Expert Reviews – Hwange NP

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Big Game Metropolis
Overall rating

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.

The Zimbabwean Giant
Overall rating

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 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.

A wildlife extravaganza in an easy game-viewing landscape
Overall rating

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.

Zimbabwe’s top all-round safari destination
Overall rating

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.

Average Expert Rating

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

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