Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

Winona Griggs

Why You Should Choose Gonarezhou National Park for Your Next Adventurous Escape

Have you ever dreamt of embarking on an extraordinary journey? Well, I have discovered the perfect place for you – Gonarezhou National Park! This remarkable destination is like no other, offering an experience that will leave you in awe.

Let’s talk about some thrilling factors that make Gonarezhou National Park an ideal choice:

Untamed Wilderness

Imagine stepping into a world where nature reigns supreme. In Gonarezhou National Park, you will find yourself surrounded by vast stretches of untouched wilderness. The park’s name even means “Place of Elephants”, and you can catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures roaming freely, as well as other incredible wildlife species.

Unforgettable Landscapes

Prepare to have your breath taken away by the mesmerizing landscapes of Gonarezhou. Towering red sandstone cliffs, winding rivers, and lush green valleys paint a picture so awe-inspiring, it will forever be etched in your memory. Whether you’re a passionate photographer or simply a lover of nature’s beauty, you’ll find endless opportunities to capture the perfect shot.

Thrilling Adventures

If you crave adventure, Gonarezhou National Park has you covered. Explore the park’s many hiking trails, where each step brings you closer to hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Feel the rush of adrenaline as you embark on a thrilling game drive, where encounters with lions, leopards, and other magnificent creatures await. And for the daring souls, camping under the starry African sky is an experience you won’t soon forget.

Rich Cultural Heritage

Gonarezhou is not only a haven for nature enthusiasts but also a place rich in cultural heritage. The park is home to the Shangaan people, who have a deep connection with the land and its wildlife. Immerse yourself in their traditions and learn about their fascinating history. It’s an opportunity to expand your horizons and gain a profound appreciation for the diversity of our world.

An Escape from the Ordinary

Are you tired of the same old routine? Gonarezhou National Park offers an escape from the ordinary. It’s a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with the wonders of the natural world. Let the sounds of nature soothe your soul and the beauty of the park awaken your sense of wonder.

So, why wait? Your next rugged adventure awaits you at Gonarezhou National Park. Are you ready to embark on a journey that will leave you forever changed?

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

The use of keywords is an essential part of search engine optimization (SEO). It helps search engines like Google understand what your webpage is about and decide where to rank it in search results. But how can you effectively use keywords without being penalized for keyword stuffing?

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Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

Have you ever experienced that incredible feeling of being surrounded by untouched wilderness? The kind of place that gives you goosebumps and makes you feel truly alive? Well, that’s exactly what you can expect when you visit Gonarezhou National Park in south-eastern Zimbabwe.

2. Abundant wildlife and unique landscapes

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

At Chamaluvati campsite, it’s just a set of coordinates and a basic toilet. But that’s what makes it perfect. And just like the other campsites in the park, it’s not fenced. The photo by Scott Ramsay shows how simple it is.

We found a spot to camp close to the Chilojo Cliffs, right where the wide Runde River meets the Save River. After a long, hot day, we relaxed with cold beers and cooked our meat over a fire made with mopane wood. The night sky twinkled above us as we lay on our stretchers, drifting off to sleep. But that peacefulness didn’t last. Suddenly, the silence was shattered by a series of deep, booming roars. I jolted awake, my body flooded with adrenaline.

I pointed my flashlight towards the sound and discovered a massive male lion, standing just 30 meters away. He moved towards us with a sense of dominance. Without wasting any time, we immediately kindled the fire, and fiery flames soared into the night sky. The majestic feline halted just a few meters from us, but fortunately lost interest and descended into the dry riverbed, allowing us to have a peaceful night.

Sleep surprisingly came easily once again, and as dawn broke, we were greeted by the sight of three elephant bulls munching on branches from an apple-leaf tree nearby. The leaves fell gently around us, creating a confetti-like atmosphere. Unlike the lion, the elephants paid no attention to us and remained focused on their morning feast. I lay in my sleeping bag, mesmerized by their presence, and then turned to witness the first rays of sunlight burst across the sky above the magnificent Chilojo Cliffs. The cliffs, made of red sandstone, were truly breathtaking, shining with a radiant glow in the early morning light.

