Hwange National Park

Travel Guide

Hwange National Park is the scene of an impressive wildlife spectacle in Zimbabwe with an elephant population of about 40 000 strong, as well as the other members of the Big Five

The largest nature reserve in the country, it occupies around 14 600 square kilometers between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. The vast expanse of Hwange is close to the edge of the Kalahari desert and consists of a variety of landscapes, including semi-arid areas, sparse woodland, grasslands, rocky outcrops and seasonal wetlands. A safari to Hwange will deliver astonishing sightings of the 40 000 strong elephant population as well as the other members of the Big Five, the endangered African wild dog and rare species like roan and sable antelopes and even monitor lizards! It is also the only protected area in Zimbabwe where gemsbok and brown hyena occur in small numbers. Laying eyes on smaller nocturnal predators like servals, civets and bat-eared foxes can also be expected.

The skies above Hwange are filled to capacity with almost 400 different birds and the bateleur eagle, kori bustard and southern ground hornbill are just some of the most notable species. Combining a safari package to Hwange with an excursion to other top Zimbabwe destinations like Victoria Falls and Mana Pools National Park, or even the renowned Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park in Botswana makes this area extremely popular with travelers to Africa. Read more about Hwange National Park.

Nantwich Private Concession

The Nantwich Private Concession covers over 22,000 acres within the Hwange National Park. For several years, the lodge stood derelict until it was lovingly restored in 2019. Archaeological signs of human habitation date dating back to the Stone Age, and other settlers who were known to reside in the area, even well over 1,000 years ago, include the nomadic San, Tonga, Shona, Leya, who were later known as Nambya people, whose king named himself Wange, from where the Hwange National Park takes its name. After the 1896 Matabele Rebellion, Percy Crewe, who had served as a sergeant and who was later involved in mining and prospecting throughout Matabeleland, purchased and settled on the land, naming the homestead Nantwich Ranch. The area is known for high numbers of wildlife, including large herds of elephant, sable, and buffalo. The diverse bird species in this area include Kori Bustard, Lilac-breasted Roller, Carmine Bee-eater, and varieties of Eagle, Vulture and Oxpecker. This area of Hwange is also knowns as ‘Cat-Country’ as there are numbers of resident lion, cheetah and even leopard in this part of the park.

Hwange National Park - Big Toms

Big Toms & Little Toms

Big Toms and Little Toms are two river-based scenic and wildlife-rich areas of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. They are both located in the northwestern part of the park, near the border with Botswana. Big Toms is known for its dense forests and scenic vistas which are frequented by elephant and lion, while Little Toms features open grasslands and wetlands, and get fewer elephant and lion by comparison. Both areas offer a diverse range of wildlife, including buffalo, warthog, various large cats and many antelope species. A visit to Big Toms and Little Toms is a must for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts who want to experience the beauty and diversity of Zimbabwe’s wilderness, learn more about the local flora and fauna, and see some of Africa’s most iconic animals in their natural habitat.

Salt Pan

The Hwange Park Salt Pan is a large salt flat situated in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. This area is home to a diverse variety of animals, including elephant, lion, leopard, giraffe, and many others. The Hwange Salt Pan is a unique feature within the park – during the rainy season, it can become a shallow and salty lake due to the accumulation of water, attracting various bird species and wildlife that come to drink and feed on the minerals they can find in the water. However, during the dry season, the water evaporates, leaving behind a vast expanse of white salt flats. This salt pan offers a wonderful spot for tea or a picnic. The water here is an essential mineral source for wildlife during the dry months when water becomes scarce in the region. Even after a night’s rainfall, this area can look dry, and yet the edges are muddy. Terrapins and monitors call this area home. And while hippos find this area too shallow and salty, other species, like crocodile, jackal, elephant and duck species favour this area. Buffalo will come to drink here, as they know the salt is good for their bones, but they cannot drink from this pan every day – they know they need to move on to clearer water.

Zambezi river - crocodile

Croc Pool

This scenic and wildlife-rich area in Hwange National Park is named after a series of pools that form part of the Deteema Springs, which are fed by underground water sources. Predators such as crocodiles and hippos can also be spotted in the pools. Luckily, visitors have the opportunity to observe these animals up close at Croc Pools. Hippos are known to be particularly territorial and can be dangerous if approached too closely, but from a safe distance, they are wonderful creatures to observe on safari. The Croc Pools area offers an incredible chance to experience the beauty of nature and witness the interactions of various wildlife species in their natural habitat.

