Matobo National Park in central Zimbabwe is a wild rock-strewn travel wonder. With small areas of dry grasslands, the park is a remarkable mix of natural gravity-defying rock formations, ancient cave art and a game park for a broad variety of African animals including the endangered white and black rhinoceros.
A local ranger guided three of us around this superb park for a single day some years ago. The boulder-strewn area is rich in small caves and hollows. The morning commenced exploring a couple of these caves where the San Bushman left impressive ochre cave drawings estimated to be around 1,600 years old. Giraffe, zebras and antelope are distinct in the delicate artwork. The floor of the areas around the caves supposedly contains ashes that have been dated to over 10,000 years old.
However, the most striking elements of the park are the eerie formations, with huge rocks balancing precariously upon each other. Though appearing to be stacked by giants, they are purely a result of erosion and time. Softer volcanic rock is eaten away leaving the harder granite, the normal weathering process separating the rocks from each other. Stunning formations result including the popular symbol of the park, the “Madonna and Child” and the fascinating “Rock Arch” with its centre rock looking like falling at any moment.
The View of the World marks a majestic view over a panoramic moonscape of rounded boulders and harsh rugged grasslands. The view so struck Cecil Rhodes, the founder of de Beers diamond company and whom Rhodesia is named after (Zimbabwe is south Rhodesia) that he asked to be buried there. Some large boulders and a generous plaque inlaid into the large granite platform mark his final wishes and memory. The setting over the dusty plains is strangely serene and harmonious.
Littered throughout the park, strange rainbow coloured lizards sun themselves in the cruel summer rays. With blue heads and green, yellow and red bodies, their rainbow bodies meld elegantly into the lichen stained rocks that form their home.
Full from lunch, the afternoon is reserved for a walking safari. Unarmed, the trusty ranger tracks us through thin grasslands with various antelope and a small herd of zebras nervously eating, their heads regularly bobbing for any signs of danger.
With a sense of nervous excitement, the small group slowly sneak towards a couple of white rhino until we are only ten metres away. They appeared undisturbed continuing to graze leisurely on the scant food supply before lying down for rest. The guide reassures us that rhinos have poor eyesight and hearing so if you approach downwind, the rhinos are likely to remain unaware of your presence. Fortunately, the wind stayed gently blowing in the one direction. Black rhino are less friendly and the only one we spy is kept at a respectable distance.
While Zimbabwe struggles through its modern political challenges, Matobo National Park offers a peaceful haven in the centre of the country. It is best described by Cecil Rhodes himself – “The peacefulness of it all: the chaotic grandeur of it: it creates a feeling of awe and brings home to one how very small we all are.”