Travel to Hwange National Park

Hwange National Park

Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest national park, accounting for an area of 9,103 square miles. Formally occupied by the San bushmen, the Nhanzwa, and latterly the royal hunting ground for Matabele king, Mzilikazi, the area was finally gazetted for wildlife conservation in 1928. The wildlife did not escape the attentions of the white hunters who also had their opportunity to bag a few trophies in the late 1800s and early 1900s before the park came into being. Hwange is quite different now.

A haven for over 100 mammal and 400 bird species, the park protects populations of all of Zimbabwe’s endangered species, elephants numbering in excess of 20,000 (up from around 4,000 when the park was proclaimed), and what is thought to be one of the largest populations of African wild dog left in the world. Large prides of lion and buffalo are frequently seen here and you have a good chance of spotting leopard and rhino in addition to cheetah and spotted hyena. The wild and woolly brown hyena also occurs here and is something of a rarity.

A significant feature of Hwange is the complete absence of permanent surface water. Animals rely heavily on a series of waterholes, many of which dry up completely during drought years. The Friends of Hwange now maintain a number of these waterholes throughout the year thereby ensuring the livelihoods of thousands of animals, and excellent game viewing as wildlife congregates at these points. The landscape is also diverse, dense teak forest in the north gives on to Kalahari sandveld in the south. In between open grassy plains lined by acacia lies alongside mopane woodland and islands of ilala palms. The seasons, too, impose dramatic changes on the park. The hot summer rains in December to March/April is when the bush becomes lush and there is plenty of surface water, dispersing the wildlife. Between June and October, the winter months see the bush rapidly dry and thin out, all but a few waterholes remain, and the wildlife is concentrated and easy to spot.

Overview

Zimbabwe is a land-locked country blessed with fertile soils, mineral wealth and wonderful scenery. Destinations like Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park and Mana Pools are world-renowned and the country is blessed with diverse habitats, from the granite hills of the Matopos to the majestic mountains, lush forests and beautiful rivers of the Eastern Highlands. As such, there is much to attract the traveler, from wildlife viewing and adrenalin adventures to delving into the history of the Zimbabwean people going back thousands of years.

People

Primarily of the Bantu group of south and central Africa, the black Zimbabweans are divided into two major language groups, which are subdivided into several ethnic groups. The Mashona (Shona speakers), who constitute about 75% of the population, have lived in the area the longest and are the majority language group. The Matabele (Sindebele speakers), representing about 20% of the population and centered in the southwest around Bulawayo, arrived within the last 150 years. An offshoot of the South African Zulu group, they maintained control over the Mashona until the white occupation of Rhodesia in 1890.

More than half of white Zimbabweans, primarily of English origin, arrived in Zimbabwe after World War II. Afrikaners from South Africa and other European minorities, including Portuguese from Mozambique, also are present. Until the mid-1970s, there were about 1,000 white immigrants per year, but from 1976 to 1985 a steady emigration resulted in a loss of more than 150,000, leaving about 100,000 in 1992. Renewed white emigration in the late 1990s and early 2000s reduced the white population to less than 50,000. English, the official language, is spoken by the white population and understood, if not always used, by more than half of the black population.

Language

English is the official language. Other widely spoken languages are Shona and Sindebele, which also have various dialects and other minority languages.

History

There have been many civilizations in Zimbabwe as is shown by the ancient stone structures at Khami, Great Zimbabwe and Dhlo-Dhlo.  The Mwene Mutapa (or Monomatapas) were the first major civilization to become established.  By the mid 1440’s, King Mutota’s empire included almost all of the Rhodesian plateau and extensive parts of what is now Mozambique.  The regular inhabitants of the empire’s trading towns were the Arab and Swahili merchants with whom trade was conducted.  In the early 16th century the Portuguese arrived and destroyed this trade and began a series of wars which left the empire so weakened that it entered the 17th century in serious decline.  Several Shona states came together to form the Rozwi empire which covered more than half of present day Zimbabwe.  By 1690 the Portuguese had been forced off the plateau and much of the land formerly under Mwene Mutapa was controlled by the Rozwi. 

