Hwange National Park is located in the northwestern corner of Zimbabwe, on the border of Botswana. It was originally established as a game reserve in 1928 and was named after a local Nhanzwa chief, Hwange Rosumbani. The date it became a national park, however, appears to vary from one source to another, with some sources stating 1930, some stating 1949 and some stating 1961.The park is 14,651 km² (5657 mi²) in size, making it the 10th largest national park in Africa and the largest national park in Zimbabwe.
Because of the park’s close proximity to the Kalahari Desert, the general landscape of Hwange is of desert scrub and grasslands. The foliage is not dense, particularly compared to other safari destinations, and the majority of forest is that of Mopane. Hwange is an excellent destination for wildlife viewing and boasts over 400 species of birds. It is also home to many large mammals and has one of the largest concentrations of elephants in Africa, with an estimated number currently around 30,000 to 40,000. It is estimated that four of the five ‘big five’ animals can be seen here: buffalo, elephant, leopard and lion. The rhino population has essentially been wiped out, although a few sources cite state that a handful may remain. For those putting a black or white rhino sighting as a top priority, Hwange should not be their first choice.
The safari lodging in Hwange tends to be concentrated around the waterholes and is generally of very high standard, with the majority being tented camps. It is an excellent safari destination due to its high concentration of wildlife and its well-established tourist infrastructure. It is also located two hours from Victoria Falls, making it an attractive choice for those wishing to combine a safari with a trip to the Falls. Hwange is recommended for all levels of traveler.
Hwange has two distinct seasons: a wet and a dry season. The wet or rainy season runs from approximately December to March. It is as this time that the local flora becomes green and lush, and bird viewing is at its peak. The animal viewing is less optimal as the animals tend to disperse a bit due to the increased availability of water sources. The rainy season also coincides with Zimbabwe’s summer, and days are hot and nights are warm.
Like the Serengeti, there are little to no off-road driving options in Hwange, which helps keep the animals less accustomed to seeing safari vehicles. The dry season runs from around July/August to October, with September and October being the driest months. The dry season is considered the best safari time at Hwange National Park as large concentrations of game, in particular elephant herds, must drink from the man-made and pumped waterholes. The dry season also coincides with Zimbabwe’s winter months, and while days are still warm and sunny, nights can get very cold and down to freezing temperatures.