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Matobo Hills holidays

While Matobo Hills may not be the first (or second) national park to visit on a holiday to Zimbabwe, it would be an injustice if this Unesco world heritage site were not included at all. Located a mere 34 km from Bulawayo, along a comfortable tarmacked road, this relatively small 44,500-hectare park is beautifully formed. Inside the main gates lies a land of fascinatingly shaped 3 billion year old granite kopjes, interspersed with picturesque grassy plains and dense wooden thickets. While lions and elephants are not found here, and general wildlife densities are not up to those of other Zimbabwean parks, Matobo has the highest concentration of leopards in Africa (estimated at five for every 16 sq km) and the highest concentration of Verreaux’s eagles of any park in the world, currently numbering more than 200 breeding pairs. Some of the largest populations of white and black rhinos in southern Africa also roam free here and can be tracked on foot, a rarity in a national park. However, what really differentiates Zimbabwe’s oldest national park from the rest is its cultural and historical significance. The San Bushmen who lived in this area 2,000 years ago are now long gone, but in their wake they have left a legacy of more than 50,000 rock paintings, one of the highest densities on the planet, and new discoveries are still being found. Some of the more interesting examples depict men with ox carts and pith helmets, possible recognition of the Ndebele tribe and eventually the British settlers that were to oust the hunter-gatherer Bushmen from their land. The hills of Matobo had a distinct personal and spiritual effect on those who subsequently came to settle here. The Ndebele believed their tribal oracle, Milmo, lived on Njelele Hill and the tribe sought refuge here during their rebellion against the British in 1896, where fierce fighting saw the likes of Baden-Powell and Selous ride into the hills on armed skirmishes. Cecil John Rhodes also spent a lot of time riding in Matobo, in the process discovering Malindidzumu, the hill he referred to as ‘one of the views of the world’. So strong were his affections to the area that he requested to be buried there. His grave is well preserved and can be visited today. In his will, Rhodes also decreed that the Matobo Hills be given back to the Ndebele and in 1952 Matobo National Park was officially created.

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