Today we spent a whole day travelling around the Matobo National Park and, while it was an expensive day, it was definitely worth it as we learnt a lot, saw some amazing scenery, and got up close to some Rhino while on foot.
The day started with something that is very rare on overland trips – a lay in – and we didn’t leave camp until 9am for our day in the National Park. This was definitely welcome not just to catch up on sleep but because, travelling in an open air vehicle, it was an absolutely freezing drive to the park entrance as we were completely exposed.
The Matobo National Park
We spent a couple of hours driving through the National Park, checking out some of the wildlife, being told about the history of the park, learning about the fauna of Zimbabwe, and checking out the beautiful scenery before heading to where the Rhino had been spotted. There wasn’t as much wildlife as in other parks we had visited previously, such as South Luangwa, but the range of animals was different and we were all here to see the Rhino.
Walking with Rhinos
It was a short walk through the bush to where the rangers, who accompanied us with their weapons while we were on foot to keep us safe, had spotted the Rhino. When we arrived another group of people was already close to them so we made our way up onto the hill overlooking them to get a view from above before we were able to get up close.
We were only with the Rhino for a short time – around 15 minutes or so – but it was amazing to get so close to such powerful and iconic animals. We were able to get very close, no more than 25 metres away, which was close enough for me but an amazing experience.
I wish we had been able to spend more time with them but there was so much more to see in the park, and we couldn’t stay too long so that they didn’t feel threatened by our presence.
Lunch was at the top of the hill, close to the grave of Cecil Rhodes, where we would return later to watch the sunset, and consisted of the usual lunch of sandwiches and salad.
Cave paintings in the Matobo Hills
After lunch we drove deeper into the park to see some UNESCO World Heritage listed cave paintings which had been done by the local bushmen thousands of years ago. The journey to find them was long and involved a half hour drive and then a fairly steep climb up smooth rocks but it was worth it. The cave paintings were the most amazing examples that I have seen anywhere in the world and were impressively preserved given their relatively exposed location.
We spent about an hour at the cave in total while Ian told us stories about the bushmen who created the paintings, their history and culture, and about why their civilisation declined. They are a people that I had heard about but who I knew nothing about so I found the information to be fascinating – made even better by the setting that we were in. Just look at the photos below.
The climb back down from the cave to return to our truck was a bit scary since it was fairly steep and the rocks were smooth. This meant there was the occasional slip, but nobody fell luckily. I normally prefer going downhill to going uphill as, in most cases, it’s easier and less tiring but this hill was an exception to that.
After a quick pause for some souvenir shopping in the village near our truck our final stop of the day was the site of Cecil Rhodes’ grave, near where we had lunch, and we drove there slowly checking out some more wildlife and scenery on the way.
Sunset at the grave of Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes was the owner of the British South Africa Company, and of the De Beers diamond company. He was also a former Prime Minister of the Cape Colonies and the territory of Rhodesia (covering roughly the area of Zambia and Zimbabwe) was named after him. He was well respected by the local tribes and, after his death in 1902, permission was granted by the local Chiefs for him to be buried in a sacred location in their lands that meant a lot to him.
The setting is magnificent, high up on the hills overlooking the surrounding area and encircled by huge natural boulders that almost look like somebody placed them there.
We had some free time to wander the area, taking photos and videos, and enjoying the scenery before Ian told us lots of stories about the life of Cecil Rhodes and his connection to the area. Ian really does know everything about the area that he lives in and he was a great guide. I really enjoyed hearing his stories, while drinking some cider and just watching the sun gradually get closer and closer to the horizon.
Sunsets in this part of the world are beautiful, but the light drops away very quickly as there is little background light or light pollution like there is in Europe so we promptly made our way back to the truck for our journey back to Bulawayo once it got dark.
We arrived back at camp at almost 9pm, 12 hours after we left, so even though it was an expensive day I feel that we got our money’s worth and I’m definitely glad that I did it.
Tomorrow is our last day of driving on this trip and we will be heading north to the mighty Victoria Falls, which should be a spectacular place to finish this amazing adventure.