Have you heard about a part of Africa called the Matobo Hills? My husband and I recently were guests at the Matobo Hills Lodge which is about 55 km south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, situated in the national park of the same name. I was excited to be back in the African bush and learn more about the area away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
The hotel is perched on the top of a stunning rock formation with a commanding view of the surroundings. It is built out of the natural stone of the region, with thatched roofs so it does not scar the landscape, but rather melds seamlessly into it.
If you are looking for the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the beauty of nature then the Matobo Hills Lodge will tick all your boxes.
To avoid any confusion I need to explain that Matopo Hills, Matopo, Matopos or Matobo all refer to the same area and are simply different versions of the same name.The origin of the name is unclear but it may have originated from matombe or madombe, meaning “the rocks,” or from matobo, “bald heads.”
The park was established in 1953 and spans an area of around 3100 square kilometres. It was awarded World Heritage status in 2003 due to its diversity, history and culture.
As you enter the park you may be forgiven for thinking that you slipped through a crack into a parallel universe. The rock formations in the park are the stuff of legends. I found myself thinking that it could have been giants, playing a reckless game, tumbling and balancing the rocks, creating fascinating formations for their own pleasure. Over millions of years, these rocks have been weathered and eroded resulting in sculptural granite gems that will leave you speechless.
We drove around the park at a leisurely pace, enjoying the scenery. We came across a pile of balancing rocks known as Mother and Child. I am not sure where the name came from, but it was totally appropriate. There are so many astonishing rock formations in the area that you can let your imagination run riot. What’s interesting is as the light changes so do the shapes as shadow and highlights play across the rocks. Is that a dinosaur or maybe a dragon? There are no right answers. It’s whatever you want it to be.
My Impressions of the Matobo Hills Lodge
As arrived we were greeted at our car and shown to the reception and bar area, past a breathtaking pool, set in the rocks. While the pool is gorgeous by day, it is even more beautiful when it is lit up at night and the light sparkles and dances on the rippling water.
Without further ado, we were shown to our thatched chalet. It too was built by local craftsman using the granite of the area. There are only 18 chalets on the property so you can enjoy your panoramic views with minimum interruption from your fellow guests.
The chalet was large and well-appointed with a sitting area and a selection of local teas and coffee. Huge windows allow sunlight to stream into the rooms while also offering a great view of the panoramic landscape. It has an undoubtedly African feel to it which was echoed in the furnishings.
Just outside our door, a large rock monitor lizard ambled past. Shortly after that, the cutest elephant shrew made an appearance. There was a whole ecosystem on the doorstep.
Food for the soul
As tempting as it was to stay in the chalet it was time for lunch. We made our way to the bar area and were served a delicious 3-course lunch on the terrace. I was fascinated by a variety of lizards and geckos all soaking up the sun. I unintentionally dropped a piece of cauliflower and within seconds the lizards were eating it. The male displayed beautiful rainbow colours. How else could he catch the eye of the girl of his dreams?
The bar area and the terrace are also an ideal place to watch the sunset. I naturally had to try the signature cocktail, the Puff Adder. It is vodka based with local orange crush added, lemonade. gingerbeer, bitters and a few other secret ingredients. It’s refreshing and of course delicious, and an ideal drink to enjoy after a hot day exploring.
Dinner is announced with the beat of a drum that echoes and bounces off the rocks. Once again it was a delicious 3-course meal, served alfresco. There is also a fair selection of wines available and we enjoyed an ice cold bottle of rose, a perfect way to end the day.
Up close with Rhinos
The next morning our day started early with a delicious breakfast, cooked over a fire. I suddenly realized just how hungry I was when I smelt the sausages sizzling. Our guide arrived after breakfast and it was time to track down a rhino or two.
Very few rhinos survive today due to poaching and loss of habitat. The Matopo National Park has made a concerted effort to protect the rhinos through constant education of the community in the area. Each group of rhinos has a couple of armed guards who protect them.
This is a job of love and dedication. The conditions are tough, the days are long and hot, and they follow the rhinos wherever they go. They don’t disturb them or intrude, they just watch and protect and in this way they form a bond with the animals.
The rhinos have become used to people so you can get really close to watch them. We got to about 25 meters away. You can’t begin to imagine just how special the experience was. It was also poignant when you realise that without conservation efforts these ancient beasts, who have roamed the planet for 50 million years, may soon be gone. This is a once in lifetime activity that I felt privileged to be a part of it.
San Rock Art
Scattered among the granite koppies (little hills) are some of the world’s oldest rock art paintings, estimated to be between 6000 and 10 000 years old.
After our amazing experience with the rhino, we headed to White Rhino Cave. There was not another soul in sight and it was an easy climb to the cave overhang. What an amazing experience. I doubt that much of the landscape has changed in hundreds of years and it was easy to imagine the San people living and hunting in the area. The cave was filled with amazing works left by a long forgotten civilisation, their stories told in art.
There was so much more to see and do, but the time had come to head back to the lodge and say our goodbyes. On the way back, not far from the gate, we saw 2 black eagles perched on a rock like sentinels watching over us.
Need more information on Zimbabwe? Read: 14 Important Travel tips for visiting Zimbabwe
We had a fabulous stay at the lodge and left with heavy hearts, but we had a long drive ahead of us. We were thoroughly spoilt by the wonderful staff. Nothing was too much trouble and the service was always with a smile. It is refreshing to see such enthusiasm. It was clear to me that they love what they do and are passionate about their surroundings and happily will share their knowledge with you.
If you want to enjoy a little bit of heaven on earth the Matobo Hills Lodge is the perfect place. Having had a taste of the beauty of an unspoilt corner of Africa I know that we will return. I am sure that once you have visited you too will be lured back to this African gem.
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Disclosure: We were guests of the Matobo Hills Lodge. As usual, these are my own views.
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