Guide To Hwange National Park, The Largest Sanctuary Of The Big Five In Zimbabwe

Hwange National Park is the largest National Park in Zimbabwe. It is located in Matabeleland South Province. This park covers more than 14,600 square kilometres (5,863 square miles) or 1,460,000 hectares and is relatively easy to reach, both from Victoria Falls and from Bulawayo.

Hwange National Park it is reckoned as one of the best-known protected areas in Zimbabwe. The name derives from a local chief named Hwange. In the 19th century Mzilikazi, King of the Ndebele used the area as his hunting territory. Farmers then attempted to breed cattle, but the lack of water and nagana disease spread by tsetse flies and large numbers of lions made it challenging for cattle ranching.

Elephants at a waterhole in Hwange

A large part of the present Park was turned into a Wildlife Reserve in 1928. In 1949 when the cattle ranch belonging to H.G. Robins was purchased the entire area was declared a National Park. At the time of its proclamation there were few wild animals left in Hwange as they had been widely hunted and only migrated into this area in the rainy season. The creation of approximately sixty artificial water points led to wild animals migrating back into the park.

Elephants drinking at one of the artificial water points in Hwange National Park


Hwange’s landscape is exceptionally diverse and includes dense teak forest, Kalahari sand veld, large open grass plains lined with Acacia, mopane woodland and islands of ilala palms. Such diverse habitat supports a range of wildlife. Most of the park is underlain by Kalahari Sands, in the north-west there are basalt lava flows of the Bakota Formation, stretching from south of Bumbusi to the Botswana border.

 In the north-central area, from Sinamatella going eastwards, there are granites and gneisses of the Kamativi-Dete Inlier and smaller inliers of these rocks are found within the basalts in the north-west. The north and north-west of the park are drained by the Deka and Lukosi rivers and their tributaries, and the far south of the park is drained by the Gwabadzabuya River, a tributary of the Nata River.

There are no rivers in the rest of the park, although there are fossil drainage channels in the main camp and Linkwasha areas, which form seasonal wetlands. In these areas without rivers, grassy pan depressions and pans have formed. Some of these pans, such as many of the pans in the Shumba area, fill with rainwater, while others, such as Ngweshla, Shakwanki and Nehimba, are fed by natural groundwater seeps. Many of the pans are additionally supplied by water pumped from underground by park authorities.

Vultures feeding on a buffalo carcass


 Due to its huge size, there is considerable diversity of habitats for animals and over 100 species of mammals including the “Big 5” (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard) and over 400 species of birds can be found in Hwange National park.

A giraffe on Hwange grassland

The park houses the largest population of Elephants (Loxodonta Africana) with an estimated half of Zimbabwe’s eighty thousand elephants and the number of the jumbos has so far exceeded the parks carrying capacity. The population of the Cape wild dogs to be found in Hwange is thought to be of one of the largest surviving groups in Africa today, along with that of Kruger National Park ,Selous Game Reserve and  it is the only protected area where gemsbok and brown hyena occur in reasonable numbers.

A cheetah
Crowned Cranes are a marvel

Weather And Climate

Hwange experiences a mild to warm climate. The warmest months being September to March, whilst May to August are the coolest and the dry season occurs in April through October, bringing fine and fair weather. The wet season happens from November to March and consists of showers in the afternoon followed by clear sunny skies though sometimes it can lightly shower for days at a time. Winter corresponds to the dry season and summer to the dry season. The seasons are a direct opposite to that of Europe and North America.

General Temperatures

Dry season April to October-winter

  • April -this month brings an end to wet season with rains becoming increasingly less. The nights are cool and prepare for early morning drives in open vehicles to be cold.
  • May, June ,July and August -the coldest months of winter though it starts to warm up a bit in August, It is very is a very dry time. Day time temperatures are around 26° C / 79° F, but it gets very cold at night with average temperatures 7° C / 40°F.
  • September & October -the dry weather continues but is broken up by the first rains in late October. This settles the dust and brings new vegetation. Daytime temperatures are over 30°C / 90°F. October is the hottest month and temperatures frequently peak over 40°C / 104°F.
A lion pride walking around Ngamo Pan in the October heat

Wet Season November to March (Summer)

  • November -This month brings a start to the rainy season, although it is rare for rainfall to fall every day. It is still hot and daytime temperatures average around 32°C / 90°F.
  • December, January and February -the wettest months brings rain most days, but rarely lasting the whole day. Rains are usually afternoon showers, followed by sunshine -although it can also drizzle continuously for a couple of days. Daytime temperatures average 29°C / 84°F,whilst night and early mornings average 18°C / 64°F.
  • March -Temperatures average between 30°C / 86°F and 16°C / 61°F, and the wet season slowly comes to an end.
The lush greenery in Hwange National Park during the wet season

Best Time To Visit Hwange

  • Best time July to October (Dry season)
  • High Season June to October (Hwange’s main area can become crowded)
  • Low season January to May (some lodges close during part of the wet season)
  • Best weather April to September (it hardly rains)
  • Worst Weather December to March (Wet season)

How To Get There

The National (A8) road from Bulawayo is generally in good condition with some bumpy parts near Bulawayo, but smooth tar thereafter. 

Main Camp turn-off is at the 264.5-kilometre peg on the (A8) Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road. From here a tar road (15 kilometres) leads to the Park boundary at the railway crossing, a short distance from Main Camp.

Sinamatella Camp is reached from Main Camp by a narrow tar that is in poor condition necessitating driving on either verge for much of the time, then a good and well-graded gravel road. Another way is to take the good gravel road that turns off the (A8) Bulawayo – Victoria Falls Road just south of the town of Hwange. Sinamatella Camp is reached 45 kilometres further on via Mbala Lodge in the Deka Safari Area.

Robins Camp is reached by a gravel road that turns off the (A8) Bulawayo – Victoria Falls Road 48 kilometres south of Victoria Falls. From here it is approximately 70 kilometres to Robins Camp and en route there is a turn off to Matetsi Safari Area headquarters and to Pandamatenga. Robins Camp can also be reached by road through the National Park from Main Camp and Sinamatella during the dry season.

Main Camp has unlicensed airstrip for private/ charter aircraft, but prior permission to land must be obtained from Main Camp and there are no hangars. Hwange has a licensed Airport.

NB: It is usually possible from May to October to enter the Park by any designated access road and to drive to any of the camps. During the wet season though, advice should be sought as to the best routes and the visitor reception at each camp will provide advice on the many game-viewing drives of the 480 kilometres of road system as they may deteriorate. The tar roads within the National Park are in moderate to poor condition and there are few routes considering the vastness of the Park.

Other Safety Considerations

Malaria is a big concern and you should protect yourself from getting the disease. This comes inform of applying mosquito repellent that contains at least 30% DEET and taking antimalarial drugs (you should cover up in the evening too). There are few vaccinations recommended before travelling to Zimbabwe. Please seek advice from your healthcare professional or local travel clinic.