South African Zimbabwe is a piece of Africa, in which nature can be explored extensively in national parks, reserves, safari areas and several botanical gardens. For African conditions you will encounter a relatively high proportion of water, because around 10% of the country’s area is covered by water. The landscape in Zimbabwe is dominated by the mountainous highlands, which extend in the form of a mountain range up to 1,500 m high and partly with valleys, streams, gorges, slopes and steep rock faces from northeast to southwest. The highest point is then in the extreme east, in Manschona country: the Inyangani, the summit of which is 2,592 m. In the west, on the other hand, Zimbabwe descends to the basin of the Kalahari Desert, and the northern and southern border regions are characterized by hilly terrain. However, the north of the country also has impressive nature: the Victoria Falls. Only 120 km away is the Hwange National Park with its considerable elephant population. But the fauna also includes all other species typical for safari, such as giraffes, zebras, antelopes, buffalo, lions, cheetahs, leopards and monkeys. Hippos and crocodiles can also be found along the rivers, and Zimbabwe shows its abundance of birds in the Mana Pools National Park. If you are looking for culture in Zimbabwe, you will find it in particular with the Great Zimbabwe National Monument, the largest preserved historical site in southern Africa. These are the ruins of a city-state that lived on the gold trade, of which the temple, built of handcrafted stones, is the most impressive building. Culture also in the capital Harare, Sunshine City. Or in Bulawayo, the second important trade and industrial center of Zimbabwe, which has an excellent national museum and is also not far from the Khami ruins and the Matabo Hills with rock paintings and pygmy cult sites.
Hwange National Park
Image: Elephant herd at the waterhole
The Hwange National Park is one of the largest and most important national parks in Africa. At almost 15,000 square kilometers, it is the largest in Zimbabwe. The park is located in the east of Zimbabwe between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.
The national park is located in the transition area from the Kalahari Desert in the southwest to the more humid savannas in the northeast. There are few smaller forest areas in the east and it is very dry in the west and south. Nevertheless, the better time to travel is the dry season from May to September.
Over 100 different species of wild animals and over 400 species of birds live in the park. Of course, these numbers can only be estimated, as they depend on the season and how the animals migrate. Without a doubt, however, the Hwange National Park has an extraordinarily large elephant population. It is assumed that there are a total of 30,000 animals. Herds of up to 100 animals can be seen at a watering hole. There are also large numbers of buffalo, impala, Kunduz and other antelope species.
There are various camps and lodges in the park, which enable authentic but also luxurious stays. They offer organized game drives and walks with qualified guides.
Mana Pools National Park
Zimbabwe’s blazing heart
Mana Pools National Park is located in western Zimbabwe. Together with the associated safari areas Chewore and Sapi, the area is around 2,500 square kilometers. It has been part of the UNESO World Heritage Site since 1984. “Mana” is a Shona term meaning “four”. The name refers to the four large water basins, which are filled with water even in the dry season. In the rainy season, the Zambezi flood plain turns into a lake landscape, whereupon it dries up again in the dry season. There are isolated villages whose inhabitants live from growing millet.
Human vs. nature
In the 1950s, the construction of the Kariba Dam made a name for itself, which significantly changed the nature of the floods. Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to assess to what extent this has influenced the animal world. What is certain is that the dam holds back the mud that would otherwise be washed into the plain. As a result, fewer nutrients get into the plain – a circumstance that seems to have impaired the nutritional basis for the herbivores. In the 1980s, plans arose to build a dam on the Mupata Gorge, but these were foiled.
Flora and fauna
The landscape of the Zambezi flood plain is shaped by its changing water level. Here you will find islands, ponds, shorelines, steep cliffs and sandbanks. Areas that are drier impress with their variety of baobab, mahogany, fig and ebony. The uniqueness of the animal world is also fascinating: Since the four large water basins are the only source of water in the dry season, you will encounter whole flocks of animals here. It is therefore not surprising that the area is particularly popular when it comes to viewing large animals. They include buffalo, leopard, elephant, lion and cheetah. Black rhinos are no longer available because, on the one hand, they fell victim to poachers and, on the other hand, they were relocated to other national parks.