Horse Riding in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe offers some of the best wildlife parks in southern Africa.
Hidden Trails’ Zambezi Safari ventures on horseback deep into the back country to track big game. Then we float the Zambezi River and finally relax at wonderful safari lodges.
Yes, Zimbabwe has its political problems, but the areas around Victoria Falls are untouched from the turmoil of Harare and the agricultural lands. We have been selling horseback tours and general safari trips to Zimbabwe without one single incident. Today more than ever the people of Zimbabwe need the support from the tourism industry. Much of the local population depend on it and any boycott will directly affect them – and not the ones it is intended for. This special political situation makes Zimbabwe one of the best deals in southern Africa.
The Limpopo forms Zimbabwe’s southern border with South Africa, while to the north is the Zambezi ( the fourth largest of Africa’s rivers after the Nile, Congo, and Niger). The land climbs from the hot parklands of these two river valleys, with their big game populations, up through small farming areas to a central plateau of msasa and mopane savanna woodland which covers a quarter of the country. It is on this fertile, well-watered land that the country’s granary and main towns are situated.
The central watershed is a garden of balancing rocks that tower above the surrounding woodlands and open grass plains. These in turn are interspersed with huge whale-back granite domes the colour of kudu hides - down which the water pours during the rains.
There are three sets of mountains delineating the central ridge: the Mvurwi range in the tobacco-growing north, the Matobo Hills in the southwest, with the Mashava Hills in the centre, near Ngezi Recreational Park and the town of Kwekwe.
The highest land runs from Harare to the mountain’s of Nyanga and Chimanimani on the border of Mozambique. Everywhere there are the remains of Shona stone walled villages, and from earlier times, the exquisite rare paintings of the San hunter-gatherers. Thirty-five percent of Zimbabwe is lowveld country, which fringes the country’s borders and the prime wilderness areas of Kariba and Gonarezhou, and mostly lies below 915m (3000ft). A feature of the lowveld is the cream of tartar, or umkhomo in Ndebele, a massive tree with a circumference of up to 28m (90ft). Better known as the Baobab, it looks as if God planted it upside down, roots sticking in the air. Safari game conservancies, the country’s best beer, ‘Hunters’, and cattle all come from the lowveld area stretching from the Shashe-Limpopo rivers and Thuli safari area in the southwest round to Gonarezhou and the Save River in the southeast. The heart of this area centers on Chiredzi and Triangle where sugar cane is grown. Two main roads from Bulawayo and Harare converge through the lowveld, heading for Beitbridge and South Africa.
Mountains and Rivers
The southeast and the northwest of Zimbabwe are laced with rivers, each join the two big ones, the Limpopo and the Zambezi. The Zambezi frames practically the entire northern edge of Zimbabwe, and encompasses the upper rapids, Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba and Mana pools. Dinosaurs used to walk its valley floor 150 million years ago. The river’s upper section may once have flowed south into what is now the Makgadikgadi Pans of Botswana. Rising in northwest Zambia, the Zambezi crosses into Angola, collecting rivers along its course, which further downstream include the Chobe in Botswana, the Sanyati in Lake Kariba, the Kafue and Luangwa in Zambia, and the Shire from Malawi and Mozambique. Mupata, on the Zambezi near Mana Pools, was at one time being considered as a site for another hydroelectric scheme, but has since been shelved in favour of the Batoka gorge (thus saving the wildlife in the Zambezi flood plain). The decision to go ahead with the new site will, unfortunately, end much of the white-water rafting. In spite of the Zambezi and Limpopo’s two great river systems, water often poses a problem in Zimbabwe. The rainy season is short, with brief heavy storms and rapid run-off, thus drought is always a possibility. Although some 7000 dams have been constructed, the second largest city, Bulawayo, is still in great need of an adequate and reliable supply. There is some hope of using the Zambezi in the future.
Most distinctive are the country’s vast tracts of indigenous trees such as msasa a munondo, prevalent on the highveld, and the butterfly-leaved mopane in Matabeleland and the lowveld. The msasa, in particular, is exceptionally beautiful when it forms a filigreed silhouette against a blood-red sky, or in spring, when new leaves kaleidoscope from fawn to claret, often providing a carpet of fire against a hillside of through a mountain valley. The highveld also has exotic species that have been introduced, such as pine, wattle and gum. The country’s indigenous forest areas incloude the great teaks and mukwas (bloodwoods) seen around Hwange, while the montane forests of the Eastern Highlands, with their heavy rainfall, feature red mahoganies near Chipinge, and also support a rich array of birdlife. As the woodlands and forests are under continuous pressure of encroachment and the local population’s immediate need for firewood, great efforts have been made to conserve these tracts. National tree-planting days, the building of rural dwellings from brick, the use of coal in tobacco-curing furnaces, and the extension of electricity to rural areas have all helped towards preserving this natural heritage - but it is an ongoing struggle. Also characteristic of Zimbabwe’s varied habitats are the tall grasslands between the trees and granite out crops; the grasses are often used for fencing and hut thatching. The country has over 5000 species of flowering plants and ferns, 400 of them wildflowers (often tiny) Many are used for medicinal or other purposes, and have vernacular names. Flame lilies (the country’s national flower), save stars, the blood lily (which has spectacular red puff-ball blooms), aloes and a variety of orchids and cycads are particularly attractive.
Conserving Zimbabwe's Wildlife Heritage
Thousands of years ago, far from Harare at Charewa, in a high kopie cave, a Stone Age San hunter - gatherer painted a picture of a rhino hunt. These rhino will have died to enable the little people to survive. Today, however, man is not motivated by survival or the balance of nature, but by greed. In 1984, Zimbabwe had 3000 black rhino, the continent’s largest herd. Ten years later poachers, particularly in the Zambezi valley, had reduced this number to 300. And this in spite of so many rhino already having been dehorned, as well as a ferocious defense action in which 200 poachers were killed. Unfortunately, rhino horn is an essential ingredient to traditional medicine in China and the Far East, a demand that refuses to be suppressed by Western scepticism or law -enforcement. Attempts have been made to stop the slaughter of rhino by applying diplomatic pressure on the traditional medicine nations and by banning the trade. They have, over the last two decades, failed miserably. Some success has been achieved in relocating rhino to game ranches far from Zimbabwe’s vulnerable borders for tourism purposes, others have been transported to over-seas countries for captive breeding, and some to intensively protected wildlife areas. The real answer - if the Far East chemists’ needs are to be met and the rhino to be saved - is controlled legal trade, which would pull the carpet out from under the profiteering middlemen. This applies to ivory too. It is only fair to say that equally powerful arguments favor a total ban of horn and ivory trading, and it is here that the last battle is being waged. The rhino has a right to survive in the wild, but time is running out; tough, clear-headed decisions need to be made soon, otherwise Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa will lose the last of these magnificent mega herbivores.
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