​Expert Reviews – Matobo NP

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Expert
Brian Jackman   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Dry season

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

2 people found this review helpful.

Lost in a lonely world of granite
Overall rating
4/5

It was Mzilikazi, the first great leader of the Matabele , who called these bare granite summits the Matobo because to him they resembled a huddle of bald heads. Today these strange, brooding hills are still a holy place, riddled with caves whose walls are covered with prehistoric rock art, and Mzilikazi himself is buried here. No wonder the Matabele still call this Malindidzimu – the Place of Spirits. One of the best views is from Cecil Rhodes’s grave, perched on one of the highest points in the Matobos. From here what you see is a tumbledown landscape cast in granite, with weathered pinnacles and dizzy rock castles looming over deep, boulder-strewn valleys. Leopards are common here, although not easy to see; but you should have better luck if you go rhino-tracking, or spotting sable kudu and tsessebe in the valleys of yellow grass below, as well as klipspringers clattering on tiptoe over the rocks. For birders the main attraction here are the black eagles that circle endlessly over the wind-blown summits. The Matobo Hills are the world’s number one stronghold for these magnificent raptors, with a current population of around 200 breeding pairs.

Expert
Mark Eveleigh   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: April

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.

2 people found this review helpful.

Iconographic Zimbabwean scenery with its stunning kopjes
Overall rating
4/5

More than just a wonderful scenic spot or a wildlife refuge, Matobo National Park is one of the cultural highlights of Zimbabwe. It should in fact be considered one of the world’s ‘power places’ – right up there alongside Great Zimbabwe Ruins as an African counterpart to Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat! Trek in Matobo and you will see great troops of baboons (perhaps the leopards that feed on them) and some fantastic eagle sightings. But there are also ancient lookouts and fortifications and the storage areas and forges where the warriors of Lobengula once made their fearsome assegais. In this park lie not only the ancient ‘Rain Shrine’ of the Ndebele but also the grave of Cecil Rhodes who asked to be buried here on what he called ‘the view of the world.’ Rhodes was a realist – I guess he figured that if he was going to have to spend eternity in one spot he might as well give himself something interesting to look at!

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.

1 person found this review helpful.

Ancient hills in the heart of Matabeleland
Overall rating
4/5

I felt a strong spiritual presence when visiting the dwalas, or eroded granite kopjes, of the Matopos. Many others, apparently, feel the same; some of the dwalas appear precariously balanced, as if held in place by supernatural forces, and the San bushman art which adorns their caves hint at age-old secrets. Coloured grey, pink, ochre and gold by swathes of lichen, there’s an appealing, sculptural quality to the formations. I scrambled up a couple of them to admire the view of the surrounding bushland, which has been stocked with white rhinos – rangers will take you out on a tracking expedition on request.

The park was very quiet when I visited – it was just me, my guide and a couple of soaring eagles – but for me, that only added to the atmosphere.

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Dry season

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

Land of giant boulders
Overall rating
4/5

The most memorable aspect the Matobo Hills is not really the wildlife but the stunning landscape of gigantic granite domes and bizarre balancing rock formations. These include the aptly-named ‘View of the World’, where the grave of Cecil John Rhodes (the British imperialist who founded Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known prior to independence) stands atop a vast whaleback at the centre of a ring of giant boulders, where wildlife includes colourful agama lizards, twitchy nosed elephant-shrews, and the near-endemic boulder chart. Elsewhere the park contains some superb prehistoric rock art, notably the monochrome animal outlines at White Rhino Shelter and some outstanding figures of running giraffes at Nswatugi Cave. Rhino and giraffe are also likely to be seen in the fenced Whovi Game Area, which can only be entered in a vehicle. Elsewhere, there are no restrictions on walking, and hikers often see klipspringer, rock hyrax, impala and the magnificent black eagle.

Expert
Melissa Shales   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Melissa is an award winning travel writer for Fodors, Frommers and Insight, including guides to Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Matobo – a finely balanced world
Overall rating
4/5

Cecil Rhodes might have been a dodgy megalomaniac but he did know a good view when he saw one. I never tire of the magnificent slabs of rock and giant boulders, streaked with rainbow lichens and rainbow lizards that surround his grave high up in the Matobo Hills. Rhodes so loved these hills that he gave them to the nation in 1926 as the country’s first national park. Whether they were his to give is a different question!

Not all the hills are part of the park, which covers 424 sq km (164 sq miles). Of this, 100 sq km (38.6 sq miles) is set aside as a separate fenced game reserve. Sadly the number of antelope has dropped due poaching for food, but the park does have excellent collections of both black and white rhino and the world’s highest concentrations of leopard and black eagles (but no lion or elephant). In all it has 88 species of mammal, 175 species of bird, 39 species of snake and 16 species of fish. But in spite of the rhinos and prospect of leopards, my greatest joy of the Matobo lies in the rocky kopjes outside the game reserve. There are many thousands of rock paintings in the caves and shelters across the hills – man has been living, worshipping and decorating here for at least 13,000 years. Add this to the extraordinary sculptural quality of the natural landscape with the windcarved balancing rocks and whaleback granite domes and you have a giant open-air art gallery hundreds of miles in diameter. It’s so spectacular it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

There are two luxury lodges in the area, Big Cave Camp and Amalinda, where I stayed on my last trip. It’s a magical place wound in and around the rocks with a superb resident archaeologist to take you round the cave paintings.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.3/5
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  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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