Located in southeast Zimbabwe, the iconic Gonarezhou National Park is one of the most spectacular scenic regions in southern Africa. Mighty rivers set against a movie scene backdrop of terracotta colour sedimentary cliffs, gives rise to jaw-droppingly beautiful vistas. Spanning 5,000 square kilometres of Jurassic-style terrain punctuated by avenues of baobabs, Gonarezhou truly is the King of stark and dramatic landscapes.
Famed for its significant number of Tuskers and abundant populations of wildlife makes Gonarezhou National Park a premier safari destination in Zimbabwe. The Runde, Save and Mwenzi Rivers cut through the valleys, drawing in abundant birdlife, while the tracts of mopane woodlands attract big breeding herds of elephants.
Untamed Gonarezhou appeals to visitors seeking a varied safari experience that detracts from the crowds. Anything from game drives to 4WDing, fishing trips and exploratory walks are all possible in the park, making it perfect for a rugged adventure.
Gonarezhou is a secluded destination but is home to lodges with private airstrips. The closest international airport is Victoria Falls Airport, which is a five to six-hour road trip. Charter flights from Victoria Falls to the park can be arranged.
The tusks of the big elephant bulls in Gonarezhou are the biggest in Zimbabwe. The tusks of these beasts weigh in excess of 40 kilograms each.
Despite its spectacular beauty and wildlife, less than 10,000 visitors travel to Gonarezhou annually. There is, therefore, more than enough space for animals and humans alike.
The Big Five are located within the national park, with the rhino being the only species that is no longer found in the area. Because the park is relatively uncrowded, wildlife isn’t habituated to game viewers and humans; resulting in skittish behaviour.
However, there are high densities of elephants, especially large Tuskers. In conjunction with elephant sightings, visitors tend to spot roan, sable, giraffe, wildebeest, hippo, zebra and nyala, among other species of plains game. Predator sightings include African wild dogs, lions, leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas. In total, there are 90 mammal species in the national park.
Gonarezhou is a paradise for birders. There are 400 species of bird, of which 13 are considered rare. Lesser-spotted eagles, fork-tailed drongos, white-fronted bee-eaters and Diderick cuckoos are commonly sighted. The wooded areas are also home to breeding sites for lappet-faced vultures. There are also many fish species within the river systems, particularly at the confluence of two rivers. These species include flying fish, Zambezi shark and the small-tooth sawfish.
The dry season is from April to October, which is peak safari season. This is the time of year when the vegetation is sparse, making it easier to view resident wildlife. It's generally sunny with clear skies, but there is the typical early morning chill synonymous with low-lying areas in the valley.
November to March is notoriously rainy and humid and is considered the wet season. This is not a popular time of year to visit, but the rains do replenish the landscape and bring in a wealth of summer migrant birds.
Walking safaris and guided game drives are the most popular activities within the park. Walking safaris aren’t the go-to activity, but they can be arranged. Because of the rugged and varied terrain, and predator activity, it’s best to explore the landscape in a game viewer.
The national park is also a sought-after destination for seasoned four-wheel drivers who enjoy the thrill of navigating the winding tracks surrounding Chilojo cliffs. Fishing safaris are possible in the Runde and Mwenzi Rivers, but visitors would need to camp in one the designated campsites on the banks.
There are numerous accommodation options for visitors to the park. There is something for all types of visitor. From high-end luxury lodges to self-catering lodges, and mid-range safari camps; most of the accommodation options are positioned close to the Runde and Mwenzi rivers.
Visitors need to be aware that many of the lodges close during the rainy summer months. Well- maintained campsites in prime positions hold great appeal for self-drivers and adventurers. Some of the campsites offer more amenities than others and range from being completely self-sufficient to offering wood for purchase, ablution areas and barbecue facilities.