Gonarezhou - Land of Elephants
Source: Cable & Grain
Gonarezhou National Park lies in the lowland region of the southeastern section of Zimbabwe, along the border with Mozambique. It covers approximately 5 000km2 and is intersected by the Save, the Runde and the Mwenzi Rivers. These rivers spill over to form pools and wetlands, attracting the area’s game and bird life.
The reserve gets its name from the huge elephants that roam the area. These giants are well known for being the largest (and apparently the grumpiest) tuskers in the region. Gonarezhou has a very healthy populations of lions, leopards, cheetah (the extremely rare King cheetah included) and a bird list of over 350. Animals and birds aside, Gonarezhou is celebrated for its magnificent scenery and rugged terrain.
Towering stands of ironwood and mahogany trees intersperse this untamed wilderness, with the iconic baobab trees lending an air of ancient mystery to the place. One of the most prominent and enduring natural features of Gonarezhou is the beautiful Chilojo Cliffs. These red sandstone precipices overlook the scenic Runde River valley, and offer awe-inspiring panoramic views over the woodlands below.
The guides in Gonarezhou are fantastic, and many of them are involved in the wildlife research and conservation that happens on the reserve. Most of them are also birding enthusiasts, so do not be alarmed if one of them dives off into the shrubbery to locate some lesser-known, almost-impossible-to-identify migratory bird that is hidden in there!
Gonarezhou has an interesting modern history. It was closed to the public for many years during the Rhodesian war and the Mozambican civil war, and only re-established its reputation as a tourism attraction in 1994. Since then, huge funding and involvement from international experts have put Gonarehou back on the map. It is a conservation success story that ecologists all over Africa look to as an example.
Gonarezhou is bordered by two other game reserves in two different countries: the Kruger National Park in South Africa, and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. A plan is in motion to join these three parks to form a mega transfrontier reserve, already named the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier National Park, allowing animals to move freely over the country borders, resuming their age-old migration patterns that were blocked off by human settlement.
The dry season from May through to October is definitely the time to visit the reserve for a best overall game viewing experience. It brings cooler temperatures, spectacular sunsets, concentrated game viewing around water holes, and the bush is less dense, making animal spotting easier.
It is a more comfortable time of year to take advantage of activities such as game walks or fishing expeditions, and game drives generally can continue longer into the day before the heat builds in intensity. During the wet season, most of the reserve is waterlogged and impossible to navigate, but certain parts do stay open. If you can manage the midday temperatures, it is a good time to come birdwatching.