Directly south of Bulawayo lies Matopo National Park. This park is considered a spiritual center of Zimbabwe and among other things offers many, beautiful rock formations and a few caves with cave drawings. The probably best known spot in the park is "Worlds View", a knoll on which Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the State of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe's name prior to its independence), lies buried along with two of his closest assistants. It truly is a special place and one quickly understands why Rhodes had expressed the wish to be buried here. Large boulders lie on the flat summit and you have a lovely view of the surrounding hills.
The park is divided into two sections: one dedicated to the caves, cave drawings and local recreation, and the other to the "game park" in which there is supposed to be a large population of white and black rhinoceros. Of course we had to see some of those cave drawings!
In both sections you can admire gorgeous spires of rock and logans. The large, flat rocks in the region often reminded us of the Scandinavian landscape. Here and there, a klipspringer or a dik dik would cross our path, but overall the grass in the park was much too high to see very many animals.
Wherever there are rhinos in Africa, poaching is always a big problem. Since a rhino horn can still fetch top prices on the world market, the poachers are willing to take big risks and the counter measures are drastic. At the entrance of the game park, you are told very clearly that anyone who is suspected of poaching can be shot at without warning! You are therefore asked to behave in such a way that you cannot be confused with a poacher... We were very happy to heed this warning ;-)
Interestingly enough, the only rhino we actually came across showed up in the local recreation area of the park. It seems that the fence around the game park has a few holes and it is good that the poachers don't know that!
Other than that, Matopo National Park is clearly less maintained than the one in Hwange. Of several campgrounds, only the main camp at Maleme Damm is still operating and the picnic areas we saw were isolated and run down. Even the campgrounds at Maleme Damm were poorly maintained. A lack of visitors cannot be the reason as we encountered a good number of locals spending the weekend here. The wardens weren't exactly the most motivated and questions such as "what is especially worth seeing?" or "where do we have the best chance of seeing animals?" received only completely useless and unmotivated answers. So it seems that in Zimbabwe - when it comes to the national parks - you get the good with the bad.
Translated © 2010 by Annika Valikhovskaya