Little-visited Gonarezhou offers a rare opportunity to luxuriate in pristine wilderness in utter peace.
Situated in the remote southeast of Zimbabwe, the park takes its name from gona and nzhou, the Shona words for ‘tusk’ and ‘elephant’ — justifiably so, as the park teems with more than 10 000 of these majestic mammals.
Boasting 5 035 unspoilt square kilometres, Gonarezhou is Zimbabwe’s second-largest park and forms, with South Africa’s Kruger and Mozambique’s Limpopo national parks, the emerging Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLFP). Once all park fences are down, the GLFP, with adjoining conservancies and private and community land, will constitute the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, a vast 100 000km2, in which wildlife will once again range freely.
Its elephants are extraordinary, but the park’s varied landscapes will also stick in the memory — baobabs (the bizarre ‘upside-down trees’), expanses of dense, thorny bush, rock outcrops, sandy rivers, pools, waterfalls and water pans. Its most outstanding natural feature is the red-and-gold sandstone cliffs chiselled out of the plateau by the three rivers running through the park, the Runde, Save and Mwenezi. The broad riverbeds widen in parts into pools and some of the most dramatic cliffs in the park fringe Mwatomba Pool and Makondo Pool.
The spectacular Chilojo Cliffs overlooking the Runde River valley are an unforgettable spot for sundowners. This far from the ocean, visitors may be enthralled to spot the Zambezi shark among the unusual fish species found in the park’s rivers and pools.
The diverse park habitats also support lion, leopard, hyena, hippo, crocodile, African wild dog, buffalo, kudu, wildebeest, waterbuck, impala and Zimbabwe’s biggest population of the beautiful nyala antelope, with its spiral horns. The rarest of the park’s Big Cats is the distinctive king cheetah, a variant of the African cheetah.
The park is the perfect antidote to chilly northern winters – temperatures range from a warm and dry 27°C in June to 36°C or more in November to April, the wet summer season. The cooler but sunny dry season (May to October) is the best time of year for game viewing (the bush is sparser and animals congregate at the life-giving pools, rivers and perennial water pans), while the summer months bring a wonderful variety of migrant birds.
Gonarezhou is a refuge for more than 400 bird species, including the endangered lappet-faced vulture. The forested Tembahata, Machanu and Chindhlambai waterpans are especially rewarding for birdwatchers.
Gonarezhou National Park