Kalahari species such as the southern pied babbler and violet-eared waxbill spicing up the savannah woodland selection. Raptors are especially prolific.

Expert
Stuart Butler   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: November

Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including 'Kenya', 'Rwanda' and 'Tanzania'.

3 people found this review helpful.

Walk With Giants
Overall rating
4/5

Zimbabwe’s premier wilderness area was once one of the biggest names in African safaris. But as Zimbabwe has languished in the doldrums and the years have ticked by, Hwange has, by and large, fallen off the mainstream safari radar. The thing is, although this huge park is no longer cool with human visitors, it remains an ‘in’ spot with the animals and is still bursting with mega-fauna, supporting one of the world’s highest densities of large mammal species. Hwange 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 that it is sustained by man-made, pumped water holes where thirsty animals can get a drink, no matter how dry it is. 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 make for a wonderful wilderness safari experience (especially if you get to a remote camp in the south and east).

What I most like about Hwange is the opportunity it affords to do guided walks in the footsteps of large animals. In many African parks, walking is forbidden for safety reasons, so it’s a rare privilege to be able to walk in Hwange. And if, like me, you prefer your parks a little off-beat, and to get out of the vehicle and stretch your legs, then Hwange is going to impress.

Expert
Lizzie Williams   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Dry season

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
Overall rating
5/5

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 lions appeared to investigate the relative ‘smorgasbord’ of choices.

Expert
Sue Watt   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

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.

Hwange’s Wonders & Some Special White Rhinos…
Overall rating
4/5

Hwange holds very special memories for me. In 2012, I was fortunate to see Cecil, the gorgeous black-maned lion who was killed by a trophy hunter in 2015. A year later, I returned to cover a story on the now famous lion’s legacy, and after days of searching, we found his entire pride of three lionesses and seven 18-month-old cubs snoozing quietly on the Somalisa concession.

Of course, there’s more to Hwange than lions (although their population is actually increasing here). Cheetahs are relatively easy to see in the Ngamo area and this vast park is home to thousands of elephants, along with rare antelope such as sable and even rarer carnivores such as African wild dogs. It’s a Big Five destination with a few black rhinos in the Sinamatella region, although they are very tricky to see. White rhinos were poached out of Hwange some 15 years ago.

Recently, I joined the translocation of two white rhinos, Thuza and Kusasa, to the newly opened Imvelo Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary on Hwange’s borders. These are the first white rhinos to be permitted on communal lands in Zimbabwe and are protected by the ‘Cobras’, a team of highly trained and well-armed local scouts. This Community Rhino Conservation Initiative is aiming to eventually have 30 to 50 white rhinos in a patchwork of mini-sanctuaries that in time will merge into one conservancy along the park’s borders. Now visitors to Hwange can come to the square-mile sanctuary for a walking safari to see the rhinos with their guards and learn about their conservation. It’s a fabulous initiative: a win-win scenario for local people who benefit from the sanctuary fees, for rhino conservation, and for travelers who yearn to see the Big Five. Imvelo’s Camelthorn Lodge lies in the heart of the sanctuary, so if you’re staying there, you might even spot a rhino right beside your room!

Perhaps what draws me so much to this place is the commitment to conservation and communities that many of the lodges share here. Operators such as Imvelo, African Bush Camps and Wilderness do some fantastic work with schools, women’s groups and health care, and I would strongly recommend you visit local villages while you’re here – you’ll never forget the welcome you receive.

Expert
Stephen Cunliffe   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

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
Overall rating
4/5

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!

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

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
Overall rating
5/5

Long regarded to be one of the largest and best national parks in southern Africa, the 14,650km2 Hwange has fallen off the tourist map slightly under the present regime in Zimbabwe, but it remains a very special place. Hwange is most memorable for its large herds of elephants, which are ubiquitous in the dry season, when tens of thousands of these charismatic creatures congregate there. On our most recent visit, we watched dozens of herds comprising maybe 500 individuals coming to drink at the same waterhole in the space of maybe two hours.

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 Kruger, Hwange is unusually well suited to self-drive safaris, thanks to the affordable network of overnight rest camps, campsites and hides. Another great feature of this park is its proximity to Victoria Falls, which means the two can easily be combined on a joint safari.

My favorite part of Hwange is the exclusive private concessions operated by the likes of Imvelo and Wilderness in the far south. We have visited these on several occasions and always enjoyed game viewing to rival most of East Africa’s better-known parks. This is also where you will find Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary, a well-wooded tract of community land that buffers the national park and has been restocked with white rhino, which can be tracked on foot.

Expert
Heather Richardson   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Heather is a British travel / conservation journalist, and has written for publications and broadcasters such as the BBC, Departures, the Telegraph and the Sunday Times.

1 person found this review helpful.

Easy Access, Great Wildlife, Established Camps
Overall rating
4/5

Just three hours’ drive from Victoria Falls, Hwange is Zimbabwe’s most popular national park. It’s known for its enormous herds of elephants, which you’ll see most of during the dry months of September and October. They’re relaxed enough to come and drink from the pools – I’ve spent several siestas a few metres from elephants as they came to quench their thirst and roll around in the mud outside camp (this was at Somalisa). The wildlife-rich Ngweshla area can get a bit busy, but other parts – such as Verney’s Concession – are opening up with new waterholes to spread out the wildlife viewing. I’ve seen lots of lions, several cheetahs and one leopard in my three visits, plus hyenas, roan antelopes and even an African wild cat.

Expert
Anthony Ham   –  
Australia AU
Visited: September

Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.

Where Lions and Elephants Do Battle
Overall rating
4/5

Hwange is one of my favorite parks in Africa. The landscapes are classic southern African wildlife habitat, with large open pans and waterholes fringed with woodland a recurring theme. Lions and elephants are the undoubted highlights here, and around the end of the Dry season they do battle as water supplies dry up. Hwange was the home territory of Cecil, the lion killed by a hunter to much international outcry in 2015. Cecil’s offspring and some of the lionesses with whom he mated continue to roam the park. Other species include giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and healthy populations of sable and roan antelope, which are a real highlight. Leopard, cheetah, honey badger and gemsbok are also possible. I’ve only visited in the Dry season. I hope to return in the Wet, when pans such as Ngamo in the park’s east turn a brilliant green, drawing predator and prey in great numbers.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.2/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star 9
  • 3 star 1
  • 2 star 0
  • 1 star 0
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