This giants playground of ours, Matopos – 1999

This giant’s playground of ours

There is a part of Zimba bwe where the peace and tranquillity is punctuated by the cry of the Black Eagle that has made this awesome ‘Giant’s Playground’ its home. Here, leopards live amongst granite outcrops which are as much a part of this southern Ndebele land as are the historical bushmen paintings and the spirits of past chiefs.

The Matopos is a stunning example of nature at play. Enter ‘erosion’ (stage left) and bear Witness to one of the longest acts in history. This slowly carved and fascinating landscape of granite must rank as one of the ultimate experiences for the aesthete. Rocks delicately balance on top of one other like fruit at a market, producing images like ‘The Mother and Child’ which erupt from a flat landscape carpeted in Acacias and scarlet msasas and hiding the famous Matobo rhino and sable.

The San Bushman made this granite wilderness their home thousands of years before Bantu tribes came along. A history of their life appears like stills in a movie house on the walls of the many caves and overhangs, resident throughout the 425 sq. km Dark. While theories on the meaning of the rock paintings certainly differ, it is nonetheless humbling to stand in a 35,000-year old man’s living room. The sites which are generally most popular with the tourists are just a few of many dotting the landscape. For example, Inange Cave has some of the most exquisite and well preserved Bushmen paintings in Zimbabwe. It is however a rather strenuous five-hour hike each way to get there which is why most people choose to visit Bambata Cave, the White Rhino Shelter or Nswatugi Cave.

The San were evicted by the Torwa tribe arriving from the crumbling Great Zimbabwe State in the east around the fifteenth century. They made the Matopos their home until they in turn were overrun by the Rozvi, who established the Rozvi State in 1684 and brought with them from Great Zimbabwe, the ‘Mwari Cult’, whose oracles are still believed to be worshipped in a few Matobo shines. The Rozvi stood their ground until Nguni raiders (by-products of battles taking place in South Africa) under Zwangendaba swept through the region. By the time Mzilikazi ’s Ndebele arrived, the Rozvi State had collapsed and the Ndebele established themselves in the area where they remain today.

The Matopos gained National Park status in 1962 at the expense of its Homo sapien residents who were ‘relocated’ to the surrounding areas. During the country’s fight for independence, the Matopos acted as a natural hideaway for members of the liberation struggle. Nowadays though, the only likely fighting is to be amongst any bad-tempered mammals or ‘God complex’ sufferers (we have our suspicions about those warthogs…), as they go about their daily jaunts.

The Matopos is popular for its serenity, fantastic views,walks, cycling opportunities and fishing. Cecil Rhodes was so enamoured with the place that he requested he be buried there. His grave lies atop World’s View along with the Allan Wilson Memorial. National Parks have lodges and chalets perched up on the kopje, overlooking Maleme Dam. At the dam there is also a National Park campsite (which can be a tad cold in the winter to say the least. Nothing a good couple of litres of mulled wine wouldn’t cure).

Horses are available at both the recreational area and the National Park and there is something very special about having wartogs running through your horse’s legs or sitting on horse- back a mere six metres away from one of Matopos’ famous rhinos.

If something a little more luxurious is what you’re after, then there are a number of other accommodation options. Camp Amalinda is arguably the most delightful Matobo experience (see page 12).

There is also The Farm House with its self-catering chalets and excellent restaurant (see page 16). Just past Camp Amalinda is Big Cave Camp, cleverly built atop a ‘whaleback’ granite outcrop. The camp is just a ten-minute drive from the main road, with fantastic views and the possibility of seeing one of the park’s infamous black eagles. You can be met at the gate by a Big Cave safari vehicle, driven over the granite rock to the reception up the top of the whaleback and to a great bar for refreshments.

Big Cave’s en suite rooms are built on the edge of the rock overlooking the Matopos. There is an excellent restaurant and bar, and a swimming pool which has been constructed around a natural depression in the rock. There are rock paintings on-site and great opportunities for walking and bird watching.

All of the camps in and around the Matobo National Park (with the exception of those run by National Parks) provide game drives and scenic excursions into both the Wilderness and game park. If however, you are without transport and staying in Bulawayo, a tour from town may be what you are after. Black Rhino Safaris have been running tours in the Matopos for the past fifteen years and have guides who know every nook and cranny, every rhino and basically every thing in this beguiling and multifarious park.

Whatever your fancy then, there is something for everyone out at the Matopos, whether it be wildlife, birds or trees, exercise, fishing, or cosy bars, log fires and scrumptious food. So, if you have a couple of free days up your sleeve or have simply had enough of it all, pack your wine and your steaks and go and marvel at this ‘Giant’s Playground.’

For further information on the Matopos, please contact:

Bulawayo Publicity Association

Robert Mugabe Way (Between Leopold Takawira & 8″’ Ave)

Tel: +263 09 60867/ 72969

Fax; +263 09 60868


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