By Dr Kate
An unforgettable excursion to a little-known wild and remote corner of Africa
The Gonarezhou National Park, meaning “Place of the elephants”, is one of 11 national parks in Zimbabwe and is situated in the south-eastern Lowveld of Zimbabwe. It covers an area of approximately 5 000 km2 and was proclaimed a national park in 1975, although some sections were already designated as a game reserve in 1934. The reserve forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park.HOW DO I GET THERE? 2BWild Safaris will work closely with you to plan your personalised itinerary, providing you with routing, and undertaking all your reservations, including guided self-drive adventure trails in the area.
Our party of six adults, three children and three 4WD vehicles were advised to stay in Punda Maria, northern Kruger National Park, by 2BWild Safaris, for our first night in order to exit through the Pafuri border post the next morning – destination Mabalauta Camp, Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe!
This route took us along the north-western edge of Mozambique, across two major rivers – the Limpopo and the Nuanetsi – making two border crossings en route, to Chicualacuala. It took us MUCH longer than we’d anticipated and we were quite anxious as the border post closed at 6pm – but we made it! (Moral of the story: allow plenty of travel time leeway in your escapades). The Mozambique side was super easy and the Zimbabwe side very friendly, albeit somewhat longer to process.
It was getting dark as we headed into Zim. The park staff were so friendly and radioed ahead to Mabalauta to let them know we were on our way. We were shown to our campsite and they had kindly lit the “donkey-fire” for us so that we could have a warm shower. Our campsite was right on the banks of the Nuanetsi river under a huge canopy of trees. We heard very odd noises only to discover they were made by a massive fruit bat. Nyala were grazing just down the bank and we heard hyena which sounded very close.
The next morning we headed for the exclusive Hlaro Camp (exclusive camps cannot be used by any other visitors, nor may anyone enter the campsite). Again, darkness was falling as we drove into camp. We were getting quite adept at putting up camp in the dark. We could hear hippo nearby with one lying on the river bank about 200 metres from camp. The next morning we were greeted with the sound of lions roaring and the amazing sight of the sun rising over the Chilojo Cliffs. A little later we saw two young male lions on the riverbank downstream.
We headed down to Bhenji Weir, passing the one and only car we saw the ENTIRE time we were in the park! We saw two baby jackal frolicking in their den as well as a number of elephant. Bhenji Weir was a great viewing site comprising a double-decker viewing platform enabling visitors to see all the way down to the weir and up the valley. We were privileged to see a large herd of sable coming down the valley to drink. After a tasty brunch we set up our hammocks and had a snooze in the shade before heading back, crossing the Runde river at Bopomela then driving up to the Chilojo Cliffs viewpoints which provide a magnificent view of the entire Runde valley. The highlight here was our sighting of a pair of Verreaux’s eagles.
The next day we started a slow trek towards another exclusive camp, Chitove. We enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast at the west viewing point of Chilojo Cliffs and from our vantage point we saw plenty of game including buffalo, kudu and elephant. We carried on to the east viewpoint and saw about six different herds of elephants amongst the Mopane forests and on the plains. The Chitove campsite was breathtaking, right on the river, which was patrolled by resident crocs and hippo. Fishing is allowed in Gonarezhou and the guys decided to try their hand in one of the pools upstream, managing to land a fair sized Tiger fish.
The following day, we headed off towards Machaniwa Pan and saw a plethora of game – eland, warthog, zebra, baboons and a large elephant bull. The pan was stunning with plenty of birdlife – African jacana, white-faced ducks, herons and many more. Here we cooked up a delicious meal on the skottel before making our way across the Runde river towards Gayiseni campsite and the confluence of the Runde and Save rivers. The road to Gayiseni turned out to be little more than an elephant path, completely overgrown with palms, and without Tracks4Africa telling us we were there I’m not sure we would have known! From here we headed back via Tembwahata Pan and again saw loads of game with many rafts of hippo! The weather was quite cool, so many of the hippo were in the shallows which made for some great pics. The baobabs around here were stunning. We crossed back over at the Chitove water crossing after seeing more game.
The following morning we struck camp and headed back along the river, the highlight of the drive being a sighting of three young lions! Lunch at Chilojo Cliffs picnic site with a sighting of large elephant bull and also a large herd of ellies with very small calves coming down to drink. As we neared the Chipinda Pools camp the amount of game increased and we saw herds of elephant, zebra, impala and kudu. The sun was again setting as we headed down the final hill to Chipinda, giving us a stunning view of the Runde valley with the broken bridge way off in the distance. The campsite at Chipinda Pools was very well appointed with newly-refurbished ablutions, hot water and a thatched lapa dining area. We were welcomed by a small Mozambique spitting cobra but he soon moved off. Great excitement – two of our party nearly walked smack bang into the resident leopard as they were leaving the bathroom!
Next day we were really sad to leave. Heading south across the Runde crossing to extend our adventure and following Tracks4Africa to try and keep off the main road as much as possible, we stopped for an obligatory “G&T” under a baobab along the way! We were welcomed at the Elephant and Lion Motel, although it felt very strange not to be putting up the tents!
This safari was a truly fantastic experience – a trip of lifetime. And the staff in the Park went out of their way to make our stay as enjoyable as possible.
CHECKBOXHOW DO I GET THERE? 2BWild Safaris will work closely with you to plan your personalised itinerary, providing you with routing, and undertaking all your reservations, including guided self-drive adventure trails in the area.
BEST TIME OF YEAR
The ideal time is June to August when the Limpopo is at its lowest and temperatures are mild to warm.
You will need to be completely self-sufficient. 2BWild will book a self-drive 4×4 for you if required, as well as provide you with a comprehensive Trail List with everything you will need, depending on where you choose to stay, and the time of year.
For overseas or local visitors wishing to fly in to Chilo Gorge 2BWild will book your flights and accommodation and arrange transfers.