A four to five hour drive from Zimbabwe’s capital Harare towards the southern edge of the Zimbabwe plateau in the watershed between the Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers sits the largest and loveliest archaeological site in sub-Saharan Africa.
With its high conical tower, long, curved stone walls and its cosmopolitan artifacts, Great Zimbabwe monument attests to the existence of a thriving city that may have dominated trade and culture throughout southern Africa sometime between the 12th and 17th centuries.
Its unique architecture and sculpture—particularly the enigmatic birds carved from soapstone—speak a rich history, one that archaeologists continue to piece together today. The country of Zimbabwe—formerly Rhodesia, until its independence from England in 1980—was named from this site.
Upon arrival, one is greeted by an amazing site which is famed for being the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara second only to the Pyramids of Egypt in size and grandeur.
A visit to the ruins which are believed to have been fashioned between 1250 and 1450 AD from granite blocks gathered from the exposed rock of the surrounding hills will leave one breathless.
One cannot help but marvel at the walls which were fitted without the use of mortar, but by laying stones one on top of the other, each layer slightly more recessed than the last to produce a stabilizing inward slope.
Equally astonishing is the formidable edifice, commonly referred to as the Great Enclosure which has walls as high as 36 feet extending approximately 820 feet.
In addition to architecture, Great Zimbabwe’s most famous works of art are the eight birds carved of soapstone that were found in its ruins.
The birds surmount columns more than a yard tall and are themselves on average sixteen inches tall.
The unbelievable sculptures syndicate both human and avian elements, substituting human features like lips for a beak and five-toed feet for claws.
The first European to visit Great Zimbabwe in 1871, a German geologist, Carl Mauch, refused to believe that indigenous Africans could have built such an extensive network of monuments made of granite stone.
He assumed that the Great Zimbabwe monuments were created by biblical characters from the north.
Said Mauch: “I do not think that I am far wrong if I suppose that the ruin on the hill is a copy of Solomon’s Temple on Mount Moriah and the building in the plain a copy of the palace where the Queen of Sheba lived during her visit to Solomon,” and added,: “A civilized (white) nation must once have lived there.”
Not far from the monument is Lake Mutirikwi, formerly Lake Kyle, the largest inland man-made lake in Zimbabwe with a wide variety of fish; about 21 species.
These include Largemouth bass, Nembwe, Greenhead bream, Sabi / red breasted bream, Limpopo sardine, Three spot minnow, Spotted minnow, Straight fin barb, Mottled eel, Eastern bottlenose, Smallmouth yellow fish, Red-eye mud sucker, Catfish or barbell and Banded bream.
Anglers still enjoy fishing in the lake and angling tournaments are held along with a power boat regattas and sailing competitions.
However the frequency of these activities have declined a bit.
Bass fishing as well as boat cruises, sailing and skiing all combine to make the area a major tourist attraction.
Driving towards the north shore is the Lake Mutirikwi Recreational Park which is pregnant with amazing wildlife including three of the Big Five; White Rhino, Buffalo and Leopard.
Visitors can also sate their appetite for wildlife by seeing animals like buffalo, common duiker, eland, impala, kudu, reedbuck, warthog, waterbuck, white rhinoceros, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, squirrel, black-backed jackal, leopard, honey badger, rockdassie, hippopotamus, ostrich, crocodile and porcupine.
Some of the rarer species that grace the park include; antbear, bushbuck, bush pig, klipspringer, sable and steenbuck.
The availability of picnic sites that have ablution and fire places make the park a convenient place to be.
Visitors can treat themselves at the Popoteke picnic site, located about ten kilometres from the entrance gate and situated in the northern portion of the Park. The Popoteke gorge site adjoins a special conservation area; a gorge rich in estuarine for spawning fish.
Horse riding and guided walks around the park make a visit there an unforgettable experience.
One does not need to stress over the availability of lodges as they are located about one kilometre from the Tourist Office and are reached along a track that winds between trees and finally climbs a fairly steep granite hillside to a site that overlooks the lake.
One of the best lodges around is the Norma Jeane’s Lakeview Resort, renowned for its beautiful gardens, home-style cooking, comfortable accommodation and friendly service.
It is well-situated for a first or last stop-over in Zimbabwe if one is travelling to or from South Africa and handy for the Great Zimbabwe World Heritage Site monument.
The beautiful gardens create a birdwatcher’s paradise.