Gonarezhou National Park
Zimbabwe's second largest national park in the south east of the country is rugged, beautiful, wild, and relatively untouched.
The Gonarezhou National Park is Zimbabwe's second largest game reserve (after Hwange National Park), covering an area of about 5 000 km2 in the south-eastern section of the country, right on the border with Mozambique.
Gonarezhou was originally established in 1936, as a protected game reserve. In 1975 it was proclaimed a National Park. The park was kept closed to the public during the Rhodesian bush war and Mozambique civil war, only re-opening in 1994. Between 1994 and 2007, it was wholly managed by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA). These were tough years for the Park and the animals suffered terribly. Thankfully in 2007 the Frankfurt Zoological Society entered into a technical and financial agreement with ZPWMA to protect the natural resources of the park. This model lasted until 2017, when these two entered a new co-management partnership, forming the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust, which is now responsible for the full management of the park for 20 years.
It is one of the least visited parks in Zimbabwe and is sparsely developed, a trait which also makes it attractive for a truly wild escape. It has a true wilderness feeling which is why we love this National Park. You can read more about one of our trips there on our Gonarezhou Adventure.
It's now well managed, has jaw dropping scenery, it's wild and unspoilt by humans, has a huge diversity and population of animals and birds...couldn't be better.
Atop the Chilojo cliffs of Gonarezhou
The name Gonarezhou is attributed to the elephant populations found there. In Shona, 'nzou' or 'zhou' is the word for elephant. Gonarezhou is translated as "place of many elephants", and with eleven thousand plus elephants in the area, the name is quite fitting.
Gonarezhou - place of elephants
While the park is known for it's elephants, Gonarezhou hosts a great variety of other animal species. Predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah roam within it's boundaries, as do the herbivores such as giraffe, buffalo, hippo, kudu, sable, roan, and waterbuck to name just a few. The park is home to the healthiest Nyala population in Zimbabwe and the endangered African wild dog, is doing well and can be often be spotted.
400 different bird species have been recorded in Gonarezhou, with a further 92 species listed as likely to occur here. 13 species are described as rare or of specific interest. So it's a particularly exciting place for keen birdwatchers.
Mangrove kingfisher (photo: Nik Borrow)
Many different bird species
The landscape in Gonarezhou varies from grassland to dense bush, rocky hills to steep gorges and sandy river beds. There are beautiful spreads of mahoganies, ebonies, acacia albidas, wild mangos, ironwoods and huge baobabs.
Mesmerising Chilojo cliffs
There are many impressive rocky outcrops, but the biggest and most prominent character of Gonarezhou National Park is the spectacular sandstone Chilojo Cliffs. These red cliffs are and feel ancient, having formed over centuries of erosion. They overlook the Runde River valley in the heart of the national park and are truly a sight to behold.
View of the Chilojo cliffs of Gonarezhou
There are three major rivers that flow through the park, creating pools and waterways essential to the ecosystem and wildlife of Gonarezhou. The Save River forms the park's north-eastern boundary before weaving into Mozambique. At the heart of the park, separating northern and southern Gonarezhou National Park, the Runde River cuts right through to join with the Save near the Mozambican border. In the southern section of the park, the Mwenezi River passes through also flowing east and later flowing into the Limpopo River.
Turquoise Killfish found only in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, including Gonarezhou National Park
How to Get To Gonarezhou
Logistically, unless your are a self-drive tourist, getting to Gonarezhou is quite difficult and expensive but having said that it's not impossible, you just need to know the options available. If you would like help arranging a safari to Gonarezhou, then please contact us, we can also include this destination in an itinerary around the country.
Self-driving in Gonarezhou
Best Time to Go to Gonarezhou
Gonarezhou National Park is open all-year-round, particularly the Mabalauta and Chipinda areas. However, there are certain areas of the park that become inaccessible during the wet season, between November and April, mostly because the Runde river starts flooding and cannot be crossed, as there are no bridges - just sandy causeways. Some of the campsites will also close during this time because of this.
Rugged roads through the park
During the wet season, afternoon thunderstorms are common, followed by periods of sunshine. However, sometimes light showers can go on persistently for several days at a time. The bush thickens more and more as the season progresses, and wildlife becomes harder to spot.
In May, temperatures start to drop as the winter months of June and July approach. The wet season takes a break and the bush starts to dry up. The water levels in the rivers and waterholes starts to recede. The afternoons are warm, with temperatures of about 27°C/81°F but the night time temperatures can drop below 10°C (50°F).
In August, temperatures start to rise again, it's a very temperate and glorious time of year. Through September and October it gets hotter and drier and it's not uncommon for temperatures to exceed 40°C during October. Large concentrations of wildlife are typical during this time, with a lot of predator sightings too. This would be the best time to visit Gonarezhou National Park for great game viewing.
The rains typically arrive at the end of October or in early November and although scattered at this time, they do bring relief from the intense heat. The animals acknowledge these early rains and tend to disperse from the permanent water sources.
Things to do at Gonarezhou
Game drives - This is the primary activity of this park and is suited mostly for self-dive tourists, as there are only a couple of tour operator options. To explore the park extensively a 4x4 vehicle is essential, as there are a number of sandy river beds to cross. 4x2 vehicles will be restricted to road that runs from Chipinda pools to Chilojo Cliffs and the roads around Mabalauta.
Wildlife in Gonarezhou
Walking safaris - there are certain areas that permit walking safaris, the most interesting being the pools at Samalena Gorge
Birding - Tembawahata and Machiniwa pan are great area for birding, but the rest of the park is also excellent.
Scenic tours - Viewing points at Guluji and Chamuchanzi, the cliffs at Mwatombo and Makonde pools, and at Chilojo cliffs; Chibilila Falls on the Runde River or the Duguvi Falls on the Pambazi River.
Scenic views in Gonarezhou
Fishing is permitted in Gonarezhou, but is restricted to overnight visitors staying at these sites: Chipinda Pools, Chivilila, Runde-Gorge, Chinguli, Chitove, Nyavasikana, Rossi Pools. They can fish from directly in front of their own campsite.
Boat - Pamushana Lodge offers sunset cruises on the lake in front of the lodge; Chilo Gorge Lodge offer cruises and canoe trips when the water-level of the river are ideal.
Tours - cultural tours, visit historic sites such as the cave art site.
Accommodation in and Around Gonarezhou National Park
Accommodation options inside Gonarezhou National park are limited. The Gonarezhou Conservation Trust offers a number of campsite options throughout the park. These range from undeveloped wilderness sites to developed sites with ablution blocks.
We have gone into more detail about the kind of accommodation you will find in and around Gonarezhou National Park.
Chipinda Pools developed campsite
Bookings for campsites and chalets are made directly with the trust, through these contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp/telephone: + 263 779 788 811
Gonarezhou Bush Camps have a semi-permanent tented camp deep within the park, close to the Chilojo cliffs. This is a fully inclusive camp which includes all meals accommodation and activities. Contact us for details.
Just outside the park on the eastern Save River boundary is the very popular Chilo Gorge Lodge. Then on the northern boundary close to Chipinda Pools, in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, is the very luxurious Pamushana Lodge. Contact us for details.