The vast game parks of Africa have a powerful place in our collective imagination. Even those who have never set foot on the continent can name its most famous conservation areas—the Maasai Mara, the Serengeti, the Kruger, and Etosha are all evocative of the extraordinary experiences Africa has to offer.
But Hwange, Zimbabwe’s biggest and most diverse national park, is rarely included in that impressive list. This is in spite of the fact that the country is dominated by two iconic rivers, endless bushland, the world’s most famous waterfall, and some of the best game viewings on the continent.
The political devastation of the recent past is, of course, the reason why. Some may even describe Zimbabwe as “possibly the most beautiful place in all of Africa.”
So Much To See
Many travellers are drawn in by the potent mix of thundering waterfalls, sea-like lakes, and animal-filled plains. A tougher, more extravagant version of neighbouring Botswana and its gentle Okavango Delta waterways, Zimbabwe smacks you in the face with its dramatic scenery, its endless hot and dusty savannas, and its world record-breaking array of wildlife.
Under-Tourism – Every Traveller’s Dream
Hwange National Park, in particular, gives you a taste of what game viewing was like before modern tourism sanitized it with tagged animals, radio call-outs, and seven jeeps crowded around one overwhelmed leopard. Hwange is simply too full of animals and too empty of people to play that game.
Abundance of Fauna
It is 18 times the size of New York City, and in that space, it has an estimated 50,000 elephants, many of which are in breeding herds as large as 300 that pad from waterhole to waterhole. There are also more than 100 different kinds of mammals and an estimated 500 bird species living in the scrubland. This level of biodiversity is matched only by the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Kruger National Park in South Africa, both of which have a far higher population of human visitors than Hwange.
Which means that in the glamorous bush camps that are dotted around the park, you should always be alone with your guide and, hopefully, a pride of sleepy lions or a solitary cheetah. Although, if you get taken to the extraordinary Nyamandlovu pan, it isn’t uncommon to see buffalos, giraffes, elephants, baboons, and even a few big cats in one rather overwhelming sighting.
World Class Camp Sites
And the camps themselves are world-class. Wilderness Safaris has played an important role in the rejuvenation of Hwange, and its three camps in the park rival any of the award-winning establishments in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana. But most importantly, visiting Zimbabwe is an important way to help control the devastating poaching figures. This is a particularly pressing time for the African conservation community. Poaching is rife throughout the continent but Mugabe’s corrupt rule has made it particularly prolific in Zimbabwe, where a high price is placed on wild animals with commercial value. And unlike neighbouring countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe has no state-funded anti-poaching projects, meaning parks are entirely reliant on money brought in by tourists.
Getting There is Easy
Hwange is a short propeller-plane hop away from the brand-new Victoria Falls Airport, which currently welcomes daily flights from Dubai, Doha, Johannesburg, and many other cities around Africa, with the aim of opening up this alluring part of Zimbabwe to the world. It also means visitors can easily combine a trip to the unmissable Victoria Falls with a few days in Hwange.
And while it will take years for the scars of the past to heal, the international travel industry’s attention—which has been very much trained on Zimbabwe for the last year—has given a wonderful sense of hope to the people of Hwange National Park in particular. And many of them speak about how visitors to their extraordinary country hold the key to not only saving animal lives but also to ushering in a new era for Zimbabwe in one stop.