Away from the more well know parks of the north, and therefore quieter and less accessible, there are a number of smaller parks and reserves in the south which are worth the extra effort to get there.
Gonarezhou National Park
This park a special ambience. Mystical and magnificent, it really feels like you’re alone in the heart of wild Africa. Except it’s never lonely. You’re surrounded by epic populations of wildlife, from the secretive nyala antelope to the rumbustious elephant bulls. For those who want to see Africa at its most untamed, Gonarezhou is the perfect place to come.
The game viewing is excellent here, especially if you’re up for an adventure. Swamps and marshland are dappled with antelope while mahogany and ironwood trees are regularly felled by bulldozing elephant bulls. Take a trip to the summit of the red sandstone Chilojo Cliffs and admire the landscape, or cross the grassy plains and encounter vast buffalo herds. You may need a little patience; but when it’s rewarded you’re not looking at a few animals, you’re looking at thousands of them.
Matopos National Park is a microcosm of old-world Africa, combining ancient history and culture with beautiful nature and wildlife. Wonderfully photogenic, this small park might qualify as the most underrated destination in the whole of Southern Africa. Come for a night or two and you’ll want to stay much, much longer.
Captivating granite boulders provide the unmissable compass point, their red facades changing in hue as the sun crosses the sky. They balance at improbably angles and you wouldn’t be the first to exclaim that Matopos looks a little like Mars. Hidden around these boulders is an exceptional collection of San bushmen rock art.
We love how the art tells ancient stories and we’ve always been impressed by the knowledge of the guides. Paintings warn other bushmen tribes of leopards lurking nearby, successful pursuits, and even white people arriving. We also love the vistas from up here, so good that Cecil Rhodes named the summit World’s View.
You can walk freely along the trails in Matobo Hills as there are no lions or elephants. However, there are plenty of zebra and antelopes marauding around, helping culture and safari come together. Watch out for the baboons who move in large troops and are quite a sight! There’s also a rich concentration of leopard and black eagles; the guides are great at finding them.
In Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in the southeast of Zimbabwe, you’ll find the big five, and little beats the exhilaration of coming face to face with a rhino or lion pride. But then there’s the little six, enchanting and unusual antelope that give every safari a sense of the unique. Eagles, owls, wild dogs, steenbok, roan antelope...this compact little reserve feels like a roll call of Africa’s who’s who.
This private reserve borders the larger Gonarezhou National Park and is part of The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. But it’s much smaller that its neighbour, so you’re able to see dozens of different animals on a short game drive. Not that Malilangwe is about tick lists; in such beautiful bush you’ll want to explore slowly, savouring all the sights and sounds.
Black and white rhinos are obvious highlights and we’ll never forget fitting eight rhinos into a single photo. Lions and leopards are often hiding and the guides know how to unravel their camouflage. Skipping across the plains are antelope like duiker, oribi, suni, and klipspringer. At dawn and dusk you’ll also spot aardvark and caracal scampering about.
Malilangwe is the only private reserve we recommend in Zimbabwe and we love how it changes with the seasons. The rainy season from November to March creates lush colours and attracts flocks of migratory birds, including millions upon millions of quelea. April to October is optimal for game viewing and you’ll have a good chance of seeing the big five and the little six on a two-day safari.