Hwange National Park is the most famous and the largest of the wildlife parks in Zimbabwe.
Hwange National Park is the largest of the Zimbabwe national parks, covering an area of 14,651km² which brings it to approximately half the size of Belgium. Bordering Botswana, it is located in the northwest corner of the country on the main road between Bulawayo and the world famous Victoria Falls, which is about one hour’s drive to the south.
The Park is one of Africa’s finest havens for wildlife with vast herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra and a large concentration of giraffe. It is also home to many predators and endangered species plus very large and varied bird life.
The land the National Park occupies was formerly inhabited by the San bushmen, the Nhanzwa, as well as later being the royal hunting ground for Mzilikazi, the Matabele king. In 1928, the reserve was gazetted for wildlife conservation as the land was deemed to be unsuitable for agriculture with its poor soils and scarce water supplies.
The reserve was named Wankie Game Reserve with a 22-year-old Ted Davidson as the first warden. In 1949, it was joined with the neighboring Robins Game sanctuary and become a national park.
The sheer size of the park means that its landscape is very diverse with the vegetation and game varying immensely. In the north the dense teak forests, granite hills and mopane woodlands change to Kalahari sand veld and semi-desert scrub in the south. Extensive open grassy plains mixed with acacia and mopane woodland, combined with stretches of ilala palms, lie in between.
The park is close to the edge of the Kalahari desert which creates a region with an absence of permanent surface water. The wildlife relies heavily on a series of waterholes, with many of them drying up completely during drought years. Due to the lack of water a number of man-made waterholes were built in order to sustain thousands of animals during the dry season. The “Friends of Hwange” maintain several of these waterholes throughout the year.
The different seasons effect dramatic changes on the park. The bush becomes lush and green during the summer rains between December and March. The wildlife at this period is very spread out as pools of water are plentiful.
Alternatively, the winter months between June and October, sees the bush and grasses drying out as well as the pools and smaller waterholes. This causes the wildlife to congregate around the existing watering holes which creates excellent game viewing opportunities. Viewing platforms are positioned strategically to witness the migration of animals to and from the water.
All of Zimbabwe’s species of animals that need protecting are to be found in Hwange. As well as gemsbok and brown hyena, the park hosts what is thought to be the largest surviving group of wild dog in Africa within its protected borders.
As well as these, the park is home to over 100 mammal species including elephant, of which there are many very large herds. Buffalo and lion are also prolific with the opportunity to spot leopard and cheetah.
With the critical water situation and the depleted wildlife as a consequence, Ted Davidson set upon creating over 60 new artificial pans which helped increase wildlife numbers who were now able to access drier parts of the park.
Even to this day, water is an issue and is vital to the survival of the park. It is thanks to the Friends of Hwange that many of the waterholes are still functioning today.
Camping is available in Hwange at designated picnic sites. These sites consist of an enclosed picnic area with either thatched areas or shady trees for protection and a small ablution block with running water. These areas cater for groups of up to 10 people who may camp overnight and are also open to all visitors during the day.
Hwange Park Lodges are dotted around the park with three distinctive Camps at Robins, Sinamatella and the largest one at Main Camp.
Main Camp have facilities including fully equipped self-catering lodges, cottages and chalets, a camping and caravan site, bar and restaurant, grocery store, a curio shop and a petrol station.
The other camps have self-catering chalets, camping facilities and braai areas. Some may have separate ablution blocks for washing and bathing.
Please note that the petrol station at Main Camp may not always have fuel available. It is advisable to bring your own if possible. Enough to do game drives and get back to your destination.
There are several exclusive camps both in the national park and just outside the parks borders offering first class facilities.
Most of these camps and lodges offer full board with well trained chefs making all your meals first class.
They all offer excursions that will include game drives during the day as well as early evening into the night. Their trained scouts may offer walks and even trips by canoe or boat if there are waterways nearby.
All of the safari camps and lodges offer varying activities including walking safaris, game drives in open vehicles and night game drives within the park.
The wildlife park hosts 480 kilometres of roads for game-viewing and access to the many camps dotted around the park. Some of these roads may not always be in the best condition especially in the wet season, so get advice on entry into the park.
All in all, Hwange National Park is the ultimate wildlife reserve in the country – well worth a visit.