At 14,651 km², Hwange National Park in Matabeleland is the largest national park and game reserve in Zimbabwe.
Established 1928 as a game reserve, Hwange has been a national park since 1961. Wildlife within the park is legally protected, prohibiting hunting and predation against at-risk species by humans.
The land on which the park was constructed is arid; pans and waterholes have been artificially constructed with intensive water pumping during the dry season to aid the survival of large herbivores and major predators such as the lions.
Most of the traveller facilities are in the north (Main Camp, Sinamatella, Robins Camp); the south and southwest portions of the park are wilderness areas with no roads or travel infrastructure.
Flora and fauna
Among the more than a hundred mammal and four hundred bird species in the park are nineteen large herbivores and eight large carnivores. Protected animals include gemsbok and brown hyena; one may also spot elephants, lions, leopards, African wild dogs, spotted hyena and cheetahs. All of Zimbabwe's specially-protected animal species may be found in Hwange in reasonable number.
Various research projects actively observe park wildlife, including Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation and Research Unit (WildCRU), the National Leopard Project and Painted Dog Project.
The rainy season (late November to April) brings lush green fields, an abundance of food and the arrival of newly-born animals. The Southern Hemisphere spring and summer (September-May) can be extremely hot, while winter (June-August) brings warm days and extremely cold nights (with occasional night time frost). The dry season (August-October) offers opportunities for game viewing, as one can quietly wait at one of the few pumped waterholes in an otherwise-parched savannah.
The closest scheduled passenger airport is at Victoria Falls (with flights to Johannesburg); travel from there to the park is by road. There is an airstrip in the park for chartered aircraft.
Pathfinder [formerly dead link] runs three buses weekly from Victoria Falls cross-country to Bulawayo which stop at the park en route; cost is US$25-50/person and it's best to book ahead.
Overnight trains operated by National Railways of Zimbabwe between Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls stops in Hwange town, from where it's possible to continue into the park. Notice however that arrivals in both directions tend to be at inconvenient times, either around midnight or very early morning, around 4AM.
Fees and permits
For non-residents, US$20/person plus $10/vehicle for day visitors, children (6-12 years) half price. Additional fees apply for camping and picnic sites.
There is more than 400 km of road of variable quality within the park, much of it concentrated in the northern or northeastern portion. The main camps are reachable by 2WD vehicles, but four wheel drive, high clearance vehicles may be needed to access much of the park. Some roads may be muddy or impassible during the rainy season.
Imvelo's tourist train, the Elephant Express, makes a two-hour, 70-km run between Impofu Siding (8 km from the Hwange main camp) and Ngamo Siding (where game-viewing vehicles make the transfer to the Bomani or Camelthorn Lodges). As the tram (a single-car sightseeing train which seats 22) uses the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls rail mainline along the northern boundary of Hwange National Park, the schedule is very much at the mercy of other through traffic which has priority.
- Wildlife. There are viewing platforms and observation points within the park; the various pans (watering holes) are prone to attract wild animals in the dry season.
- The "Big Toms" and "Little Toms" viewing hides, named after the Harold Robins farms bequeathed to the Park in 1939, provide excellent game viewing opportunities.
- Escorted daytime walks from all camps for groups of up to six persons (additional fee)
- Moonlight game viewing from Main Camp (subject to weather conditions - a clear sky and a nearly full moon may provide adequate light)
- Wilderness trails near Sinamatella and Robins Camp
There is a small shop and fuel station at each of the three principal camps, although availability of fuel tends to be unreliable. There is a curio shop and a grocery store at Main Camp.
There are various picnic sites scattered through the touristed areas of the park. There is a restaurant and bar at Main Camp, Robins Camp and Sinamatella Camp; conference facilities are available at Main Camp by prior reservation.
- Main Camp has self-catering lodges, cottages and chalets with cooking facilities and electricity.
- Sinamatella has lodges and chalets.
- Isilwane Lodge overlooks an artificial waterhole near Nantwich Camp.
- The exclusive camps (Bumbusi, Nantwich, Deka and Lukosi Camp) are designed to each accommodate a single group of ten (or twelve) people in a small group of cottage-like shelters; there are toilets and a kitchen with freezer and stove but no electricity. Access roads are primitive, so high-clearance vehicles may be needed to reach some sites during the rainy season.
- Main Camp has a camping and caravan site with running water and BBQ facilities.
- Sinamatella has camping sites.
- Shumba, Kapula, Mandavu Dam, Masuma, Ngweshla, Jambile, Kennedy 1, Guvalala and Detema picnic sites each provide an enclosed picnic area, running water and enough space to accommodate a group of up to ten persons camping overnight.
It's a jungle out there; dangerous animals and insects are very much on their protected home turf. People have been killed.
Roads within the park are widely variable in quality, with many suited only for four-wheel-drive vehicles. There is a risk of getting stuck in awkward locations, especially off the most beaten paths or in rainy season.
There have been multiple, widely-reported incidents of illegal wildlife poaching. Nine elephants, five lions and two buffalo were killed in 2011. In 2013, poachers killed more than a hundred African elephants by poisoning one of the waterholes with cyanide; in 2015, a protected lion was lured out of the park at night using a dead animal as bait and silently shot with a bow-and-arrow. Poachers will almost certainly be armed and some may be operating as criminal gangs, often to smuggle ivory from poached elephants out of the country.