What Do The Names of Some of Zimbabwe’s National Parks Mean?

By Matobo Hills Lodge

What’s in a Name? Everything.

However, William Shakespeare, that famous writer of stories including “Romeo and Juliet,” didn’t think that names should matter very much.

He had Juliet say:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

But, many of you who are travel junkies would disagree with Shakespeare on how much a name matters because very often,  the first piece of information you have about a place is in its name.

Zimbabwe is a staggeringly beautiful country with lush forests teeming with magnificent wildlife. Away from the cities, in between kopjes (granite outcrops), rolling hills and rugged mountains lie exquisite national parks whose names are much more telling. Understanding the context in which these safari destinations are called will surely turn your next adventure into an enlightening undertaking. Here is a look at the names of some of Zimbabwe’s national parks and what they mean.


Covering about 14 651 square kilometres, Hwange National Park is the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe was named after a local chief. Hwange National Park borders Zimbabwe and Botswana. It is located on the main road between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

© Brent Stapelkamp

Home to an estimated 40,000 elephants, all the Big Five and more than 400 species of birds, Hwange National Park is one of Africa’s top safari resorts.The national park, which was home to the famous Cecil – the lion – for about 13 years, was established in 1928. Initially, it was seen as a game reserve before being accorded National Park status in 1961.


The name Gonarezhou is translated from the Shona meaning of “The Place of Elephants. “Gonarezhou National Park forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park that links Gonarezhou with the Kruger National Park in South Africa and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. The Park is home to the Chilojo Cliffs.

© Timbuktu Travel

These beautiful red sandstone cliffs overlook the picturesque Runde River. The Save and Mwenezi are two other major rivers in the Park which attract birdlife, wildlife and fish.


Chizarira National Park is the third largest in Zimbabwe. The name ‘Chizarira’ is derived from the local Tonga word, ‘Sijalila’, which means ‘Great Barrier’ and stands as reference to the imposing Zambezi escarpment which drops down to the Zambezi valley floor 500 m below. Some believe it is also the most remote wilderness area in the country.

© Jenman Safaris

The terrain is rugged; jagged mountains deeply incised by gorges and ravines. In between, the valleys and the odd open plain, you’ll find lush vegetation fed by clear natural springs.This has long made Chizarira National Park a great place to appreciate the tranquility of the African bush. Chizarira National Park is a good spot to locate the leopard – a shy creature which prefers rocky habitats.


The park takes its name from the local Matuzviadonha Hills and is a stunning combination of flat plains and rugged mountain country.The meaning of “Matuzviadonha” is “falling dung” – which was probably a comment on the sight of elephants dropping dung balls as they struggled up the hills.

© Timbuktu travel

Matusadona National Park is home to the famous Big Five and a reported 240 species of birdlife. The park is situated near Lake Kariba and is one of the few places where Black Rhino, which isn’t so easy to spot in the wild, can be seen. Matusadona is remarkably beautiful and its landscapes make it a great setting for avid photographers.


The name may have originated from matombe or madombe, meaning “the rocks,” or from matobo, meaning “bald heads.” It is said that when King Mzilikazi first saw the great bald dwalas and was told they were called Madombo, meaning simply ‘the rocks’, he said: ‘We will call them Matobo’, meaning ‘the bald heads’. This later became anglicised to Matopos. Established in 1926 it is one of the oldest national parks in Zimbabwe.

© Matobo Hills Lodge

It is believed to be home to over 200 species of trees, including mountain acacia, wild pear, paper bark tree and fig tree. There are also many aloes, wild herbs and over 100 grass species.The park has the world’s highest concentration of the African Black Eagle and leopards, both of which feed on the rock hyrax, a common resident in this balancing rock environment. Other bird species include the fish eagle, martial eagle, pied crow and Egyptian geese.


The Zambezi National Park is named after the mighty Zambezi river. A quick search on google reveals that a  submission from Zambia says the name Zambezi means the Great River. The Zambezi River originates in north-west Zambia, 1500 m above sea level and flows through six countries.This national park was split off from Victoria Falls National Park in 1979 and is approximately 56,000 hectares.The park is divided, by a road to Kazungula, into a riverine side and a Chamabonda Vlei side. At the Zambezi National Park, you can find a wide variety of large mammals such as the African elephant, lion, Cape buffalo and leopard.

© Timbuktu travel

Besides these members of the Big Five, you can also expect to see sable antelopes, eland, common zebra, Southern giraffe, waterbuck and impala. Zambezi National Park boasts of approximately 400 bird species; the African skimmer, collared palm thrush, lanner falcon, goliath heron, African finfoot, rock pratincole and long-toed lapwing are just some of the birds you can spot in the park. Aside from the birds and land animals, there are approximately 75 species of fish located in the park, which include the tiger fish.


The game reserve takes its name; Mana, from the Shona word meaning ‘Four’ and refers to the four large watering holes or pools that are formed by the Zambezi River. Situated in lower Zambezi River, Mana Pools National Park attracts quite a lot of large animals searching water supplies.This makes the park one of Africa’s most prominent spots for game viewing.

© African Bush Camps

Mana Pools is believed to hold the country’s biggest concentration of hippopotami and crocodiles.In the area, you can also expect to see other endangered species including the lion, painted dogs and cheetah and near-threatened species such as the leopard and brown hyena.  For more information and bookings you can contact us on the following: (+263) 8644 294 727, bookings@matoposhillslodge.com , https://matobohillslodge.co.zw

NZiRA Travel Zimbabwe

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