Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest national park at some 1.4 million hectares/3.4 million acres of sandy soils, grasslands, acacia woodlands and teak forests. It is known for one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in Africa, especially elephant and buffalo, and for its year-round wildlife viewing. With some 100 mammal species, it also has one of the highest mammal diversities in Africa.
July to October is the Dry season when wildlife gathers in greatest numbers at the waterholes, but whenever you visit Hwange there will be plenty to see. Note, though, that daytime temperatures and humidity are high from December to March.
1. Early morning game drive
Game drives are surely the biggest drawcard of a Hwange safari experience, whether you’re self-driving or joining a guided drive in an open safari vehicle. Early morning is the golden hour for photography, when soft pinks paint the sky and sunlight bathes the veld in warm yellow light.
Animals you can hope to see in Hwange include the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. Rhino numbers are low and they’re harder to spot because they usually stick to thick bush. Other species to look for include hippo, spotted hyena, cheetah, giraffe, Burchell’s zebra and antelope such as roan and eland.
A special thrill is to see the rare and elegant sable antelope with its gracefully curved horns. You also have a good chance of seeing wild dog, to watch as they muster for a hunt with a lot of yipping and excitement or communicate at a kill.
2. Sunset or night drive
If you stay at one of the private concessions bordering the park you can go for a guided sunset or night drive to extend your safari experience. This is the time to see one of Hwange National Park’s vibrant red sunsets and to spot nocturnal species such as serval, genet, bush baby, civet, aardwolf or porcupine. Your roving spotlight may even uncover the rarely seen aardvark out foraging for termites.
A guided drive after dark is a wonderful opportunity to get an idea of what goes on in the bush when many people are confined to camp. It’s particularly enjoyable in the hot summer months, when the bite of midday heat has faded. Don’t forget to look up to enjoy the canopy of stars, especially when there is little or no moon.
3. Bush walks to get close to nature
Zimbabwean guides are well informed and happy to share their knowledge. A guided bush walk is one of the best ways to slow your pace and give you time to really drink in the diversity of nature.
Instead of only being on the lookout for the Big Five and other large wildlife, concentrate on plants and small creatures like mongoose. Learn about the fascinating lives of the dung beetle and termite, or how to read tracks and signs like a newspaper. Hear the bird alarm calls of birds or the rumble of elephants, smell the dust, feel the texture of leaves and learn about the value of plants as food and medicine.
There’s no better way to immerse yourself in all that the bush has to offer. Rely on your guide’s skill and knowledge to keep you safe.
4. Time at a waterhole
Hwange National Park has a wealth of waterholes, most of them now served by solar pumps. These are excellent places to sit and watch animals come to drink. You may see lion or leopard lapping at the water in the early morning and you’re almost sure to see elephant, buffalo and antelope a bit later once the day heats up.
Get out of the vehicle and stretch your legs at a raised viewing platform or underground hide at a waterhole for a different perspective of the wildlife around you. The hides and platforms are superb spots for anyone who is keen on wildlife photography.
5. Bird watching
October to April is the best time to visit if you want to see Hwange’s full spectrum of around 400 bird species. These include summer migrants – like the flamboyant southern carmine bee-eater – from other parts of Africa as well as Europe and Asia.
Other bird specials to look for are kori bustard, saddle-billed stork, grey-crowned crane, Arnot’s chat, three-banded courser, Bradfield’s hornbill and southern ground hornbill. Raptors include Dickinson’s kestrel, secretarybird, martial eagle and Verreaux’s eagle-owl.
You will find the guides extremely knowledgeable about birds. Many of them can call the birds up by imitating their sound – a very useful skill to have.