Hwange National Park has become globally renowned as a haven for wildlife and ecotourism. Situated on the western side of the country on the main road between Bulawayo and the Victoria Falls, it covers over 14 600 square kilometres.
In order to understand the significance of Hwange, a very brief look into the history of the area is needed. The area was sparsely populated by the San people (roughly between the 4th–11th century), who followed a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The San were dominated by the later arrival of pastoralist Bantu groups. Chief Hwange (after whom the park is named) of the Lozi tribe settled in the area but was ousted by the Matabele chief Mzilikazi who was on the run from the Zulu chief Shaka’s conquest of South Africa.
The area became Mzilikazi’s royal hunting grounds in the early 19th century; however, with the arrival of European colonists, the area’s wildlife was further obliterated through careless hunting. Through a twist of fate, the area was proclaimed a National Park in 1929, and thanks to these conservation measures, Hwange is now the largest National Park in Zimbabwe.
Hwange now boasts over 100 mammal species, including 19 large herbivores and eight large carnivores. The park is home to healthy populations of buffalo and has one of the largest populations of African elephant in the world. Other species of note include lion, leopard, African wild dog, cheetah, brown hyaena, sable and roan antelope.
It is a place of great contrasts between its wet and dry seasons, with the extremes reminding one of the life-giving properties of water. 400 species of birds are found here making it a birdwatcher’s paradise, particularly in the wet season.
Hwange’s climate can be divided into two distinct seasons:
Dry Season: July to September is hot during the day but can drop to below freezing on particularly cold winter nights. During these dry months the animals are concentrated around the manmade waterholes which sustain the animals during the times of need.
Rainy Season: Big fluffy clouds release the summer rains and the vegetation bursts into life. The area has a relatively low average rainfall of between 570-650 mm per annum. Temperatures can reach over 38°C, on average ranging from 18-28°C. Bird life is most spectacular at this time.
Hwange National Park is truly one of Africa’s hidden secrets, but more and more people are becoming aware of this amazing wilderness area. Wilderness currently operates two private concessions in the productive south-east – Makalolo and Linkwasha. The two concessions host guests in a number of camps: Little Makalolo, Davison’s and Makalolo Plains, and are ecologically diverse, including vast open palm-fringed plains, grasslands, acacia woodlands and teak forests. This ensures large numbers of animals all year round.