When you visit Gonarezhou, you experience something truly extraordinary – a connection with nature that is hard to come by in today’s tourism industry. Unlike the popular Kruger Park in South Africa, Gonarezhou feels like a whole different world. There are no paved roads, crowded campsites, or commercial establishments here. Instead, you’ll find rugged terrain, bumpy roads, and a remote location that adds to its mysterious appeal. Yes, it’s not the easiest place to reach or explore, but trust me, it’s absolutely worth the effort.

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2. An Abundance of Wildlife

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

In the last decade, the number of elephants in Gonarezhou has more than doubled, reaching a staggering 11,000. The park wasn’t always this popular, though. For a long time, it was considered too remote and difficult to access for tourists. In addition, the animals that visitors wanted to see had been killed by hunters and poachers. However, things have changed drastically, and the wildlife population in Gonarezhou is now thriving.

Gonarezhou, which means ‘place of the elephant’, is a fitting name for this area in Zimbabwe. The park underwent an aerial survey in 2014, which revealed that there were over 11,000 elephants compared to just 4,000 in 1994. This makes Gonarezhou the home to more elephants than Mozambique as a whole and one of the highest concentrations in all of Africa, with about two elephants per square kilometer. And the cherry on top is that Gonarezhou is also known for having the largest elephants in Zimbabwe, whose impressive size is reminiscent of the legendary bulls in Kruger National Park.

In 1979, Kabakwe was a legendary bull that became the first to receive special legal protection from hunting. He was a magnificent creature, with tusks weighing 45 kilograms each. Unfortunately, the number of elephants with such impressive ivory has declined over the years, but they still exist in Gonarezhou.

Gonarezhou is not only a sanctuary for elephants but also home to a variety of other fascinating wildlife. During my 10-day visit, I had the incredible privilege of encountering lions on four separate occasions. Their mighty roars echoed through the nights, creating a sense of both awe and excitement. The haunting howls of spotted hyenas added an eerie soundtrack to the wild, untamed beauty of the park.

But it wasn’t just the predators that captured my attention. I was fortunate enough to witness a pack of seven wild dogs, along with their adorable pups. These endangered carnivores find a safe haven in Gonarezhou, and their presence is a testament to the park’s commitment to conservation. With twelve packs roaming the area, it’s clear that Gonarezhou is a vital refuge for these magnificent creatures.

When I first arrived at the park, I didn’t see any lions or leopards for the first three years. It was quiet and gloomy in the mornings without any animal sounds. It felt really sad.

But things have changed now, all thanks to the strict anti-poaching measures. The latest survey shows that there are about 125 lions in the park, compared to just 31 in 2009. Other predators have also seen a significant increase: 642 spotted hyenas, 279 wild dogs, and 90 cheetahs.

Wow, it’s incredible how the number of herbivores has risen! In 2014, there were a whopping 8,000 impalas, 1,700 kudus, 6,000 Cape buffaloes, 1,300 Burchell’s zebras, 900 wildebeest, 500 giraffes, and 500 hippos. Sadly, some species like the roan and sable haven’t fully bounced back, and others like the black rhinos and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest are completely gone in certain areas. But overall, things are definitely looking up. The good news is that with the boost in tourism revenue, we might even be able to bring rhinos back by 2018.

3. A special feeling

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

In one memorable evening, my companions and I set up camp at Chilojo Cliffs while the full moon illuminated the night sky. As we watched, our planetary cousin gracefully descended below the horizon, leaving us in awe of the natural world.

