Matusadona National Park, spreading for 1400 km2, is situated on the southern shores of Lake Kariba in the north western part of Zimbabwe. The Park’s name comes from the Shona word ‘matuzvi adona’, which roughly translates to ‘the dung has fallen, as elephant dung was often seen all around the hills.
Matusadona is tucked between the steep-sided Sanyati gorge to the east and Ume River to the west with the craggy Matusadona mountains forming the escarpment that divides the Park and the farmlands.
Matusadona mountains, which are mostly made up of Munhondo and Msasa woodlands, rises 700m from the Zambezi valley floor. Between the mountains which form a beautiful background, and the stunning shoreline, with its inlets and bays, lies the flat valley floor with dense Mopane and Jesse woodlands. This makes the area very rough and difficult to access.
The Lake is distinguished by dry dead Mopane trees, or petrified forests, the remaining woodlands that were flooded and drowned as the water rose at the creation of Lake Kariba. Along the shoreline, there is the tall regenerative torpedo grass which provides an infinite food supply for the grazers.
Most of the game that was rescued during Operation Noah, a wildlife rescue operation carried out on the Zambezi River during the construction of the dam wall, was placed in Matusadonha making it one of Zimbabwe’s most magnificent National Parks. It is home to the Big 5, the Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and the endangered Rhino and is predominantly renowned for playing host to huge herds of buffalo that roam the plains.
Other types of game found at the Park include the Water, Reed and Bush Buck, Impala, Kudu, Wild Cat, Eland, Bush Pig, Spotted Hyena, Night Ape, the Sable, Roan, Civet Cat, White-tailed Mongoose, Caracal, Warthog, Zebra, Vervet Monkey and Chacma Baboon, Scrub Hare, Yellow Spotted Dassie, Honey Badger and the Scrub Hare. The waters are also teeming with Crocodiles and Hippopotami.
Matusadona is also a bird-lover’s paradise, with extraordinary birdlife of over 350 species of raptors, woodland birds and waterfowl. The Petrified Forest on the Lake has become a special breeding area for different birds including Egrets, Herons and Cormorants. With over 40 species of fish in Lake Kariba, where the Park lies, fishing is a very popular activity where catch and release of the sought after feral Tiger Fish the most followed practice. Also commonly found in the waters is the Kariba Bream.
Due to its isolation, access to Matusadonha is difficult making getting there by road limited to four wheel drive vehicles. There are also options to drive to Kariba town, leave one’s car there then charter a boat to the lodges. The airstrips at Fothergill and Bumi allow visitors to fly in by private air charter then get transferred by boat to their lodgings.
There are a few privately owned safari camps spread along the shoreline of Matusadona, including Spurwing Island Lodge and Bumi Hills Lodge, as well as campsites and self-catering lodges run by Zimbabwe National Parks. Most of these camps are equipped with the most basic amenities. Camps include Rhino Safari Camp, Changa Safari Camp and Musango Safari Camp.
However, the most popular form of accommodation in Matusadonha is houseboats which are moored at harbours in Kariba town and then cruise across the Lake and the Park for a night or two.
Best Time to Visit
The dry season is the best time for game viewing in Matusadonha because, as the Park starts to dry up, wildlife starts to drift towards the shores of Lake Kariba in growing numbers and range. Vegetation is also thinner, making it easier for visitors to spot game. This season also allows visitors to enjoy long sunny days with mild temperatures and cool evenings, ideal for both land and water safari adventures including game drives and sunset cruises.
It is also good to visit Matusadonha during the rainy season as it is the birthing season, producing some exciting wildlife sightings and endearing photographic chances. The afternoon thunderstorms, more frequent in December, light up the skies above the seemingly continuous Lake Kariba, generating a breathtaking show of light, mirrored on the surface of the Lake. The weather is also great for fishing, game drives and boating safaris.
Weather and Climate
January, February, March and April are part of the rainy season in Matusadona National Park, with the rain usually coming in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. May marks the beginning of the dry season, running throughout June, July, August and September. There are many activities available in the Park around this time including walking safaris and cultural visits to the nearby Tonga village.
October is the last month of the dry season in the Park, the hottest month of the year, with hot days soaring to around 32°C and pleasantly warm dusks that produce the pink-to-red golden sunsets that Lake Kariba is famous for.
The afternoon thunderstorms in November herald the beginning of the rainy season. Here, rainfall creates new life into the Park in terms of the sprouting new vegetation and the birthing season.
Other Safety Considerations
As Malaria is prevalent in certain areas of Zimbabwe at certain times of the year, visitors are urged to visit their doctor to discuss prophylactics, preferably two months prior to travelling. Once at the Park, they are reminded to take more precautionary measures including covering exposed skin at dusk, having mosquito repellent sprays and sleeping under a net.
Visitors are also reminded to avoid suffering from sunstroke and heatstroke by staying hydrated throughout the day, wearing wide brimmed hats and a good pair of sunglasses as well as applying sunscreen and lip balm.
Though Municipal tap water is said to be treated and theoretically safe to drink, visitors are urged to drink from borehole-sourced tap water or bottled water.