Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe
2-9 June 2018
Bush camping in designated camping areas
Gonarezhou means Place of the Elephants, and boy, does it live up to its name. This park is a must see for those who have a 4×4 vehicle, or can join a safari type trip to the park. The scenery is beautiful – diverse vegetation zones, and interesting geology. Gonarezhou is bounded by the Mwenezi River in the west and the Save River in the East. The Runde River flows through the reserve, and all three of the campsites, Hlaro, Chitove and Chingule are all located on different parts of the river. The southern boundary of the park is along the Mozambique border.
We drove from Swimuwini, leaving around 9 am and reached Hlaro campsite around lunchtime, traveling along the “central” road (junctions 22, 19, 18, 17, 16, 12 & 13). Just before we arrived at Hlaro campsite we spotted a leopard jump down from a tree and disappear into the bush after some impala. My first wild leopard sighting! Hlaro is a beautiful campsite located on elevated river bank with a view up to the Chilojo cliffs in the distance.
We set up camp – Klippie even got her little tent attached to her, so we had a very comfortable little house for 2 nights. It is also wise as we heard lion, hyaena and jackal, never mind the ellies and hippos on our doorstep. We spent the whole of the next day relaxing at the site, watching the world go by, pottering, reading, trying to bake bread. Lovely day. Definitely a campsite worth spending time at.
Next was Chitove Campsite – further along the river, but to get there, one drives away from the river, over the top of the Chilojo cliffs, and down the other side, back to the river. What a beautiful drive. The viewpoints on the West and East side of the cliffs offer breath taking views over the Runde River valley, and we could see the tree under which we camped at Hlaro.
Chitove is another winner – it is in its own little amphitheatre where the game parade past you at the top of a rocky mini-cliff, while you are the observed ones at the bottom. Again, the campsite is on an elevated part of the river bank, and here one is allowed to fish if yo have bought a permit. Happy husband. First though, we had to set up camp…it was a bit drama-filled, as we underestimated how sandy the site is, and the long and short of it is that Klippie nose-dived off the bakkie. Took as about an hour to get her back on the bakkie and find the best part of the campsite to redeploy our home for 3 nights. It was almost dark by the time we were set up – all part of the adventure.
Rich and I awoke to a parade of nyala, baboons and impala walking along the top of the amphitheatre while we watched curled up in our rooftop tent. Just special. Time to fish! Despite the 47 crocs Sue and I counted in the vicinity of the campsite, and the hippos lolling in the water, Richard was undeterred, and proceeded to catch 3 tiger fish and a barbel /catfish over the next 2 days.
In the afternoon, the 2 men and I went on a game drive. Beautiful open wooded Savanna, and then scary closed thick Mopane – many unhappy ellies – we were threatened and charged numerous times. I eventually made Patrick sit in the front seat – my nerves were shot and I was hiding under my kikoy after a while. Did see some lovely birds including a firefinch, but I was totally relieved to be back at the campsite.
Must have nerves of steel and loads of patience to cope with the elephants of Gonarezhou. These animals have serious long term memories, and are rightfully extremely weary of humans post civil wars, poaching and hunting. Apparently they are a lot calmer than they were. After a relaxing next day in the camp, fishing, cooking a curry, bird watching and catching up with my diary, we headed to our final campsite…
Both Hlaro and Chitove have a long drop loo – very clean and unsmelly and either a fire pit or braai area. No ablutions, no water, take firewood.
Chinguli. Again, on the Runde River, but this time overlooking a rocky part, so there are pools and small rapids, with a small cliff on the opposite bank. Just stunningly beautiful. This camp has 4 sites, with sites 1 and 3 with river views, 2 and 4 slightly set back, but still very nice. We were at 3 and 1. There is a squeaky clean ablution block with a flushing loo and a wonderful solar powered hot shower. Luxury! Each site also has it’s own lapa with seating area, and a braai facility. You can get wood at this camp too from the attendant, Peter. Also water available from taps at each site – it is river water, so it must be boiled if you plan to drink it. Bilharzia is in the river. The camp is unfenced. We relaxed there for the next day – the Holloways went on a game drive and to try out the river crossing we would all have to do the next day. All good.
We left Gonarezhou on the 9th – via Chipinda Pools and headed for a break from camping at Chilo Lodge. Gorgeous drive, again through undulating bushveld, and had amazing sightings of a klipspringer family, a final elephant charge, a pearl-spotted owlet.
Gonarezhou offers bush camping at its best – a life-time experience that is difficult to explain – all the senses are opened, you are tested in so many ways, and somehow you experience such peace. I hope the elephants are able to relax more over time when they know that in the park they are mostly safe from hunting and poaching. Outside of the park it is a different matter. Unfortunately we did not encounter the famous wild dogs, which are now breeding successfully in the park. There are 450 lions – we heard them most evenings, but no sightings. Magnificent kudu, zebra, warthog, baboon, jackal, leopard, and the birds are really spectacular.