Located alongside the Zambezi River, Mana Pools boasts its own unique beauty with its magnificent albida forests. However, visiting Gonarezhou’s Chilojo Cliffs evoked a similar feeling, captivating us with its grandeur. Stretching 200 meters above the Runde River floodplain, this 13-kilometer sandstone marvel defines the untouched wilderness of the area.

As I stood on top of the cliffs, I marveled at the majestic sight before me. The Runde River flowed south, only to collide with the imposing cliffs and redirect its path to the north, eventually meeting the powerful Save River. These two rivers give the northern part of the park a sense of uniqueness that is truly special.

Gonarezhou National Park is a place of diverse landscapes, and from this vantage point, I could see it all. The floodplains stretching alongside the Runde River caught my eye immediately. They reminded me of the ones I had seen at Mana Pools, which were located on the opposite end of the country. The vastness of these floodplains was impressive, and they attracted a wide variety of wildlife, including elephants, buffalos, and many others.

Just near the meeting point of the Runde and Save Rivers, there is a large pan called Tembwahata. This place is a magnet for animals, especially during the hot days when they seek relief in its waters. It was incredible to witness the abundance of life gathered there.

But the beauty of this area doesn’t end there. Just a short distance south of the Runde River lies another pan called Machaniwa. Although smaller, it is equally impressive. This pan is a haven for saddle-billed storks and fish eagles. I observed as these magnificent birds gracefully roamed around the muddy waters, searching for their next meal.

The confluence of the Runde and Save Rivers, the vast floodplains, and the picturesque pans all come together to create a truly enchanting experience. So, if you’re looking for a place where nature’s wonders unfold before your eyes, Gonarezhou National Park is the place to be. By visiting this unique destination, you’ll get a glimpse into the diverse landscapes and rich wildlife that make it one of a kind.

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

In the dry season, there are two pans that offer amazing sights. One of them is Machaniwa Pan, which is a great place for birdwatching. You can see a lot of saddle-billed storks there, and it’s a wonderful sight to behold. You can capture stunning photos of these beautiful birds. The photo taken by Scott Ramsay is a perfect example of the incredible views you can witness.

When you explore the basins and plateaus on either side of the Runde, you will find yourself surrounded by vast mopane woodland. It’s an awe-inspiring scene that truly captures the essence of Gonarezhou. This park is unique because it offers a diversity of habitat that you won’t find in most other parks. It’s something that sets Gonarezhou apart from the rest.

If you want to experience Gonarezhou to the fullest, there’s no one better to guide you than Anthony Kaschula. He has been running a mobile campsite in this park since 2009 and knows it like the back of his hand. He can show you all the hidden gems and make your visit truly unforgettable.

On a typical five-night safari, you get to see so much natural beauty. From rocky gorges and waterfalls to dense ironwood forests and vast floodplains, the variety is astounding. The park is also home to large sections of mopane trees and expansive sandveld woodland. And let’s not forget about the breathtaking Chilojo Cliffs and the meandering sand rivers. Everywhere you look, there’s a picture-perfect moment waiting to be captured.

4. You won’t find many tourists here

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

When the sun blazes overhead, hippos huddle together in the deeper waters of the rivers. But when the mornings are still cool, you’ll catch them basking on the sandbanks. It’s a sight to behold, captured here by Scott Ramsay.

According to Anthony, the most striking feature of Gonarezhou is its lack of tourists. “It’s not on the regular tourist route,” he explains. “While there are other wild places in Africa, many of them are overcrowded with visitors.” In this 5,000-square-kilometer park, there are only three camps available. They offer tented chalets or simple thatch-and-stone shelters with basic amenities. The rest of the park consists of remote GPS coordinates marked on a map, with a single drop toilet that can only be used by one group at a time. There are a total of 26 of these remote sites, each located far from the others.

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‘I’ve got a secret,’ Hugo whispered to me in his office at Chipinda Pools, by the park’s northern entrance. ‘But don’t spread the word, okay?’

