Matobo National Park – Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe

A Landscape Wild and Weird

Huge granite masses – seamed, split, shaped, and sculpted by time and the elements – form an array of giant whalebacks, fanciful castles, and knobbly outcrops that extend for thousands of square miles through the Matobo Hills (aka the Matopos).

This bizarre landscape so bewitched Cecil J. Rhodes (after whom Zimbabwe took its former name of Rhodesia), he arranged to be buried here. No one leaves the park without spending an awe-­inspiring moment at the site of his hillside grave, named by Rhodes “View of the World.” The area has deservedly been considered a center of spiritual power since the first hunters and gatherers decorated their homes with rock art some 30,000 years ago.

Cave paintings can still be seen, their quality and quantity as impressive as the wildlife. Many paintings depict the white and black rhinos that still live here in great numbers. So do leopards, chee­tahs, and more than 300 species of birds, including the world’s largest number of raptors: eagles (the park is in fact shaped like a giant eagle), hawks, and owls. Lost amid this vast, natural rock garden is the Big Cave Camp, which accommodates just sixteen guests in a 2,000-acre wilderness on the border of the national park.

Anything your hosts don’t know about the area’s geography, art, and wildlife isn’t worth knowing. Dinner is served around a traditional outdoor fire, and if you’re lucky enough to be there when a full moon illumi­nates the rock configurations, you’ll under­stand why Rhodes could never leave.

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