This page focuses on the game parks I visited in Zimbabwe: Hwange, Chizarira and Matusadona. There are separate pages for Victoria Falls and for the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Hwange National Park (Photos 1-6), formerly known as "Wankie," is the largest game park in Zimbabwe. It offers a wide variety of terrain, from open grasslands to dense forest. Hwange is a dry area. Manmade waterholes have been created so the animals will not have to leave the park in search of water. There is almost always something happening at these waterholes. In Hwange, we saw plenty of elephants, many varieties of antelope (including sable), baboons, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and buffalo. One advantage of Hwange is the ability to get out and walk, accompanied of course by an armed guide.
Our next stop was Chizarira National Park (Photos 7-8), which is rarely visited and remains very much in its natural state. The roads in the park are very primitive and there are no other services. We were set up in a mobile tented camp near a dry river bed. It was in this dry river that we watched elephants dig down several feet into the sand and wait for the hole to fill up with ground water. Because of the dense bush, it is very difficult to see animals in Chizarira, but it is interesting to get out and walk through a part of Africa that is virtually untouched.
Matusadona (Photos 9-13) supposedly means "where the dung flows downhill," or something like that. Despite the implicit warning, we encountered no such problems. Matusadona is a very interesting park. In the interior, the bush is very dense and one is lucky to see much of anything. Out on the shore of Lake Kariba, however, it is quite easy to see great distances. All of the animals come sooner or later to the lake to drink, so the shore is a good place to watch and wait. Lake Kariba is one of the largest manmade lakes in the world. In Matusadona some elephants have contracted "floppy trunk" disease, which causes them to lose the use of their trunk – an ultimately fatal situation. The source of the disease has still not been identified. While in Matusadona we saw an elephant in the early stages of the disease wearing a radio collar so scientists could keep track of it for further study. Along the shore in Matusadona was just about the only place where insects were really a problem during my time in Africa. There were some small and very annoying flies.
For more information about the parks in Zimbabwe (and the other parks I visited in Africa), check out the "Reviews of Game Parks" page, which includes specific reviews for Hwange, Chizarira and Matusadona.
Although it is not a game park, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Wild Geese Lodge (Photos 14-15) on the outskirts of Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. The lodge was the first place I stayed when I arrived in Africa and the last place before I left. After a long flight, it was heaven! The bungalows are very comfortable, the grounds are lovely, the food is spectacular and the people are very friendly and helpful. As if that weren't enough, the lodge is set in the middle of a small conservation area where one can walk around and see various antelope and zebra. Highly recommended!
Zimbabwe is the former British colony of Rhodesia, named after Cecil Rhodes who came to these parts and made his fortune in diamonds (he started the DeBeers diamond cartel). In 1963, Rhodesia broke away from Great Britain in a "unilateral declaration of independence" led by Ian Smith and a white minority government. This minority government fell to majority rule in 1980 after a bloody civil war. When I was in Zimbabwe, I was surprised to learn that Ian Smith still resides in the country and is still outspoken on many issues.
Note: I visited Zimbabwe in 1998 and the comments on this page relate to that visit. Since that time, Zimbabwe has undergone some troubling changes. In a blatant and cynical attempt to retain personal power, Robert Mugabe, who has led the country since majority rule in 1980, has instituted a policy of seizing White-owned farms and distributing the land to Blacks. Land reform is certainly a worthy goal. Great Britain (the former colonial master of Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, and the country that caused and benefited from much of the land ownership inequities) has offered funds to compensate White land owners. These funds, however, were cut off after Mugabe diverted them to the use of himself and his cronies and instigated violent farm takeovers by so-called "war veterans" (Blacks who theoretically participated in the war of independence during the 1970s, but many of whom, in fact, were born after the war and are merely Mugabe supporters). Violence has erupted in parts of the country, the economy has suffered and, together with the effects of a current drought, Mugabe's policies may lead to massive famine. Dissent throughout the country has been stifled, sometimes violently, and reporters have been jailed or intimidated for criticizing Mugabe's policies. These problems may or may not affect the areas of the country visitors are likely to enter. If you considering traveling to Zimbabwe, I strongly recommend checking the latest U.S. State Department travel advisories and other sources for information about current events in the country. (Also, you might want to consider whether you want your tourist dollars to help support Mugabe's regime, which by most accounts is corrupt and dictatorial.)
March 2003 Update: On March 6, 2003, President George W. Bush signed an Executive Order freezing any assets held in the U.S. by high ranking Zimbabwean officials, including Robert Mugabe, and barring Americans from entering into financial transactions with these officials. This order follows similar action by the European Union. The Executive Order is in response to actions by these officials "to undermine Zimbabwe's democratic processes or institutions, contributing to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Zimbabwe [and] to politically motivated violence and intimidation in that country."