Every year, around 7,000 people come to visit Gonarezhou. It might not sound like much compared to Kruger’s one million visitors, but just ten years ago, this place was practically empty. ‘I’m glad that tourists are coming back,’ Hugo admitted, ‘but we never expected this turnaround to happen so fast.’

During our 10-day trip, Hugo and his wife Elsabe kindly invited us to camp at the top of the Chilojo Cliffs. Just like they have been doing for countless winters, the elephants made their way down the escarpment through one of the few passes, to drink water from the Runde River below. It was a magical sight, especially with the full moon rising. In awe, we stood on the cliffs, offering our silent prayers as we watched several herds of elephants making their way down the steep path. The gentle breeze carried away our whispers and the smoke from our campfire, while the matriarchs led the way.

These elephants were completely unaware of our presence, just as they always have been. In Gonarezhou, it feels like the animals are the ones in control. It’s one of the best parks in Southern Africa, once again reaffirming its status.

What makes it a success?

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

Did you know that the central and south-western part of the park is home to most of the park’s wild dogs? They freely roam around that area, creating a sense of natural wonder. Take a look at this mesmerizing photo captured by Scott Ramsay!

But what many people don’t know is that before Gonarezhou became a conservation area, things were quite different. Back in the day, hunters would come and indiscriminately shoot elephants for sport. It was a sad time for the wildlife in this area.

Then, in the 1960s, there was a push to get rid of the tsetse fly, a pest that was spreading a sleeping sickness called nagana to both cattle and humans. To combat this, large sections of riverine and ironwood forest were bulldozed. Sadly, this also destroyed many natural pans that had taken centuries to form.

Not only that, but thousands of wild animals, including bucks, buffalo, and elephants, were shot down without any regard for their well-being. It was a heartbreaking time for the animals.

To protect the land, wire fencing was put up all around, enclosing everything within its confines. The area was also sprayed with harmful pesticides like dieldrin and DDT. These chemicals were meant to control pests, but they had a devastating impact on the environment.

When I first learned about the national park, it was a moment of pride and hope. Finally, after years of hard work, it became a recognized and protected area in 1975. The animals could roam freely, and the fragile ecosystem could start to heal.

But then, just as we were celebrating this victory, the Mozambican civil war erupted. It was a devastating blow for both humans and wildlife.

Desperate to survive, soldiers resorted to using the wire from the park’s fences to create snares. They laid thousands of them, trapping anything that ventured near. It was a painful sight to see the animals we fought so hard to protect falling victim to these cruel devices.

In addition to the snares, another tragedy was unfolding. Authorities, worried about the damage to the park’s habitat, made the heartbreaking decision to cull almost 10,000 elephants. It was a difficult choice, but they believed it was necessary to protect the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

It’s hard to put into words the sorrow I felt during those years. The park, once a symbol of hope, had become a battleground for survival.

When I think about the park, I can’t help but feel a sense of wonder. It’s not just any ordinary park – it’s a vast expanse of natural beauty that stretches for 110 kilometers. But what makes this park truly special is its border with Mozambique. Can you imagine that? A park that shares a border with another country? It’s like a meeting point where two worlds collide.

But this border is not just a physical divide; it’s a place where different realities coexist. On one side, there are hunting concessions. In these areas, people are constantly searching for food. They rely on protein to survive, and sometimes they have no other choice but to hunt. It’s a difficult situation, and it’s easy to understand why they do it.

However, on the other side of the border, there is a park. A sanctuary where wildlife thrives and nature is protected. But it wasn’t always like this. In the past, snare poaching and poisoning were common. This posed a threat to the wildlife and the delicate balance of the ecosystem. It was a difficult problem to tackle, and it seemed like there was no solution in sight.

But then something happened. Some game farms decided to take matters into their own hands. They started placing bait and water close to the border, hoping to draw the predators and elephants away from the park. This strategy had a dual purpose – it helped protect the wildlife within the park and it also provided opportunities for safari hunting in Mozambique, generating much-needed revenue for Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife.

