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Zimbabwe specialists Emma and Tara have just returned from a fact-finding trip to this much underrated safari destination. Visiting the ancient landscape scenery of Matopos National Park, Emma describes her encounter with the three Rs: rhinos, rock art and the grave of Cecil Rhodes.

The Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe
The Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe
Sundowners at Rhodes' grave, sited at his favourite view of the world and accompanied by the scurrying of elephant shrew as the sun set over the horizon, provided a near perfect end to the day.

Rhino in MatoposWe spent the day at Matopos with Paul Hubbard, an expert guide on the local culture of the area through the ages.

With no real idea what to expect, we headed first into the northern area of the national park. Here we found out about the huge efforts being made to protect the white and black rhino populations. Patrols circle the park 24 hours a day and 32km of specialised fencing protects the park boundaries.

Rock art

Rock art in the Matopos HillsAfter a brief sighting of a pod of hippo growing increasingly grumpy with some overbold hammerkops, we headed to one of the 1,200 rock art sites discovered in the area so far.

We scaled a rocky outcrop and rounded the corner to find a cave, which was used as a shrine by the local people until the 1950s. On the walls were perfectly preserved paintings of animals and people from generations of painters from several thousand years ago.

Over lunch, Paul explained the current thinking behind why the paintings were created, the cave’s on-going significance to the local communities and modern archaeological excavation techniques.

He also told us that rhino were reintroduced to Matopos partly because they had obviously lived there before as they’re frequently depicted in the rock art.

Rhodes' grave

Rhode's grave, Matopos HillsPaul went on to explain about the battlefields (Baden Powell was inspired to create the Boy Scout movement while fighting here) and give us a life history of Cecil Rhodes.

Sundowners at Rhodes' grave, sited at his favourite view of the world, and accompanied by the scurrying of elephant shrew as the sun set over the horizon, provided a near perfect end to the day.

A last memory of the day? As the car rolled to a stop just outside camp, the lights turned off and our eyes slowly adjusted to the night with Mars, Saturn and Jupiter showing clearly in the cloudless sky.

Emma’s top tip when in Matopos National Park

"Look and then look again at the rock art, each time you'll see something new."

Tara looks out from a hide
Tara looks out from a hide
Emma (left) and Tara at the Wild Horizons Wildlife Sanctuary at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Emma (left) and Tara at the Wild Horizons Wildlife Sanctuary at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
A cheetah stands guard over her cub
A cheetah stands guard over her cub
Giraffe are a common sight in the park
Giraffe are a common sight in the park
Emma and Tara at the grave of Cecil Rhodes
Emma and Tara at the grave of Cecil Rhodes
Emma and her guide at one of the many rock art sites
Emma and her guide at one of the many rock art sites
Emma and Tara at an elephant sanctuary near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Emma and Tara at an elephant sanctuary near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
The rocky scenery of Matopos
The rocky scenery of Matopos
A leopard uses its camouflage to good effect
A leopard uses its camouflage to good effect
Elephants gather near water from the Thuli River
Elephants gather near water from the Thuli River

Tailor-made itinerary ideas in Zimbabwe

  • Wild Dogs

    South Luangwa & Mana Pools Safari

    9 days from £6,455pp

    This safari itinerary incorporates two fantastic national parks. In the South Luangwa you will have superb game viewing on game drives, walks and night drives. In Mana Pools you will explore this beautiful area with your guides by canoe, on boats, on foot and game viewing vehicle.

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