Truck Day 3 – Matopos National Park

Alarm wakes us at 5.30am this morning. Occasionally I do question what possessed me to book some of these trips. I’m notoriously not a morning person but I have to remind myself that the reward will be worth it when I’m struggling to get out of a warm bed in a chilly tent. We leave at 6.30am to continue our road trip south headed for Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. Our afternoon will be spent exploring the Matopos National Park with a local guide after which we’ll return to Bulawayo and our overnight stop at Banff Lodge.

Surprisingly perky for 6am!!

As we speed towards Bulawayo, young boys heard cattle expertly across the main road and give a big thumbs up to Casper, our driver for stopping. Neat stacks of firewood for sale are ever present outside immaculate homesteads. A stark reminder of its vital role in cooking and for heating water. There’s no piped gas here, it comes in bottles but only for those who can afford it. We overtake large coal trucks with double trailers headed for the mines.

The drive to Bulawayo is almost without incident. Unfortunately, one of our group takes a photo of a police officer whilst we are waiting at a checkpoint and he immediately requests that it be deleted. He gets onto the truck with our guide and in no uncertain terms berates quite rightly the person concerned. Our guide handles the situation with extreme tact and diplomacy and after a humble apology from our guide we are back on the road.

We arrive in Bulawayo around 10.45 and stop for supplies. We also have to stock up on Zambezi and bottles of red wise water.

We leave for Matopos at 2pm and its a 30 min drive to the park. Upon arrival Jordan our outstanding guide gives us a talk about the differences between black and white rhinos, the value of rhino horn on the black market – $100,000 a kilo – why the rangers remove their horns as a deterent to poachers and the rapid rapid decline of rhinos numbers throughout the world as the sadly head towards near extinction. The Park received recognition as a UNESCO natural World Heritage Site in 2003 and includes an intensive protection zone that is home to both Black and White Rhinoceros. Named after the Ndebele word “Matobo “, whose meaning “bald heads” it refers to the rounded granite hills that surround it.

We drive into the park on the hunt for rhino. We meet 3 rangers and they advise that there is a mother and a baby with an older female sibling nearby. We exit our truck and after a strict briefing on how to behave and what to do if any of the rhinos charge, we walk quietly in single file towards them.

The baby is approximately 4 months old and we crouch down in the bush to observe the family. We’re only 7 days into this trip and I’m rapidly running out of superlatives. An incredible experience to be sitting in the Bush watching white rhino 50 feet away idlely chewing grass on a Wednesday afternoon.

The Park is beautiful and after our incredible close encounter with rhino we continue our drive to observe the enormous granite rock formations a potential encounter further rhino and other game living within the park.

We see Warthogs, Impala, Wildebeast and Kudu but not further rhinos. We stop briefly to shop for some souvenirs made by locals who live on the edges of the park. We return to our campsite at 7pm in the shadow of a majestic sunset. It has been the most memorable of afternoons and it sinks in just how privileged we are to be able to experience seeing rhinos up close and so personally.

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