And let me tell you, this revenue is crucial. The government doesn’t provide any subsidies to the park, so they rely heavily on tourism for funding. But with dwindling wildlife populations and fewer visitors, the funding had dried up. It was a difficult situation, and something needed to change.

Now, I know what you might be thinking – is it fair to lure wildlife away from their natural habitat? Well, it’s a complex issue with no easy answer. But what I can tell you is that this strategy has had a positive impact. Wildlife numbers are slowly recovering, and the park is once again attracting tourists from all over the world.

In conclusion, the park’s border with Mozambique is not just a physical divide. It’s a symbol of hope and partnership. It’s a reminder that sometimes we have to think outside the box to find solutions to complex problems. And if we work together, we can achieve great things.

In 2010, the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) made a deal with Zim Parks to assist the park for 20 years. The team that had already saved the wilderness was given the job to keep up the good work. The team includes conservation manager Hugo van der Westhuizen, his wife Elsabe who is an ecologist, area manager Evious Mpofu, and other Zim Parks workers. FZS now covers almost all the costs of running the park, like paying staff, providing training and food, operating vehicles, buying diesel, conducting aerial surveys, mapping vegetation, fighting against poaching, and building and maintaining roads, fences, and tourism facilities.

I have some exciting news to share! Recently, a trust was established to oversee Gonarezhou National Park, and it’s a collaboration between FZS and park officials. Guess what? I’ve been chosen as the trust director, which means I get to have the final say on all park management and decisions about tourism infrastructure. But here’s the best part: all the money generated from tourism, which is currently around $400,000, will be reinvested back into the park!

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You won’t believe it, but in the past, all that money used to disappear into some central state treasury, and Gonarezhou hardly benefited from it. But now, things are changing for the better.

I can’t contain my excitement because this is truly groundbreaking stuff! The park is now being managed by a genuine partnership, and it’s up to us to take it to new heights. I have complete confidence that together, we will make Gonarezhou an even bigger success.

Let me help you plan your trip

Getting to Gonarezhou National Park

If you’re looking to visit Gonarezhou from South Africa, there are two ways to get there. During the dry season, the more adventurous route takes you through the north of Kruger National Park. You’ll first cross into Mozambique at the Pafuri border post and then make your way along the Zim-Moz border, following the Limpopo River until you reach the Chicualacuala border post. From there, you can enter Zimbabwe and you’ll be in Gonarezhou.

If you’re traveling during the wet season, the only way to access the park is through the Beitbridge border post. Once you cross the border, you’ll drive north to Ngundu, then east to Chiredzi, and finally south to Chipinda Pools. If you’re coming from Harare, take the A10 road to Chiredzi Town, then head east to the turn-off that leads south to Chipinda North Gate.

When is the best time to visit Gonarezhou?

When it comes to visiting Gonarezhou National Park, it’s important to understand that the dry season, which occurs during winter and spring (from May to October), is the best time to go. This is when the park is most accessible, especially for those who prefer to drive themselves. On the other hand, the wet season, which takes place during summer, can present some challenges. The Limpopo, Runde, and Save Rivers tend to flood, making certain areas of the park inaccessible. Even in July or August, the Save River can still be flooded, so it’s best to plan your visit for September or October to avoid any restrictions.

What you should know

When it comes to exploring Gonarezhou on your own, you have to be fully prepared and experienced. This is not your typical tourist destination with paved roads and convenient amenities. Instead, imagine primitive campsites with untamed wildlife nearby. The journey can be quite long due to the challenging road conditions. Even crossing rivers can be a bit of an adventure, especially when dealing with thick sand.

Once you’re in the park, there are no places to buy food, water, or drinks. You’ll need to plan ahead and stock up on supplies in Chiredzi, the nearest town. However, firewood can be purchased at the entrance gates and at Chinguli camp. It’s important to note that there is no cell phone reception in the area, so you’ll truly be disconnected from the outside world.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Gonarezhou is located in a malaria and bilharzia area. To protect yourself, it’s essential to take the necessary precautions and make sure you have the appropriate medications.

