Written by Stephen Cunliffe
Matusadona National Park takes its evocative name from the undulating Matusadona hills. However, it is Zambezi-fed Lake Kariba that actually dominates this iconic African safari destination. In a predominantly dry landscape, Matusadona is a watery wilderness. It is bound by sprawling Lake Kariba to the north, and two perennial rivers, the Sanyati and Ume, to the east and west. The park is fringed by a lush, grassy flood plain. This gives way to a diversity of habitats as you retreat south toward the mopane and Brachystegia woodlands in the hills. Matusadona provides both a productive and jaw-droppingly beautiful setting for an African safari.
Here are the five main reasons I keep going back:
Safari by Boat on Lake Kariba
The majority of African safari-goers spend their days on safari being bounced, shaken and rattled over rough tracks in search of Africa’s famed wildlife. So, there is something decidedly civilized and undeniably enjoyable about viewing your wildlife from the comfort of a boat. As you putter along the lake shore you never know what lies around the next corner. More than once we’ve entered a bay and found big prides of lions quenching their thirst or guzzling a buffalo just meters from the water’s edge. The more adventurous safari aficionados might prefer to trade in their boat for a canoe and the ultimate immersive safari experience. Drifting quietly past a herd of playful elephants cooling off and cavorting in the lake is one of the ultimate safari experiences.
Hooking into a Big Tiger or Catching Dinner
Lake Kariba provides some world class fishing opportunities in the warmer summer months when the fish are biting. You could be an avid sports fisherman in search of a big tiger or simply determined to catch your own dinner. Fighting a wild tiger fish is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry with the drag screaming as these fish jump and fight like crazy. If catch-and-release, sport fishing is not for you, then baiting a book and going in search of a decent size Kariba Bream might be more your style. Caught and cooked fresh, this is unquestionably one of the tastiest freshwater fish on the planet!
The Sundowner Capital of Africa
The flooding of Lake Kariba in the late 1950s created a water wilderness punctuated by drowned forests of ancient-looking trees that claw the sky. As day slowly turns to night and a fiery-red-sun-ball sinks towards the horizon, these skeletal tree silhouettes make a sundowner setting like no other. Bird calls abound as there are over 240 bird species recorded in the park. You can listen to the ubiquitous fish eagle calling distinctively from its treetop perch before diving down in search of dinner. Hippos and crocs patrol the waters below. There can be few better sundowner settings in which to sip your gin and tonic!
Taking a Walk on the Wild Side
Zimbabwe is home to some of the very best nature guides on the continent. Matusadona caters to safari lovers of all appetites and denominations. You can enjoy stretching your legs for a couple of hours on a bush walk with a knowledgeable safari guide. Or get right off-the-beaten-track on a multi-day walking safari. There is a diverse range of activities available: bush walks, canoe safaris, boat cruises, fishing, birding and game drives. There are few safari destinations where in a few days you can experience all of these activities in one diverse and scenically spectacular wildlife area.
Contributing to Conservation
As amazing as Matusadona is today, it’s a pale shadow of the wilderness it was when proclaimed a national park in the mid-1970s. In recent decades, the park has suffered from a lack of resources and manpower, and lost many rhino and elephant to poaching. However, on 1 November 2019, African Parks signed a 20-year management agreement with Zimparks to take over the running and rehabilitation of this protected areas. The arrival of African Parks, one of Africa’s leading conservation non-profits, heralds an exciting new chapter in the revival and restoration of Matusadona to its former glory. Being a part of that turnaround and contributing to a conservation success story will give your safari a powerful added dimension of purpose and meaning.