Zambezi river - crocodile

Somhlaba River

The Somhlaba River Drive is a scenic route located in the northwestern part of Hwange National Park and is a popular destination for wildlife viewing and birdwatching. This beautiful area of the park is a 30-minute drive (approximately) from Nantwich lodge, and in the late afternoon the sun provides lovely photographic opportunities in the area, and welcome sites to stop for safari sundowners. The Somhlaba River is a seasonal river that flows through the park and provides an important water source as well as high-nutrient riverine vegetation, attracting a varied range of birdlife and wildlife, including buffalo, elephant and lion. Lucky visitors may even spot elusive predators like leopard and cheetah on the prowl. And with over 400 recorded bird species, birdwatching enthusiast will have the opportunity to observe and identify a wide variety of bird species in this particular area, such as the African hoopoe, banded clover, colorful bee-eater and kingfisher, as well as the majestic raptor species.

Hwange National Park - Zimbabwe

Mahohoma Seeps

There are three seeps at Mahohoma. The first is approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Nantwich Lodge, and the other two follow on a short drive thereafter. Located near the Deteema Dam and the Ngamo Plains in the northern area of Hwange National Park, these wetland seeps are fed by underground springs and are surrounded by high grasses and other dense vegetation, providing a haven for wildlife such as cheetah and lion, as well as elephant, buffalo, roan, and birds. In fact, the Mahohoma Seeps are known to be a popular spot for birdwatching, as many species of waterbird and raptor found in the area. Large herds of elephant come to drink and bathe in the seeps during the dry season.

Hwange National Park - Reedbuck

Reedbuck Vlei

The loop road with seeps through to Deka River on the way to Nantwich lodge lead to Reedbuck Vlei. The reedbuck is an antelope that tends to be skittish and stay in close quarters, making them hard to spot on a game drive and potentially making them easy pray for resident predators. Although lions typically do not hunt them, they are vulnerable to being caught by leopards, and this area is known as ‘cat country’ in Hwange National Park. The Reedbuck Vlei is a relatively shallow, marshy, and seasonally waterlogged area, surrounded by tall grasses and reeds. This is a good area for lions as the grasses are high; reedbucks aside, there are plenty of other antelope species that linger nearby. Stopping for tea or a picnic at the weir, visitors can appreciate the surroundings, and look for various species of wildlife.

Hwange National Park - Deteema Dam

Deteema Dam

The Deteema Dam is often referred to as the lions’ favourite hangout. It is one of the popular dams near Robins Camp and Nantwich – it is a manmade dam with three boreholes with solar panels – it is the only water source within about a 15km radius, so during the dry season, visitors see high numbers of elephant, plains game such as zebra, giraffe, impala, and there is even hippo in this area. The hide is a great spot to view the wildlife, and the petrified wood rock and chief’s chair (made from the large hip bones of an elephant) make this place memorable. Lions have often been spotted at Deteema Dam, and many species of birds are known to frequent the area, including spoonbill, ibis, and Kori bustard.

Tshowe Loop

The view of the hills from the road leading to the Tshowe Loop is beautiful. A section of this loop sits on a ridge, which leads down onto a large flat area. Here, visitors can see elephant, giraffe, kudu, reedbuck, mongoose, and many birdlife species, such as tawney eagle, saddle-billed stork and the red spotted lizard bird.

Hwange National Park - Waterhole

Dolilo waterhole

Slight changes in the environment can be seen on the road from Deteema Dam to Dolilo, and given the vastness of Hwange National Park, various landscapes can be found. These changes determine wildlife patterns within the park, and visitors can learn a great deal about which species are habituated to each different area. Not a large water hole, it is near the road and in a depression, so the view of the rocky hills is very good. Baboons and breeding elephants can be spotted near Dolilo, along with ostrich and many antelope species, such as roan, impala and kudu. The Dolilo river leads to a hot spring and the area between Dolilo and the Salt Pan is known to offer a home to many of the African cats, including lion, leopard, and cheetah.