When visiting the park, you’ll be required to pay various fees. This includes conservation fees of R78 per person per day, camping fees of R390 per person per night, and vehicle fees of R130 for five days. These fees contribute to the preservation of this incredible natural habitat and ensure its sustainability for future generations.

Stay here

Why Gonarezhou National Park should be your next rugged adventure

Early in the morning at Hlaro campsite, I gaze across the Runde River. The baobab trees with their soft trunks are a favorite of the elephants, and it’s no wonder – there are plenty of them here to snack on. Just take a look at this incredible photo taken by Scott Ramsay.

Now, let me tell you about Chipinda Pools. It’s located near the park’s northern entrance and offers four tented en-suite chalets with kitchens that can comfortably accommodate four to six people. But if you prefer camping, don’t worry, they have nine campsites available too. Each campsite is equipped with a thatched gazebo and communal ablutions.

If you’re interested in staying near Chilojo Cliffs, Chinguli is the place for you. They also offer camping facilities, similar to Chipinda Pools. With five campsites available, each site can accommodate up to six people and two vehicles.

(I didn’t have a chance to visit the third camp, Swimuwini, which is located in the far south-west and has nine chalets.) The best campsites are the ‘exclusive-use’ ones in the north-east of the park, on both sides of the Runde River – my favorite ones are Hlaro, Chilojo, and Chitove. These campsites can accommodate a maximum of 12 people and three vehicles, and the only facilities available are long-drop toilets. The cost for regular campsites is R650, while the exclusive campsites cost R1171. If you prefer more comfort, there are self-catering chalets available starting from R1119 for two people. For more information, you can visit zimparks.org.

Take a look at Chilo Gorge Lodge, situated on the edge of the park itself. It’s not actually within the park, but it offers incredible views that overlook the Save River and Gonarezhou. The lodge has some fantastic options for accommodation. For couples, there are self-catering villas that can sleep up to two people. And for families, there’s a spacious villa that can accommodate up to six people. The family villa even comes with a shared kitchen, braai area, and a refreshing plunge pool.

If you’re looking for a more luxurious experience, the main lodge is the place to be. It boasts a lovely pool, a cozy library, and a well-stocked bar. And when it comes to rates, you have a few options. The self-catering villas start at R1301 per night for two people. The family villa is priced at R3249 per night. For those who prefer a little more pampering, there are luxurious rooms available with full-board options starting at R1949 per person (SADC rates).

Remember that on top of the accommodation fees, there are additional charges for community and park fees. These fees start at R155 per person. It’s also worth noting that you have the option of embarking on a fly-in safari if that’s more your style.

Gonarezhou Bush Camp is my own personal mobile camp. I set it up on the banks of the Runde River, right next to the breathtaking Chilojo Cliffs. It’s the perfect place for those who want an exclusive and fully taken care of experience.

The camp is designed for just one group at a time, ensuring privacy and personalized attention. With only five twin tents available, you can enjoy an intimate atmosphere and reconnect with nature. The tents come equipped with hot bucket showers and bush toilets, allowing you to enjoy the comforts of home while surrounded by the beauty of the wilderness.

For a minimum of four nights, you can experience the magic of Gonarezhou Bush Camp for R20783 per person (R15621 for children). This price includes all meals, drinks, transfers, and guided activities. You won’t have to worry about a thing; just sit back, relax, and let us take care of everything.

If you’re looking for a truly unforgettable adventure, Gonarezhou Bush Camp is the place for you. The stunning location, combined with our top-notch service, guarantees a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to immerse yourself in the wonders of nature.

This story first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

Our April issue features a guide to the Otter Trail, the sunniest roadtrip in SA, and 12 awesome farmstays.

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