The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: There's More to Hwange Than Coal

ON entering the gate at the Main Camp, fresh game dung juxtaposed with stunted, sparsely populated bush shrubbery and rock outcrops, give valuable clues to what happens in Zimbabwe's undisputed theatre of the jungle - the Hwange National Park.

Buffaloes huddle and moo in formidable herds, flap their ears, nose up and challengingly spatter the ground with dung before boastfully moving off the road.

Flies hover above dotted animal droppings, a stark declaration that they are part of the ecological cycle of this last vestige of wilderness.

Day after day of cloudless skies, the fierce sun sucks moisture from the landscape, baking the earth into a dusty grey, while the withered grass is left as brittle as straw. The sun burnt savannah and desert sand is left shimmering to the horizon, yet wildlife frolic from every corner, like ghostly figures.

Confident in the camouflage of their stripes zebras pose, heads aligned, stripes merging and flowing in motion, displaying their magnificent God-given colours, forgetting for a while that predators might be stalking them.

A pair of giraffes race along the road - all legs and neck - yet looking elegant in their gangling awkwardness.

Their heads tower majestically above the ordinary graze-line. Protective elephants guard their young under the shed of a fat baobab tree.

The huge mounds of grey flesh make cars look like dwarfs under the armpit of a giant colossus. Slowly, tentatively, they reluctantly move off the road.

Hwange National Park is the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe, founded around 1928 and occupying 14 650 square kilometres, of a vast swathe in the north-western part of the country.

It has a tremendous selection of wildlife with over 100 species of mammals and nearly 400 bird species.

The elephant population in particular, is the world's largest concentration and a marvel to watch yet at some point one feels the park is getting overpopulated with the jumbos.

Hwange has three distinctive locations and administrative offices situated at Robins, Sinamatella and Main Camp. The main camp is the largest.

The area around the Main Camp has numerous pans and pumped waterholes, where game come to drink much to the delight of the tourist.

For the tourist, there are self-catering lodges, cottages, chalets, a camping and caravan site.

There is a choice of one or two bedrooms that are refrigerated and boast furnished kitchens, bathrooms and verandahs.

Ngweshla Pan has a loop road that gives a pleasant day drive, while Nyamandhlovu Platform is the prime game viewing area, supported by a pumped water hole. For an exceptional African sunset view, the Dom waterhole is a perfect place.

Sinamatella, a corruption of the name Chinamatira, a local shrub that characteristically sticks to one's clothes when brushed against, was established in 1966, approximately 120km from the Main Camp.

It offers several exclusive camps like Bambusi, 24km away, with four lodges but no electricity, Lukosi Camp -- 11km away -- which can accommodate 10 people and is only open from November to April.

There are undeveloped camping sites at Lukosi, Vhikani, Rhino Bar, Salt Springs and Tshakabika.

Mandavu, Masuma, Detema Dams provide perfect game viewing opportunities.

Then there is Robins Camp, about 60km from Sinamatella and 140km from the Main Camp.

Mr Harold Robins, a farmer, donated Robins Camp to the State in 1939. The camp has lodges, chalets and camping sites. Here there are also exclusive camp sites like Isilwane Lodge, Natwich Camp and Deka Camp.

One of Hwange National Park's exclusive tourist attractions is moonlight game viewing, around the full moon and this is exclusive to the Main Camp.

This is why many people say travelling through Hwange National Park gives you an insight of what much of the interior of Africa might have been like more than 150 years ago.

That is Hwange for us and for the world.

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