Gonarezhou is a Shona term, which literally translates to “the place of elephants”, then again, it has also been suggested that the name means “elephant’s tusk” since the area’s folklore tells of herbalists who would stock their medicines in these tusks.
Nevertheless, it all points to one thing: This is truly the home of the elephant.
It’s next to impossible to traverse the park and not sight an elephant.
So you might be thinking that during our recent visit of the park, we must have bumped into hordes of them, right?
For the course of our two-day drive in the brutal terrain of Gonarezhou, I’m sure the total was just a handful.
But that’s ok.
After all, the Gonarezhou National Park is huge — at 5 053km² it is the country’s second largest game reserve after Hwange National Park. It also forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park that links Gonarezhou with the Kruger National Park in South Africa and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.
Animals can move freely between the three sanctuaries, so perhaps the majority of the elephants had visited their kindred in neighbouring countries.
And besides, the value of anything is not indifferent to the manner of its distribution.
I guess it would have taken a lot out of the adventure had the elephants all been congregated at one place. As a matter of fact it would have been terrifying. Imagine a herd of five-tonne, twenty-four-feet long grey beasts milling and trumpeting around your vehicle.
The elephants here have a reputation for being quite aggressive, and so care should always be taken.
We now know.
At some point during our drive a bull elephant crossed the road ahead of us and shuffled in a thick bush nearby; in our hunger for elephant sightings we endeavoured to get closer, but the obviously irritated bull let out a petrifying trumpet and our vehicle darted off.
It is said that the elephants here are the biggest and meanest you’ll find anywhere, and they are not particularly fond of human beings! As one sign-post reads, albeit comically:
. . . Remember, too, that some of these elephants have a legitimate grudge against humanity and the reach of a bull elephant is such that if provoked, it would have no difficulty at all in removing you from this platform.
You need to see the size of this platform to get a full appreciation of this caution.
Thank you so much poachers!
I’m just saying though; according to national parks authorities, poaching is not really much of a problem here.
Game viewing in the area is not as plentiful as some of the other Zimbabwean parks, but Gonarezhou is home to four of the big five (buffalo, elephant, lion and leopard) as well as hippo, crocodile and a range of antelope.
I figure its level of visitation is not as much as the country’s other national parks, since we only saw very few other visitors concerned with their own game drives, but this just added to the complete wilderness feel.
Game Park for the real safari enthusiast
This is a game park for the real safari enthusiast, I must say. The game — viewing is ok, but it’s the ambience of unspoilt wilderness that really attracts.
There are two entrance points into Gonarezhou; Malabauta in the south and Chipinda Pools in the north.
The park is made up of remote undeveloped wilderness that varies from open pans of tall grass to dense bush.
It protects beautiful spreads of mahoganies, Zimbabwe’s only stands of ironwood, and tall acacia albida trees, amongst which the birdlife is prolific (particularly after the rains).
When we arrived the rains had just gone, including a fearful hailstorm that is said to have moved boulders of rock (I leave belief of this to the reader’s discretion).
Gonarezhou’s river floodplains are interspersed with lagoons and riverine forest.
The arid hinterland comprises Mopane woodland and ironwood forest as well as the Sabi Star that grows on rocky outcrops and blooms during flowering season.
Considering the rugged nature of the Gonarezhou, the presences of flora such as the Sabi Star are simply outstanding. They seem to bolt from the blue as you walk through the wilderness.
For certain moments when all the animals seem to disappear, when the wind subsides and the bush seems lifeless, these delicate flowers really come through to embody vitality unlimited.
This game park is also the only other location in Zimbabwe, apart from the Mana Pools National Park, where the shy nyala and diminutive suni antelope can be found.
One of the most prominent features of Gonarezhou National Park is the Chilojo Cliffs.
Rising a majestic 558 feet from the south bank of Runde River, the towering range of sandstone cliffs are remarkable with their stunning colour variations along the cliff faces.
The cliffs are a particular vista in bright sunlight, more so during a sunset and are said to be enchanting during a full moon (I’m yet to see them during a full moon, but will certainly properly time my next visit for the spectacle).
However, from my personal experience so far, I would suggest that the best time to view the cliffs is in the late afternoon as the setting turns the cliffs brilliant shades of red and orange — the photographer’s perfect fantasy!