Expert Reviews – Gonarezhou NP

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Home of the Grey Ghosts
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Gonarezhou is a huge park, the second largest in the country that in recent years has reaped the fruits of a long and concerted conservation initiative. Many years ago poaching devastated the wildlife here and earned the park the unfortunate reputation of being a park where big game is thin on the ground. Elephants were so seldom seen they were called the Grey Ghosts though happily, no longer. In my most recent visit the change has been dramatic as I saw more species in my first 20 minutes than I’ve seen in any other park. Particularly gratifying is the way the elephant have become far more trusting of humans. Gonarezhou is dominated by the two vast rivers along its borders, the Runde and Save which between them provide an excellent habitat for wildlife and birds including the rather odd looking antelope, the nyala, rare in Zimbabwe. There’s plenty of plains game in the vast interior making a wonderful pantry for the big predators which include a healthily growing population of wild dog, and at the confluence of the two rivers there is an excellent lodge that has extremely knowledgeable guides to take you to the best viewing spots. Don’t miss the splendidly golden burnished Chilojo Cliffs as the sun goes down which is when the animals come to drink when the river’s flowing. The excellent Chilo Gorge Lodge caters those who seek comfort while camping and 4x4 enthusiasts will be in their element here with plenty of ‘undeveloped’ camping spots along the Runde river.

Remote park on the edge of a vast wilderness
Overall rating

Tucked away in the far southeastern corner of the country, Gonarezhou National Park is Zimbabwe’s contribution to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park which also includes South Africa’s Kruger National Park and Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park. Vast though it is, Gonarezhou is dwarfed by the other two. If plans to expand the Transfrontier Park even further go ahead, it will become part of a protected area measuring almost 100,000 square kilometres.

The wildlife species which will benefit from the opening of ancient migration routes in this rugged, baobab-dotted region include wild dogs, elands, nyalas and large numbers of elephants. I was rather nervous of the elephants during my visit, having heard that they can be aggressive, but nothing untoward occurred and we had some excellent sightings of large, mobile herds. Facilities are simple, and walking safaris are possible, making this a rewarding destination for wilderness-seekers.

A Wild Wilderness on the Rebound
Overall rating

Chilojo, Chipinda, Chinguli, Chitove, Chamuluvati, Chamachinzu… the alliterative place names of Gonarezhou National Park roll off the tongue, dripping with the promise of exotic safari adventure. Gonarezhou – meaning ‘the place of elephants’ – is just that: an untamed 4,941km2 wilderness that is home to an estimated 11,000 cantankerous pachyderms and the iconic sandstone Chilojo Cliffs that tower above the Runde River.

Gonarezhou’s location and limited infrastructure have ensured that Zimbabwe’s second largest national park has remained off the radar. I have only visited this truly wild area twice, but my first visit in the mid-90s made such an indelible impression on me that I longed to return. On my most recent visit, I was very encouraged to see the impressive progress made by Frankfurt Zoological Society in rebuilding the park and its shattered infrastructure. Animal numbers are steadily increasing and the wildlife is becoming more tolerant of tourist vehicles. Endless herds of elephant and extremely vocal lions and spotted hyena dominated our excellent weeklong safari in Gonarezhou.

This is a national park worth watching closely, because I have little doubt that this rebounding wilderness will very soon feature on the safari itineraries of more than just nature lovers and 4x4 adventurers.

An exceptionally scenic park of rugged landscapes and slow-moving rivers supporting a rich variety o
Overall rating

In my opinion Gonarezhou is Zimbabwe’s ‘best’ little-known secret; it’s isolated, wild and most certainly big on scenery. Although our game drives were challenging on the rough tracks, and the animals were a little skittish, we saw a variety of species. These included waterbuck, kudu and impala, and I was delighted to see two of the park’s rarer small antelope; suni and nyala. We were lucky to watch a reasonably-sized herd of elephant, before they moved on trumpeting loudly at an astonishingly fast pace (the Gonarezhou elephants are well-known for their dislike of vehicles). Bird-watching was good too, and specials included bateleur and Martial eagles and peregrine falcon. The untamed landscape of sludgy meandering rivers and scrubland dotted with stubby baobab trees is outstanding. Without doubt, the sandstone Chilojo Cliffs bathed in beautiful coloured light at sunset is one of the best views I’ve seen in Zimbabwe.

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