As a result of the mid-19th century turmoil in Transvaal and Natal, the Rozwi Empire came to an end.  A treaty was signed with the British South Africa Company in 1888 allowing them to mine gold in the kingdom, now under Ndebele rule.  The increasing influx of settlers as a result of this treaty led to war with the Ndebele in 1893. The Ndebele were defeated and European immigration began in earnest.  There was a clear portrayal of the conflict between black and white after the referendum of 1922 in which the Whites chose to become a self-governing colony rather than become part of the Union of South Africa. This effectively excluded most blacks from the vote, despite the colony’s theoretically non-racial constitution.  In 1930 a land act was passed which excluded Africans from ownership of the best farming land further enhancing white supremacy. The labor law, carried in 1934, prohibited the Africans from entering skilled trades and professions.  As a consequence of these actions, Africans were forced to work for subsistence wages on white farms, mines and factories. 

By 1953, the mining and industrial concerns were in favor of a more racially mixed middle class as a balance to the radical elements in the labor force. The formation of a number of political parties along with sporadic acts of sabotage came as a result of African impatience with the prospects of constitutional change.  At the forefront of this move was the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), mostly Ndebele, led by Joshua Nkomo. It was shortly joined by the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), mostly Shona, a break-away group under Ndabaningi Sithole.  After the collapse of the federation in 1963, both ZAPU and ZANU were banned and the majority of their leaders imprisoned.  At the same time, as a response to Britain’s refusal to grant independence to Southern Rhodesia, Ian Smith the prime minister, called for a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI).  In the May 1965 elections, Smith’s party picked up every one of the 50 government seats, in December, UDI was declared.

Britain declared Smith’s action illegal and imposed economic sanctions. In 1968 the UN voted to make the sanctions mandatory but they were largely ineffective.  The measures taken by the British government to force Smith to revoke UDI and accept Black majority rule were useless, as the economic sanctions imposed actually saw Rhodesia’s economy grow.  Both ZAPU and ZANU began campaigns of guerrilla warfare around 1966, and guerrilla raids led to an escalation in white emigration from Rhodesia. 

In 1980 Mugabe’s ZANU party won the election although the whites retained most of the guarantees that Smith wanted.  There followed a continuing bitter rivalry between ZAPU and ZANU. Guerilla activity started again. Nkomo (ZAPU) left for England and did not return until Mugabe guaranteed his safety. Soon talks led to the uniting of the two rival parties.  In 1988 the law guaranteeing whites 20 seats in parliament was rescinded. In 1990/1991 it was declared that half of the land belonging to white farmers would be allocated to blacks.

Travel Guide

Currency

The currency in Zimbabwe is the Zimbabwean Dollar (Z$). For shopping or paying for activities, “cash is still definitely king” (US Dollars especially) and so you are encouraged to bring as much US$ cash as possible for your stay in order to get the best prices (small denominations only as $100 bills are not accepted). Please note that anything bought from registered dealers in local Zimbabwean cash is subject to 15% VAT (which is not refundable on departure).

Weather

Generally, the days are bright and sunny and the nights clear and cool. November to April are the summer months (which is also the rainy season) while winter is from May to August (which usually bring dry weather). September and October are very hot and very dry.

Health Requirements

Travelers to Zimbabwe who are coming from infected countries require a yellow fever vaccination certificate.  Malaria precautions are recommended

Visa Requirements

A passport, visa, return ticket, and adequate funds are required to enter Zimbabwe. U.S. citizens traveling to Zimbabwe for tourism, business, or transit can obtain a visa at the airports and border ports-of-entry, or in advance.  Americans entering Zimbabwe for tourism can expect to pay $30 for a single-entry, 30-day duration of stay visa upon entering the country.

Credit Cards

Most hotels/lodges, restaurants, travel agencies and the bigger shops will take credit cards

Money

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Electrical Appliances

Electrical current in Zimbabwe is 220 volts, 50Hz. Three round pin and three rectangular blade plugs are common

Water

Bottled water is recommended.

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