Zimbabwe - Hwange - Nantwich 02

Deka to Nantwich

Deka to Nantwich is a popular safari route within Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The route takes visitors through some of the most scenic and wildlife-rich areas of the park, offering a chance to see a variety of animals in their natural habitat.

The Route

The route begins at Deka Camp, which is located in the southeastern part of the park near the Deka River. From there, visitors can travel north to Nantwich Camp, which is situated in the heart of the park. Along the way, visitors can expect to see a wide range of wildlife, including elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes, and a variety of antelope species. The route also passes through a number of different ecosystems, including grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands, each with their own unique wildlife and vegetation.

Ndlovu Drive

Ndlovu Drive is named after the Ndlovu or elephant, which is one of the most iconic and majestic animals found in the park. The drive is a 180-kilometer loop that takes visitors through some of the most scenic and wildlife-rich areas of the park. Ndlovu Drive is a popular safari route within Hwange National Park, offering visitors the chance to see the wild animals in their natural habitat. Along the way, visitors can expect to see herds of elephants, as well as other animals such as impalas, kudus, zebras, and giraffes. Predators such as lion and hyena are also occasionally spotted on the drive. The best time to go on a Ndlovu Drive safari is early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the animals are most active. Visitors can explore the park in a variety of ways, including guided game drives, self-drive tours, or walking safaris.

Hwange National Park - Masuma

Masuma Pan

The Masuma Pan is a man-made waterhole located in the northern part of Hwange National Park. It attracts a wide variety of animals, especially during the dry season when water sources become scarce. Masuma Dam is known for providing excellent opportunities for game viewing and birdwatching. The area around the dam is often bustling with wildlife activity, depending on the season, making it a rewarding experience for nature enthusiasts and photographers.

Hwange National Park - Shumba

Shumba Pan

The drive towards Shumba pan is surrounded by flat lands. Not far from Nantwich Lodge, the Shumba picnic site is a quaint, museum-like set up, enveloped by trees and dotted with small picnic shelters. The site looks like a miniature village, with a tree inside a tree at its centre. Small pools form in the surrounding areas, providing the wildlife opportunities to flourish in their natural habitat. This area was originally named “Shumba”, which is the Shona word for “lion,” indicating that lions have been seen drinking at this pan.

Hwange National Park - Zimbabwe

White hills pan

The White Hill pan can be seen from the viewpoint of the ‘White Hill’ above, which can be accessed via a somewhat hidden track leading up a mild ascent to a platform of rocks. This ‘hike’ can take less than a minute from the platform and leads to a vantage point of Hwange that is spectacular. This area is home to warthog, elephant, and many types of birds. On a cool day, this is a great spot to linger and scan the area for wildlife in the distance.

Hwange National Park - Zimbabwe

Mabuya Mabena

The road from the main gate of Hwange towards Mabuya Mabena was once a wide strip of gravel which has turned into jeep tracks, making for a very smooth ride. This lovely pan in Hwange National Park teems with birdlife, including white faced duck, black wing stilt, white egret, and vultures flying overhead. This area, on the way to Bembesi Pan, is a large, open space, where visitors can stop for a picnic and view the resident crocodiles – although a couple of the cement picnic tables have recently been knocked over by elephants, proving their strength and determination!

Closest to Main Gate

Sikumi Forest Land is a natural gem nestled in the heart of Zimbabwe, characterized by dense woodlands and exotic flora and fauna. The region is a perfect blend of natural beauty, wilderness, and ecological diversity, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, and adventure seekers. With its vast landscapes and rich history, Sikumi Forest Land provides visitors with an opportunity to immerse themselves in a world of natural wonder, cultural heritage, and thrilling outdoor activities. This unique destination is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the beauty and majesty of Zimbabwe’s natural landscape. Sikumi Forest Land is home to a diverse range of wildlife species, making it a paradise for animal lovers and nature enthusiasts. The region is known for its large herds of elephants that roam the forests and grasslands, along with buffalo, giraffes, zebras, and various antelope species, such as impalas, kudus, and elands. Visitors can also spot predators like lions, leopards, and hyenas, as well as smaller carnivores like jackals and civets. The area is also famous for its birdlife, with over 400 bird species, including raptors, waterfowl, and colorful songbirds. With such a vast array of wildlife to see, Sikumi Forest Land offers a unique and unforgettable safari experience for all nature lovers.

