Matobo National Park, also known as Matobo Hills National Park, is a place of divine beauty and is the soul of Zimbabwe. It lies 35 kilometers (21 miles) south of the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo. It covers an area of 424 kilometers² (164 miles²), at the core of the Matobo Hills. The Hills are made out of granite, which was forced to the surface over 2 billion years ago and then exposed to erosion that created rock formations with an otherworldly feel. These granite rocks, which often seem to be defying gravity, are known as 'kopje', a Dutch word meaning little head, and are a distinct feature of this area.
Matobo is divided into two sections – the recreational park, and a 100-square-kilometer (38 miles²) game park, where the highest level of protection is imposed to preserve its inhabitants.
The park has rich and diverse flora and fauna, with 175 bird, 88 mammal, 39 snake and 16 fish species recorded here. White and black rhinos have been reintroduced to Matobo, and this area is one of the best places to spot these gentle giants. The park is also home to the world’s densest population of leopards, because their main pray - hyrax, or shrewmouse - is widely present here. Matobo is also important as the habitat of black eagles, and has the world’s highest concentration of breeding couples.
These hills have been occupied by humans since the Stone Age. San (Bushmen) lived here as early as 2,000 years ago. Many examples of their rock paintings have been preserved and can be viewed during your visit. The main archeological sites include Bambata Cave, Inanke Cave and Nswatugi Cave. The area still holds a spiritual significance to the local people, who use the shrines and sacred places located in the hills.
The park offers great hikes of different lengths. You can also choose to view game from horseback and go on one of the horse trails. Boating can be done on some of the larger dams. For those enjoying running, there is an annual 53-kilometer-long (33 mile) road race through the park.
The dry season runs from April to October, and is the best time to spot the wildlife, as there is less vegetation and the animals migrate to the waterholes. During the wet season, the nature is greener and more abundant. This is the best time for bird-watching and seeing newborn animals, although some accommodation closes and the roads can become difficult to travel.