October 10, 2017
A few months ago a client went to Gonarezhou National Park. He is an excellent wordsmith; so sit back and take a few moments to enjoy his evocative prose on the road less travelled.
Every so often, one gets a glimpse of how Africa used to be. The sweeping vistas so beloved of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, epic landscapes in which man’s insignificance is underlined by a profusion of wildlife and seemingly endless swathes of virgin bush. Sadly, such sights are ever more rare across the continent. But in the deep south of Zimbabwe, the spirit of old Africa is alive and kicking. A visit to magical Chilo Lodge and Gonarezhou, offered the chance to rekindle a seemingly lost world.
Like all worthwhile destinations, it takes time to get there. We flew in, an hour and a half or so’s charter flight from Harare, passing at first over agricultural land and then much wilder country before dropping down to an airstrip evidently carved out of thick bush.
Met by Clive Stockil – Chilo’s founding father and an iconic figure in African conservation – and his superb team, a short drive took us to the lodge and to what is surely one of the most stupendous locations anywhere in Southern Africa, overlooking the gorge cleaved by the Save River and across to the wild lowveld of the national park. Elephants, hippos and crocodiles busied themselves on the sandbanks below, a hint of what we would see once properly out and about.
During the dry season the safari vehicles have no problem traversing the river to reach the park, but there had been unseasonably heavy rain shortly before our visit and so we had to cross the Save – nonetheless very shallow in places – by boat, jumping out and dragging it over sandbanks and then scrambling up the sandy bank on other side, where a second vehicle awaited.
Here the park proper begins and within seconds of each drive we were encountering our first animals, almost invariably Elephants. Gonarezhou is stuffed with them, some 12,000 in total. However, the adults can be decidedly spiky ¬– some have sought refuge in the park from neighbouring Mozambique, where poachers have had a crack or two at them. Pachyderm memories die famously hard of course, and some of those we encountered were at best skittish if not downright truculent. Exciting moments were never far away.
One afternoon we were exploring the riverbank on foot, checking out a Carmine Bee-eater colony and enjoying a Martial Eagle perched on a dead tree. Time drifted by, Africa style, and we returned to our vehicle to find that up to 100 elephants had moved into the immediate vicinity, emerging out of the bush and striding towards the river.
We were basically surrounded, hemmed in between elephants and water – somehow never a good place to be. Clive’s intimate knowledge of elephant behaviour and impressive bush-driving skills saw us to safety, but only after we were forced to take evasive action by crashing off through the thorn scrub to escape from a particularly persistent matriarch determined to see us off her patch.
There were plenty of other animals to enjoy – Impala and Greater Kudu aplenty, plus Waterbuck, Zebra, Giraffe and Wildebeest. Buffalo were especially numerous, with some large herds and also massive lone bulls often seen wallowing in mud out on the pans. Always interesting for someone like me reared on safaris in East rather than Southern Africa were the Nyala, especially the mature males complete with shaggy dorsal crest, chest fringe and majestic lyre-shaped horns. Equally engaging were the Steenbok, nervously darting about in the understorey of the thorn scrub. Always about to be someone’s next meal.
Talking of which… “Oh, you’ll be very lucky to see any of the big predators in Gonarezhou,” I was airily told by an old Zim hand in advance of my trip. Well, maybe we were, but saw them we did and the sightings were impressive by any standards. On our first day we encountered a magnificent blond-maned lion, belly full and resting in the shade of bushes on the edge of a pan. A careful approach gave us stupendous views as he peered at us through the foliage. Days two and three turned up Wild Dogs, that quixotic harlequin of the African bush. Gonarezhou is home to several packs. Three just trotted past us one morning, barely deigning to pay any attention, and the next afternoon we found four of them enjoying a mud bath out on the Tembwehata Pan.
Unbelievably, such highlights were eclipsed by the dramatic events of the following day. We had been on a full day’s drive to the epic multi-coloured sandstone Chilojo Cliffs – Zimbabwe’s Grand Canyon ¬– and were wending our back to the lodge when suddenly a yellow and black flash shot up out of a gully next to the vehicle: a huge male Leopard. We must have surprised him, as he ran across in front of us and vanished into a patch of scrub.
No sooner had he disappeared from sight than he charged out again, now with a troupe of furious Baboons in hot pursuit. Screaming and with teeth bared, they chased him across the open clearing right ahead of us, his long pied tail thrashing behind him, incredibly almost as long as his body. With massive bounds, he outpaced the Baboons and ran up a ridge, pausing for a split second on the top to look back over his shoulder at us – and them – before disappearing for good. Breathless, we fell back into our seats. Another amazing Chilo moment.
