The Matopos Hills is an area of granite hills and wooded valleys in the south-eastern corner of Zimbabwe, close to the buzzing town of Bulawayo. The area is home to a huge diversity of flora and fauna and is rich in colonial history.
It has a combination of very dramatic and beautiful scenery, varied activities, rich species diversity and a colourful history that ensures a memorable visit for anyone able to include it in a Southern Africa itinerary.
The Matopos Hills themselves are located around 35 kilometres to the south-east of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city. Formed over 2 billion years ago, the granite hills have a distinct appearance. The huge, smoothly-eroded boulders dotted throughout this landscape were the reason behind the area’s name: founder of the Ndebele nation, the brutal warrior-king Mzilikazi named the rocks “matobo”, meaning “bald heads” in the local language.
The Matobo National Park is one of the oldest in the country, it was established in 1926 as Rhodes Matopos National Park, a bequest from Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodes himself is buried alongside other notable white settlers of the 19th century on the summit of Malindidzimu, the ‘hill of spirits’, one of the smooth kopjes of the area. UNESCO designated the area as a World Heritage Site in 2003, one of four sites in Zimbabwe.
The park is home to rich species diversity: over 200 species of tree have been recorded, as well as close to 200 bird and 100 mammal species. The park is also home to one of the highest concentrations of rock art sites in Southern Africa, approximately 3000 sites are a living monument to the population of San who lived here as long ago as 2,000 years. The large boulders and caves offer natural shelters that have been associated with human occupation as far back as the early Stone Age. The area continues to be a strong focus for the local communities with many areas still used as shrines and considered sacred places. Visitors can explore the area on foot, in game drive vehicles or on horse-back accompanied by excellent, knowledgeable guides. The dams of the area also offer good boating and fishing.