Taking the name from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, a fortified stone city situated in the south of the country, President Robert Mugabe changed the country's name from Rhodesia when, in 1980, the country moved to black majority rule. The capital city, Harare, is one of the major tourist 'gateways' into Africa and tourism is of increasing importance to the economy which otherwise relies on farming and mining for export earnings. Having suffered greatly during the droughts of the early 1990's, Zimbabwe is still finding its way out of the economic doldrums with high unemployment and the question of land ownership still one of high emotional charge.
‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ - the ‘smoke that thunders’ is the local name for Victoria Falls. This is one of Africa’s most enduring sights – one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site. The river is 1,708 metres wide at the top of the ‘Falls and drops between 90 and 107 metres into the Batoka Gorge with an average of 550,000 cubic metres of water plunging over the edge every minute. In the high water season spray can be seen from 20-30 kilometres away. The Batoka Gorge also forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Scottish missionary Dr David Livingstone first came here in 1855 and reported ‘Scenes so lovely, they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’.Today, visitors come here not only to look at the waterfalls but also to try some of the numerous activities available in the area – eg white water rafting, river boarding, jet boating, bungi jumping, microlighting, helicopter flights, river cruises and elephant back safaris.
Hwange National Park
Situated between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, this is Zimbabwe’s largest and most accessible National Park, covering 14,600 square kilometres. It was named after Chief Hwange who was ousted by the invading Ndebele tribe. Today the park is known for its abundance of elephant but also offers over 100 other mammal species, including 19 large herbivores and eight large carnivores. Discover the ‘Big 5’ and more by walking, driving or on horse-back.
Zimbabwe’s second city (after Harare), population approx 1.5 million (2009). Known as the ‘City of Kings’ Bulawayo was founded circa 1840 by the Ndebele King Mzilikazi after the tribe broke away from Shaka’s Zulu nation and fled north. During the 1893 Matabele Wars, the then King Lobengula was forced to abandon his burning capital which was occupied by the colonialists of the British South Africa Company. Cecil John Rhodes ordered that a new settlement be built on the ruins of Lobengula’s Royal Town (today the site of State House). Due to its tepid climate and geographical location, Bulawayo has continued to be an important business centre.
‘Great Zimbabwe was once the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. Construction began here in the 11th century AD and continued to until the 14th century. The city spans an area of 722 Ha and at its peak could have housed more than 10,000 people. Great Zimbabwe acted as a royal palace for the Zimbabwean monarch and would have been used as the seat of political power. One of its most prominent features are the massive stone walls, some of which are over 5 metres high and constructed without the use of mortar.
Eventually, the city was abandoned and fell into ruin. It was first seen by Europeans in the early 16th century. Investigations on the site began in the 19th century, when the monument caused controversy amongst the archaeological world with political pressure placed upon archaeologists by the then white supremacist government of Rhodesia to deny it could ever have been built by native Zimbabweans. Great Zimbabwe has since been adopted as a national monument by the Zimbabwean government, with the modern state named after it. The word ‘Great’ distinguishes the site from the 200 other small ruins, also known as ‘zimbabwe’s’, spread across southern Africa. Great Zimbabwe is the largest of such sites.
When to Travel
Zimbabwe, like its neighbours Zambia and Botswana has a very similar climate with the rainy season running from November through to mid April. The cooler winter months are drier.
The flow of water over the Victoria Falls peaks in March at the end of the rainy season. At this time of year, you really know why the local name is ‘Mosi oa Tunya’ or ‘The Smoke that Thunders’!
Getting there and away
Victoria Falls and is served with daily flights to Johannesburg on both South African Airways http://www.flysaa.com and British Airways http://www.ba.com.