Community-led conservation is at the forefront of Chilo – Clive grew up among the local Shangaan and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the benefits of wildlife conservation and eco-tourism reach local people in a meaningful and sustainable way. Delivering this is not always easy but here it is working.
During our four days at Chilo we saw no other vehicles in the park. It felt like “old Africa”, and that alone is a reason to go back.
NB prices shown were current at the time of writing the newsletter and are not necessarily current now.
Please ask for an updated quote.
- A Sense of Place – Can the muppets save a species?
- Trio of treats (Rajasthan, Maldives and Garden Route)
- A Sense of Place – A favourite place: Tanzania and Ruaha
- A Sense of Place – A favourite place in Botswana: the Okavango with elephants galore
- A Sense of Place – Here be dragons and a dark past
- A Sense of Place – Justice Regained
- A Sense of Place – Summer rains make the roads impassable
- A Sense of Place – ‘Those two ladies put light in my future.’
- A Sense of Place – The bird who lost its nest
- A Sense of Place – Talking with the Maasai
- Newsflash: first American guests to Tanzania since March 2020
- A Sense of Place – AFRICA NEEDS YOU
- Escape to Italy?
- Covid: the road still to be travelled.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 3): Tiger reserves.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 2): Khajuraho.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 1): Lucknow.
- A Sense of Place – Engaged people may save the planet
- A word on lions and a trio of treats
- A Sense of Place – India’s most holy city
- A wealth of wilderness walks in Namibia
- Travel snippets from Miles
- A trio of treats on the green island of Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago
- A Sense of Place – THE INSIDE TRACK on Cape Town guiding
- A Sense of Place – Migrations of people and beasts: East Africa
- A Sense of Place – An era of revolution and global alliances
- A Sense of Place – A walk on the wild side
- A Sense of Place – The ghost ingredient is back
- A Sense of Place – Liuwa Plains and Kafue National Parks – Zambia
- A Sense of Place – Literati in the Pink City, the Capital of Rajasthan
- A Sense of Place – A Tamil town still connected to Europe, Art Deco architecture, and temple antiquity in Southern India.
- A Sense of Place – Dreamy aquamarine sea and stunning safari with the Makuleke people
- A Sense of Place – A trio of lovely ladies in Hyderabad
- A Sense of Place – Entamanu, the wishing tree and walking with the Hadza tribe.
- We get you to places that others don’t… St Helena, Gt Zimbabwe ruins and Papua new Guinea
- A Sense of Place – Walking in the hippie hills of the Himalayas
- A Sense of Place – The Okavango: the river that never finds the sea
- A Sense of Place – The Great Rift Valley, Laikipia, Samburu warriors and Maasai Olympics.
- A Sense of Place – Escape the world in the Namib Desert
- Africa is a massive continent: a collection of 55 countries
- A Sense of Place – Zambezi Watery Wilderness
- A Sense of Place – Burma: the road beyond Mandalay
- Lake Malawi – Would you rather pay for the advertising or the experience?
- From shoe-shine boy to tourist guide in Ethiopia
- A Sense of Place – Ladakh, the Himalayas
- Dhow sailing, Lions are back in Malawi, Self-drive in Namibia
- Sacred rivers and forts, India
- Piranhas, sting rays, caimans – and still people go into the River Negro!
- Kerala, Southern India – God’s own country
- South Africa: Crucible of the rainbow nation
- Madagascar: croissants and lemurs
- Argentina vs Africa on wildlife drama
- Uganda – Gorillas and Gardens
- Mozambique & Kenya: immigration official on holiday
- Mozambique: Gorongosa and reconciliation in the bush
- Zimbabwe is ready for Tourists again
- Serengeti ecosystem and unbeatable savannah
- Lamu: crab complaining
- Kenya: circumcision
- Zambia: Ellie rescue
- Africans: always smiling
- French sketch
- Kenya: the best hosts
- First visit to Africa 1986
- Namibia, Namib Rand, Skeleton Coast and the ultimate flying safari
- A few gems off the beaten track: Fanjove Island, Tanzania; The Singular Hotel, Patagonia and Isla Palenque, Panama.
- Elephant relocation, quad bike expedition and new Sossusvlei reserve
- Templed out in Tamil Nadu and elephant refuge in Jaipur
- Kenyan sanctuary and family run camp in Zambia
- Australia: Arkaba, Tasmania and Lord Howe Island
- Australia: in the outback and off the beaten track
- India: heavenly Himalayan hideaways, Botswana: fun safari for children and Argentina: hidden homestay in a mountain desert
- Limpopo retreat, Serengeti spectacle and adventure on the Zambezi
- Value for money in Kenya and the trail less travelled in Peru
- Lions in danger, free nights and a new coastal gem
- G and T on demand, hidden beach, micro-light and sleeping on a dam
- Off the beaten track