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The Balancing Boulders of Matobo Hills National Park

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The Matobo Hills are some of the most beautiful rock formations in the world and they cover about 3100 km2 of land south west of Bulawayo in South western Zimbabwe. About 424 km2 of this rock strewn landscape is a national park of which about 100km2 is located as a game park with a variety of wildlife.

Matobo is at the same time a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park was bequeathed by Cecil John Rhodes and is the oldest park in the country – established in 1926.

Formed about 2 billion years ago, these granite boulders and rocks lie atop kopjies and inselbergs and smooth ‘whaleback dwalas’’. The Ndebele nation gave the name Matobo meaning bald heads and the highest point Gulati is just outside the official park (1549metres).

Thousands of distinctive tightly compacted rocky outcrops lie across the land with valleys running between them like veins. A vast landscape of low lying hills show boulders balancing on top of each other that defy belief that they can manage to keep holding onto precarious footholds. Natural weathering has created stunning forms and designs of rocks where rock hyrax, black eagles, klipspringer antelope and leopard live.

The valleys between provide shelter to animals and have done so for humans too through many ages. Thought to have been occupied from the Stone Age to the present, Matobo also has the highest number of ancient rock paintings than anywhere else in the world. Well over 2000 individual art sites have been recorded and there are thought to be many more yet to be discovered.

Local communities still use the area for local shrines and there are many sacred places. Many paintings are still in a good condition and some lie deep in caves whilst others are on the upper side of overhangs. Earlier paintings were mostly painted in red ochre whilst kaolin and quartz were used in the later ones. They depict images of pastoral times, foraging and hunting. It is believed that the area has been occupied for over 500 000 years whilst some paintings have been dated at 13 000 years.

Within Matobo the Mwari religion is still practiced and this is an oracular tradition, simply a divination and the gods speaking through a means by which to speak to the people. In August each year, they gather in certain areas practicing ceremonies.

In terms of wildlife and vegetation, springs and small micro climates have developed to support a wide diversity of plants and mammal species which number around 90. These include white rhino, sable, klipspringer, zebra and impala. Trees include rock fig, aloes, terminalia, mountain acacia and wild pear. The endangered black eagle is at home here and this is one of the best areas to see these magnificent birds. In the swampy valleys one also finds fish (bass and tilapia) and amphibian species.

One of the sites most visited is the grave of Cecil John Rhodes on World's View or Malindidzimu – the ‘hill of spirits’. Others too are buried on this beautiful spot including Leander Starr Jameson and just outside the park in the hills is buried Mzilikazi a great Ndebele king.

Caves of distinction to visit, include Bambata Cave (it has paintings of elephants and giraffes), Nswatugi Cave and Inanke Cave.

Matobo also lends itself to fabulous hiking with beautiful scenery and short and long hikes taking one through valleys and over the kopjies.

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