Hwange National Park is the new safari hotspot in southern Africa. With the downturn of the Zimbabwe economy, the embattled national park fell off the list of favourite safari destinations for a number of years but revitalised and re-energised through the concerted efforts of conservation organisations, Hwange is a safari gem waiting to be discovered.
For a fraction of the cost of the more famous Big 5 safari destinations in Africa, you can enjoy an incredible wildlife experience, pristine bushveld in a remote region and luxury safari lodges without the crowds.
Pronounced ‘’H-wang-ee’, the national park is the largest protected wildlife reserve in Zimbabwe, covering an area of 14 600 square kilometres. Hwange lies in the north-western corner of Zimbabwe, near Dete on the main road between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo.
Hwange National Park is less than 1.5-hours’ drive (100 kilometres) from the town of Victoria Falls and many visitors combine a holiday to the Big 5 safari destination with a tour of the mighty falls, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
We love the remoteness and exclusivity of Zimbabwe’s oldest and largest national park. Here are 10 reasons why you should put Hwange on your list of safari places to visit in the future.
- Big 5 safari destination
Hwange National Park is home to the famous Big 5 which includes elephants, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard. One of its most impressive attractions is its large population of elephant. At last count, Hwange had more than 40 000 elephants and the numbers are growing as anti-poaching programmes are ramped up.
You’ll find surprisingly strong numbers of white rhino as well as black rhino in Hwange National Park which are protected through the Lowveld Rhino Project. Despite rampant rhino poaching in the rest of Zimbabwe, the Park has seen its rhino population increasing by 10 percent year-on-year.
Hwange is also renowned for having one of the healthiest populations of the highly endangered African wild dog, affectionately known as ‘painted dogs’ because of their unique colouring. There are fewer than 7 000 painted dogs left in Africa and only 700 in the whole of Zimbabwe, making them one of the most endangered species in the wild. Hwange is one of the last strongholds of wild dogs in Africa, with a recorded population of upwards of 160 dogs.You might like budget Kruger National Park Safaris.
- Hwange falls within a protected transfrontier conservation area
Hwange National Park lies within the Zambezi Basin which forms part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. KAZA TFCA is one of the largest protected wilderness areas in the world; it’s larger than Germany and Australia, and twice as large as the United Kingdom.
KAZA TFCA lies in the Kavango and Zambezi river basins where Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe converge. Jewels in the crown of KAZA TFCA are the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls.
- Diverse, untouched ecosystem
Hwange National Park lies on the fringes of Botswana in a transitional zone between the dry, arid Kalahari Desert and the lush Highlands of Zimbabwe. The national park’s ecosystem is diverse and its bushveld is pristine, having had many years of extremely low visitor numbers to recover.
The national park is divided between Kalahari sands in the south and rockier terrain in the north, with large swathes of thick Mopane woodlands and vast savanna grasslands. It lies in the beautiful Zambezi Basin which acts as a wildlife corridor for animals moving between the Park and the neighbouring Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.
- Birder’s paradise
Hwange is home to some of the most diverse birds in the world, with over 420 recorded species found in the national park. These numbers swell in the summer months between November and April when many migratory species make their way south from Europe to escape the cold northern hemisphere winters.
The national park is best known for its huge variety of raptors, with about 50 recorded species. The bateleur eagle is a common raptor found in the Park and you’ll also find strong numbers of grassland birds such as the kori bustard, southern ground hornbill and secretary bird which are some of the more conspicuous species.
- Hwange’s famous waterholes
Thanks to Friends of Hwange, the national park is famous for its man-made waterholes which create idyllic viewing spots for Big 5 safari tours. A unique characteristic of Hwange is its absence of permanent surface water. The animals rely heavily on some 60 waterholes that are scattered throughout the Park and filled by water pumped from boreholes.
Over the years, the waterholes have taken on a natural look and blend seamlessly into the bushveld. Without these strategic watering points, the national park would not be able to support its large quantities of animals. The best time to visit Hwange National Park is in the drier, winter months between July and October when large numbers of animals and migratory birds congregate at the waterholes.
- Remote exclusivity
Apart from incredible wildlife and bird sightings and exceptional landscapes, one of the best things about a holiday to Hwange is its promise of exclusivity. The remote national park is off the beaten track of the safari hotspots such as Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park in Botswana, and its tourism numbers are substantially lower.
For this reason, a safari tour of Hwange National Park is an exclusive experience which you share with small numbers of people. The safari lodges in Hwange concentrate on quality rather than quantity and you’re guaranteed a more personalised and private safari tour without the large crowds you find in game reserves that attract the mainstream travelling set.
- Exceptional guiding
A phenomenal safari experience is dependent on the quality of the guides and Zimbabwe’s game rangers do not disappoint. In fact, the country is renowned for having some of the best safari guides in Africa.
One thing you’ll love about the guides and trackers in Hwange is their warmth and friendliness. You’ll find Zimbabweans in general are incredibly friendly and welcoming hosts. The country has gone through very tough times but regardless, you’re always welcomed at the Hwange safari lodges and on game drives with open arms and a big smile.
Combine your safari experience with a trip to the Victoria Falls.
- Affordable safari tour
Don’t mistake affordability with lower quality when it comes to considering this tantalising aspect of a safari tour of Hwange National Park. It’s purely due to the extremely attractive US Dollar-Zimbabwe Dollar exchange rate that makes the national park so affordable, while at the same time visitors enjoy a world-class safari experience.
For a lot less than what you’d pay at the likes of Chobe National Park, Okavango Delta and Serengeti Game Reserve, you get the same premier safari holiday; possibly even better because of the national park’s exclusivity and low tourist numbers.
- Luxury accommodation in pristine settings
Property investors have remained loyal to Hwange National Park, despite very trying economic times. You’ll find a selection of luxury and ultra-luxury safari lodges in the Park in pristine locations and untouched wilderness. Revamped and re-energised, the luxury safari lodges in Hwange are geared for high-end wildlife tourists and compete with the best game lodges in southern Africa.
You’ll also find a collection of budget-friendly tented bush camps that cater to your middle-range traveller. The older bush camps have been extensively renovated, many of which have won prestigious hospitality awards.
- Conveniently located to Victoria Falls
A Big 5 safari tour in Hwange National Park usually goes hand-in-hand with a holiday in the town of Victoria Falls. Located 100 kilometres from Hwange, it’s a relaxed, scenic 1&half-hour’s drive to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side.
The world-famous waterfall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. The town is known as the “Adrenalin Capital of Africa” and offers visitors the most exciting choice of outdoor activities and fun entertainment.
You can opt for adrenalin-pumping white water rafting, bungee jumping and swimming in Devil’s Pool on the lip of Victoria Falls or enjoy more sedate activities like Big 5 game drives, guided bush walks, tour of the historic bridge and delicious High Tea at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel.