Trekking White Rhino By Foot In Matobo National Park

After an action-packed two days living like Queen’s in our upgraded log cabins in Livingstone, it was time to bid farewell to Zambia and cross the border into Zimbabwe. Tonight we will be staying at a campsite in Bulawayo which is our base for Matobo National Park. The campsite is extremely basic with a fire that needs to be lit to heat up water for showers – if you miss out on the hot water, it’s an ice cold shower for you!

The ground is damp tonight. It’s been raining here in Bulawayo and although this may seem like a relief from the extreme hot conditions we’ve been experiencing this last week, it only makes it more humid and difficult to get to sleep at night. The sound of rain pelting down onto my canvas tent however, sends a calm and content feeling running through my body and is oddly enough, welcoming.

MATOBO NATIONAL PARK

Matobo National Park contains some of the most majestic granite scenery in the world, and has great culture and religious significance. The rock formations are breathtaking. By looking at them, you’d think they’d have been sculpted and arranged to sit the way they do, although it’s quite the opposite. In fact, they were formed by imperceptible erosions over two thousand million years. After seeing this, I am secretly confident that this is where Pride Rock from The Lion King is!

Rock formations Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe

The park is famous for outstanding views, wildlife and its bushman painted caves. The Matobo Hills boasts one of the highest concentrations of rock art anywhere in the world. It gained its UNESCO World Heritage status principally on the rich cultural diversity of this area.

The cave paintings are extremely well preserved and date back at least 13,000 years. They are very similar to the Aboriginal cave art I’ve seen before back home in Australia. The images are naturalistic interpretations of people, animals and trees left by the bushmen. The paintings are associated with hunting and gathering. Our guide informs us that bushmen were always on the move, so they’d paint the food sources (whether it be trees or animals) that can be found in that area to share with their fellow bushman. When they move onto their next destination and a new bushman occupies that space, by looking at the paintings left on the cave wall, they now know what they have available to them within close proximity. Extremely clever if you ask me.

Cave Paintings Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe

Outside of the cave paintings, the Matobo wilderness area is a specially protected area for both white and black rhino. Matobo Hills has the last significant population of rhino in Zimbabwe, and the best way to view and photograph these rare creatures is with a professional guide on foot…

TREKKING WHITE RHINO BY FOOT

I’ll be the first to admit that when I found out that we were trekking white rhino by foot in Motobo National Park, I almost had a mini heart attack.  Who in their right mind would walk up to a wild rhino in its natural habitat and just chill by it?!?! Me, that’s who!

While driving along in an open safari vehicle, our guide receives a radio call that two white rhinos have been spotted near by. We head towards the location, park the vehicle, and start our journey on foot to check these big fellas out. Our guide warns us to not make any sudden movements or any loud noises – we don’t want to startle the rhino and cause them to charge at us… because oh, you know, I don’t think my travel insurance would cover that!

Within seconds, two white rhino come into view behind some small trees. A twig is basically what is protecting me right now and God knows this ass is way wider than that. Oh sweet Jebus.

Trekking White Rhino by foot in Matobo National Park

Our guide whispers to us that we are moving closer. Superb. I let other members of our group take the lead so they can be the first to get trampled if the rhinos do decide to charge. Once trampled, hopefully they will act as a distraction to them, giving me time to get back to the safari vehicle and escape. Yes, this is exactly what is running through my mind as we slowly inch closer and closer towards them…

Trekking White rhino by foot in Matobo National Park

You’ll notice that as we get closer, it becomes clear that these rhinos have no horn. Park rangers cut off the rhinos horns to protect them from poachers. They do this is a way that is non-threatening and painless to them. Poachers on the other hand, hack away at the rhinos face (usually with a chainsaw) to ensure they can get every little bit of horn possible. They’ll hack deep into the rhinos face, leaving them to bleed to death. Rhino horn can fetch up to $65,000 per kilogram on the black market (a value higher than gold), so every gram counts to them. This is such a disgusting act of cruelty that it sickens me to the stomach.

Enough of that though. We are now maybe three or four metres out from these guys. We stop and admire them for a few minutes while our guide makes rhino-calling noises with his mouth. He says this is to calm them, but really I think he wants to bring them closer to us. He is so kind and thoughtful. He tells us that it’s a bit like being invited over to someones house and never wanting to overstay your invite, however this time he thinks we should, so up we get to move closer.

And then this…

OH. MY. GOD.

Trekking white rhino by foot in matobo national park

We are face-to-face with them now, two metres out at most. One slowly turns to look directly at us. A small part of me dies inside. This entire African adventure has been crazy and wild, but I’m not sure my heart has beat this hard out of my chest to date. I am terrified. So terrified in fact, that my knees get weak. This is not good for my master escape plan if they do decide to charge. In my head, I know this is one of those once in a lifetime type experiences, but I can’t help but think how badly I just want to be back and safe in our safari vehicle. I realize I’m probably never going to do this again, so I calm myself down and take in the few minutes we have left to admire this rare, beautiful sight.

Intense but amazing.

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