Chilo Lodge – a must visit

Chilo Lodge, Chilo Gorge

9-11 June 2018

Excitement was high on the morning of the 9th as the Golloways (Gie+Holloway) packed up at Chinguli camp – we were heading for a real bed at Chilo Lodge, located on the banks of the Save River, overlooking Gonarezhou. So not quite farewell to the incredible Place of the Elephants.

We crossed the Runde River at the causeway – dry sandy riverbed, then a rocky causeway through the river, but not a difficult water crossing. The road out of the park via Chipinda Pools winds its way through the most beautiful landscapes. We had one last ellie charge, a fantastic sighting of a pearl-spotted owlet, and left Gonarezhou.

A pit stop at Chiredzi for the Holloways to refuel, and for us to buy SIM cards – Very helpful young man at a EcoNet Shop guided us through the various options. We chose to buy the Daily Bundle of 1GB+1GB WIFI+IFLIX – costs 2USD per day – we paid for 5 days, then each day you go through a quick process to “purchase” your daily bundle, but you have already paid at the shop. Works very well. SIM card cost 1USD.

Anyway, the road to Chilo Lodge, once off the tar road is slow as much of it is in need of some care! We arrived to cool hand towels and friendly faces, and a delicious lunch on the terrace overlooking the Save River. Pure bliss! The various activities were explained to us – we chose to relax that afternoon, and booked the Sacred Sand Forest Bird Walk for the following morning, and a trip to Tembwahata Pan in the afternoon.

Team Golloway minus our children straight out the bush – terrace of Chilo Lodge overlooking the Save River

One can choose to self cater or have full board and lodging, which is the option we took –worth every cent. Each “room” is a thatched cottage – ours had views over the river and Chilo Gorge. The rooms are beautifully and comfortably appointed. After a wonderful shower, we spent the afternoon catching up on messages, mails and blog quietly on our veranda, listening to the hippos and birds. Dinner is at 7pm, so we meandered up to the bar for a sun downer before the drums announced it was time for dinner. Starter, main course (choice of 2 dishes) and a desert – all absolutely delicious. And a comfy night’s sleep.

Richard, Patrick and I did the morning bird walk after a full breakfast. Thomas ( I didn’t get his surname), a Shangaan who has worked at the lodge for many years was our guide for the day – a man of many talents and huge knowledge.

Thomas explaining the ways of life in the area

Chilo Lodge is located in the Mahenye Ward, and with the assistance from the EU and other benefactors, a large section of this land has just been game fenced, gate buildings and a reception/office and information centre built, for a community run game reserve. Once the fencing is complete, the stocking of game will begin, which should be during the course of this year, I think.

The resource centre to be in the new reserve

Beyond the reserve to be is Mahenye Village. Thomas told us much about the history of the area, the culture of the people and how this all linked to the developments that have occurred there. The long and short of it is that Mahenye was the first area to implement the CAMPFIRE Project – Google it – it originated in the area and it was a ground-breaking concept in conservation – allowing the local community to have ownership of the game, thus earn an income from the wildlife, therefore they conserve it.

The tree, a pod mahogany, under which the CAMPFIRE programme began – local community met with authorities to sort out the poaching problems

The area is given quotas each year of the species that can be hunted. Trophy hunters then pay for the hunt, pay extra to keep the skin etc for taxidermy, but all the meat goes to the community. The majority of the money for the hunt is also paid to the community. The village of Mahenye now has a well-run clinic, buildings for their schools, as well as some other projects all funded initially from the proceeds of CAMPFIRE. I knew about the CAMPFIRE programme, and it was very special to see exactly where it all originated from, and Thomas’s family were involved to a great extent to.

The school buildings were partially funded from the CAMPFIRE programme

The Sacred Sand Forest is on the edge of the village, and is home to beautiful trees and diverse birdlife. We walked along a path through the thick forest, listening for birds.

Honey comb protruding from a hive in a baobab tree. There are pegs in the tree which act as a ladder for people to harvest the comb – the people always leave some for the bees
The ancient enormous Nyala Tree, probably between 2000 and 3000 years old

We were so lucky and had sightings of 2 Gorgeous Bushshrike, yellow-breasted apalis and a green malkoha, thanks to Thomas’s knowledge of the calls and tracking them down.

Yellow-breasted Apalis
Gorgeous Bushshrike in full song

The walk ended with a cup of coffee and home-made biscuits, while watching a herd of cattle emerge from the forest, herded by a couple of youngsters.

Lunch was waiting at the Lodge on our return. I decided to relax in the afternoon, and Sue, Patrick and Richard went on the trip to Tembwahata Pans. This meant being ferried down to a boat to cross the Save River, and then enter Gonarezhou from the water.

Sue & Patrick coming back from the outing
Tembwahata Pan – named after the cloth that the local women wear to support wait on their heads. These were used to carry all the fish that were caught traditionally in this pan.

Chilo Lodge have vehicles kept at the Ranger’s station there. Another fantastic outing my our knowledgeable guide, Thomas, who was a fountain of information on the different trees, animals, other plants and birds we encountered.


Angry Mommy elephant – the herd were very protective of the very small young.
Thomas with one of his favourite old Baobab trees

We stopped for sun downers and snacks at Chilo Gorge’s private tented camp in the reserve, and then headed back to the Lodge just before sunset.

Another lovely evening, enjoying a glass of wine around the fire, another delicious dinner, and to bed. Chilo Lodge is located in such a beautiful spot and has been designed to fit and blend in with the landscape. The décor is subtle but detail is everywhere.

Carved Leadwood pillar – after these trees die, the wood lasts another 500 years or so!
View down the Save River. The local community come out onto the sand backs to do their washing

The people are wonderful, helpful and happy. Thank you Gillian, Richard, Thomas and team for a very special stay. We are happy to recommend Chilo Lodge anytime. By the way, it is possible to fly in as there is a little airstrip just up the road.