It changes from relatively flat thornveld to the unique clusters of granite rocks and kopjes, interspersed with huge whaleback granite mountains, which suddenly rise out of seemingly nowhere at all, and the areas of thick vegetation , wetland and plain, that characterise this amazingly beautiful part of our country.
While there are areas reminiscent of these landscapes elsewhere – Chinamhora and Masembura, around Bindura, and south of Masvingo, for example, the Matobo area itself is unique and inspires the imagination and awe of visitors of every age.
While part of the Matobo hills were set aside as a National Park long ago, the Matobo hills extend well beyond this demarcated area.
The Matobo is also a World Heritage Area for all sorts of reasons; not just because of its great beauty and the diversity of its flora and fauna which include some species endemic to this area, but also because of the history of humanity’s past and on-going interaction with this place.
Nowhere are San rock painting more prolific than in the Matobo hills, there are thousands of sites and one might literally stumble upon such relics of the very ancient past.
There are also many grain bins in caves scattered through these hills, forged of the clay from termite mounds, and proofed against baboons, dating back hundreds of years, remnants of past human conflict, and there are other historical relics of bygone eras too – from the stone age and the iron age.
There is also the highest concentration of both Black Eagles (now called Verreaux’s Eagles) and leopards in the world.
Memories of childhood relived
So it was with great joy that Sarah and I headed off there for Christmas with Dave, my sister- in-law Jo, Carly aged seven and the twins, Jaime and Jayden, aged four.
What fun, for we siblings, to share our enjoyment of this wonderful place with the children, passing the joy to the next generation.
We truly ‘did’ Christmas in the National Parks Maleme Rest Camp, which holds so many fond memories, taking Christmas tree, lights, decorations, the works, and Santa came to visit!
Indeed, we checked for reindeer spoor along the roads! The camp was busy most of the time, though people came and went fast, often staying just a night or two, which I always feel is rather a waste as there is so much to do and see in Matobo!
Sarah and I stayed on through the New Year, with visits from various friends from Bulawayo and elsewhere. We took along all our bicycles – how we fitted all of this and the Christmas gifts into two vehicles remains a mystery!
As always, the Matobo fulfilled all its promise of adventure, wildlife and delight. With our recently acquired enthusiasm for geo-caching, we went in search of two, one of which appeared to have gone altogether, but one of which was found, atop Inungu mountain, albeit chewed by small animals and in need of some maintenance which we duly gave it!
We also placed two of our own!
One challenge we met well, was how to enjoy the great outdoors with so many ages and levels of fitness to cater for, but we found the perfect formula.
With two of us in training for Two Oceans, it was necessary to keep up the exertion, while we also had the small ones to take into account.
The answer was to take all the bikes, and one car. We cycled in rotations and everyone got just the right amount of exercise!
Sarah and I also squeezed in some runs, and I took myself off on a route I know well for a long run and in the course of 16 km, counted no less than 16 klipspringers – one of my most favourite animals!
As light and nimble of foot as the most agile ballerina, these enchanting little antelope can climb virtually vertical cliff faces, and are incredibly fast.
They love to pose atop the cliffs at sunset and are usually found in groups of three – mum, dad and baby, though I was curious to find one group of four and surmised that mum might have had twins.
Jameson’s red rock rabbit
We saw lots of game on this trip, even outside the game park, plenty of wildebeest, kudu, sable, zebra, klipsringer, reedbuck, duiker, a few tsessebe.
To my delight, for the second time in my life, I stumbled upon a Jameson’s red rock rabbit feeding on a large flat boulder top, one night, very close to our lodge.
These are shy nocturnal creatures, rarely seen, and indeed, the only other time I ever saw one was also in Maleme rest camp by night.
More on Matobo next week.
BY ROSIE MITCHELL