Huge granite masses – seamed, split, shaped and sculptured by time and the elements – form an array of giant whalebacks and castellated kopjes that cover 3000 square kilometers of Matabeleland South Province.Much of the country’s history has been written and played out within the confines of the Matobo Hills – from the time thousands of years ago when ancient bushmen used the granite faces as a canvas for their unique and extraordinary art, to more recent times, when black and white met in war and peace.
These are the Matobo Hills, located south of Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. Forty thousand years ago the caves and crevices carved out of these rocks became home to Zimbabwe’s earliest inhabitants, the “San”. Twenty thousand years later “San” artists began painting on the walls of caves and rock shelters, using special pigments and natural minerals that have survived the onslaught of climate and time.
Many caves contain superb galleries of Bushman paintings, one of which is Bambata, located no more than 10km from Big Cave Camp. Other Bushman paintings may be seen on the private wilderness in secluded caves and rock shelters.
Today the Matobo Hills are a place of peace; however this area is still held in reverential awe by local communities and ceremonies continue to be performed to assist in the making of rain.
The Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe’s ancient landscape full of mystery and fascination is Zimbabwe’s largest World Heritage Site, in excess of 3,000 km2 and is the country’s only UNESCO Cultural Landscape Site.The Matobo Hills is over 3 billion years old, and has hosted mankind for the past 400,000 years. Within the historic area is found the greatest concentration of rock art to be found anywhere in the world – and this will feature in the Heritage Ride. The hills have been a retreat not just for the bushman, but for various Bantu tribes, culminating in the 1896 Uprising. The hills are a burial ground of Kings and Heroes, and a tapestry of forts and battlefields, through which we will pass. The Hills also posses the greatest variety of tree species south of the Zambezi, a diffusion of plant species, and a rich legacy of rare and unique plants. It also plays home to the greatest variety of birds of prey in the globe, the largest population of black eagle and the longest running bird study anywhere in the world. It is reputed to have the biggest leopard population to be found anywhere, and contains both black and white rhino. The largest black mambas are also found here – but we’ll do our best to avoid those! And of course at the bottom of the food chain is a huge population of dassie (rock hyrax) that sustains so much of the predator pyramid. The Rhodes Matopos National Park, or Matobo National Park, is one of the oldest in the country, with its origins in the will of CJ Rhodes who Left his Matopos estate to the benefit of the people of Bulawayo. Today we will take up that legacy and use the hills for three days of hard recreational activity as we cycle through this special place.