THIRD IN A SERIES
Zimbabwe’s lists of attractions includes a vast array of African wildlife, towering mountains, lush rainforests, the world’s largest man-made lake and a pool of clear water 300 feet deep — at the bottom of a cave.
By itself, the mighty Victoria Falls would be reason enough to visit Zimbabwe. But when it comes to natural beauty, the country has a lot more going for it.
Start with the fact that this nation of about 150,000 square miles — roughly the size of California — has ten national parks that form a rough circle within its perimeter.
Start with Victoria Falls National Park. In addition to hiking to the best viewing spots above the falls and whitewater rafting through the gorges below it, you can walk along trails that will introduce you to East Africa’s unique animals — warthog, hippo, crocodile, antelope, elephants and buffalo.
Even Victoria Falls, however, has a rival in Zimbabwe. That would be Lake Kariba, the largest man-made lake on Earth, formed by the waters of the Zambezi River after they flow downstream from the falls.
The reservoir is larger even than the one behind China’s controversial Three Gorges Dam.
Like the falls, Zimbabwe shares Lake Kariba with Zambia. The Zimbabwe side alone has more than 600 miles of shoreline for you to explore.
That shoreline includes Matusadona National Park, a mix of high plains and mountains where wildlife abounds.
Adventurers visiting Lake Kariba can camp out along the shore. Those who value their creature comforts can stay in a lake shore lodge or self-catering apartment. The ultimate lake stay might be on one of the many houseboats available to rent.
However you choose to make your stay, you’ll be treated to some spectacular views, including some incredible sunsets.
Lake Kariba also is home to the tigerfish, popular with sport fishermen. If your idea of a good time is pitting rod and reel against a fast, powerful game fish whose teeth are considerably bigger and sharper than yours, you need to be here.
Speaking of water creatures, have you ever seen elephants swim? There’s a good chance you’ll see them at Lake Kariba.
You, on the other hand, need to be judicious about where you choose to swim in the lake. Pick the wrong spot and the crocodiles get very excited.
One place where you won’t find five-star accommodations but a great deal of natural wonder is the Mana Pools National Park. Like Victoria Falls, this also is a UN World Heritage Site. Unlike the falls, it is totally wild and undeveloped, so much so that just getting there can be an adventure.
If you’re looking for a glimpse of wild Africa, though, it will be worth the effort.
During the rainy season, the plains flood, creating four great lakes or pools, hence its name (the word ‘mana” means “four” in the language of the Shona people), and numerous smaller ones. The pools are a magnet for wildlife of all types, including the black rhino.
If you’re prepared to “rough it,” it’s a great place to backpack or explore by canoe.
At nearly 6,000 square miles in northern Matabeleland, Hwange is the largest of Zimbabwe’s national parks. Back in the day, this was the private hunting ground of kings. These days, the preferred weapon on these grounds is a camera with a long lens.
With that, you can bag your fill of everything from leopards to lions, hyenas to cheetahs — 100 species of animals and 400 species of birds live here.
Elephants abound in Hwange National Park, so much so that they’re actually putting a strain on the environment. After years of hearing horror stories about elephant poaching in Africa, this kind of problem is almost a nice one to have.
Zimbabwe’s other national parks include:
There also are numerous recreational parks around the country — one of which, the Chinhoyi Caves Recreational Park, may appeal to divers. Within the park is a cave 30 yards wide and 45 feet deep. At the bottom is said to be a pool of clear water with a confirmed depth of 300 feet.
A pool 300 feet deep…at the bottom of a cave? Whoa!
But perhaps the greatest of all of Zimbabwe’s parks is one still coming into being, not a national park but a multinational one — an area the size of Belgium or the Netherlands. When completed, it will straddle the borders of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique and be shared by all three nations.
They’re calling it the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, and when it’s all finally put together, it’s going to be something special.
But you don’t have to wait for that. You can go right now.
As you can see, when it comes to nature, Zimbabwe truly lives up to its nickname, a “world of wonders.” But Lake Kariba is not the only man-made wonder in this country. There is another one, centuries older than the reservoir. It’s the one that gave this nation its name.
And we’re going to take a look at it.
NEXT: Great Zimbabwe
Edited by P.A.Rice