Hwange National Park - Nyamandhlovu Pan

Nyamandhlovu Pan

Not far from the main gates of Hwange National Park, visitors will arrive at the Dom and Nyamandhlovu Pans, both of which are natural shallow-water depressions, which form during the rainy seasons and retain water for weeks and sometimes for months after the rains stop. The Nyamandhlovu Pan offers a lovely platform from which to view the vast expanse of the surrounding areas. Both pans provide beautiful and peaceful environs for the unbelievable number of aquatic birds that follow the Intertropical Convergence Zone. And during the dry seasons when water is scarce, these pans provide for wildlife of various species, such as crocodiles, and a resident pride of lions. It is known that these predators will wait at these pans for small and vulnerable animals, such as young elephants – who are forced to come to the water source when it is dry – their need for water superseding the risks involved.

Hwange National Park - Zimbabwe

Makwa Pan

Makwe Pan is the nearest watering hole to the main gates of Hwange National Park in the southerly direction. Wildlife can be spotted on the way within minutes from entering the park. Crocodiles along the banks consider Makwe Pan their home. Other wildlife that can be found here include elephant, giraffe, monkey, zebra, various antelope species, such as the beautiful sable, and plenty of birdlife, including Kori Bustard, Lilac-breasted Roller, African Fish Eagle, Skimmers and Openbill, and Gray and Bradfield hornbill. The Pan at Makwe is small and serene. Visitors can linger here to spot a variety of wildlife and enjoy the surrounding expanse and serenity. The weather patterns impact the conditions and influence the animal behaviors that live around Makwe Pan.

Hwange National Park - Zimbabwe

Kennedy 1 and 2 Pans

Both Hwange Kennedy Pans (referred to as ‘Kennedy One’ and ‘Kennedy Two’) are named after Sir John Noble Kennedy, whose family was known for their wildlife conservation efforts in Zimbabwe. A relaxing drive through Hwange main gates and past Makwe Pan follows along to Kennedy One and then to Kennedy Two. This road is often referred to as the “elephant highway” as large herds can be seen at any part of the day, year-round. The soil in these areas changes into a grassland vlei, which is believed to have been a riverbed some years ago. There is a picnic site at Kennedy One is a lovely place to stop for lunch or tea, and there is a lovely lookout point that provides an excellent view of the landscape of this part of Hwange. The dry season, between the months of May to November, brings large numbers of wildlife to the pans at Kennedy One and Kennedy Two. Species such as wildebeest and other antelopes, huge herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra, and many more animals that can be seen congregating around the pans to drink. A plethora of Hwange-based birds can be seen at the Kennedy Pans, such as Red-chested cuckoo, Kori bustard, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Grey Crowned Crane, Secretary bird, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Oxpecker, Martial, Bateleur and African Fish Eagle, and White-backed and Lappet-faced Vulture.

Hwange National Park - Zimbabwe

Ngweshla pan

About 15 kms from Kennedy 2, the Ngweshla pan is a vast and open grassland is dotted with well over 100 white anthills that, from a distance, appear as small man-made tents. Safari visitors can see heat that rises from the ground during the hot months, and the wildlife, such as wildebeest, ostrich, zebra and impala, look at-home and healthy. Ngweshla pan is where the first borehole was dropped almost a hundred years ago. Since then, the development of nutrient-rich soil has provided the best environment for the resident wildlife, due to the salt in the clay. Birds in the area include lap-wing olive, crowned crane, yellow-billed kite, eagles, and other stork and duck species, to name a few.

Mtoa Ruins

Mtoa Ruins

The Mtoa Ruins are an archaeological site located in the northern part of Hwange National Park, which is uniquely beautiful in comparison to all other areas of the park. The Mtoa Ruins are believed to date back to the 14th century and are thought to have been the site of a major trade center and religious center for the local Tonga people, offering a fascinating glimpse into the rich history and culture of Zimbabwe. The Mtoa Ruins are situated in an isolated area of the park that is off the beaten track. Visitors will see sparse remains of stone walls, terraces, and platforms, as well as several artifacts, including pottery, beads, and metal objects. The site has been studied by historians and archaeologists, who have used it to gain insights into the culture and society of the Tonga people during the Middle Ages.