Having lived in Zimbabwe for almost 6 years now, I was pretty bummed the other day to discover during one of my random, yet habitual map-scouring episodes involving a cup of Earl Grey tea and a choccie biscuit, that there are still places out there in this wild country that I have not yet been to. Bummed, that is to say, until one of my guiding mates, Ant, called me up and asked if I wanted to help him out on a walking safari he was leading in Gonarezhou National Park. Not only would this allow me to move the green-coloured pin that has been sitting in Malilangwe Reserve on said map for over 5 years some 30-odd kilometres further south to rest quite proudly on Gonarezhou (or Gonas as it is known in these parts), but it would be enough of a super-tick to get me to temporarily forget some of the other places on my giant Zimbabwe map still sitting with red pins in them like Chimanimani, Chizarira and Chewore.
Gonas is like nowhere else I have been to… I say this not with tears welling up in my eyes, or with an emotional tie that will never be broken. No. Some people, like Ant, do feel this connection to the place, and I guess I can see why. In my case, it is simply due to this park being a huge, unpopulated, wild and woolly place which has a serious ‘spirit of place’ and which, most excitingly, is in the midst of a focused and financed recovery project thanks to the good people at FZS. What this all means is you get to really feel ‘out there’ but knowing that ‘out there’ will continue to be ‘out there’ for a long long time thanks to the efforts of the FZS and Zim Parks’ staff involved.
The other amazing thing about Gonas is the variety and scope of game and habitat within the boundaries of the park itself. This is the place of elephants (hence the Shona name) – and elephants there certainly are. Possibly too many at this stage as many large baobabs were being demolished in front of our eyes by these hungry beasts. The mystical evening light on the cliffs of Chilojo, lording over the lower Runde valley, is something not even the finest of photographers or artists can truly capture (and trust me – if my 1001 photos of the subject is anything to go by – theyhave tried!) The raptors soaring and swooping over said cliffs; grand and graceful black (Verreaux’s) eagles being shadowed by opportunistic peregrine falcons; are enough to make anyone even remotely interested in things wild and wonderful to squeal, in delight of course.
But there are other secrets, away from the more well-known cliffs and elephants of Gonarezhou… Like the game-rich valleys that follow the many tributaries down to the Runde, and the rapids higher up on the Runde which are a playground for fly-fishermen looking to hook a toothed tiger on the fly. Like the unexpected comforts of the main National Parks camp, Chipinda Pools, and the wild and exclusive experience of a private guided walking safari in remote bush camps and fly-camps. Like the palm-covered pans near the Save-Runde junction, and the stunning huge leopard-trees that line each river course. This truly is something that I was never expecting, and whilst I have always wanted to visit Gonarezhou, I never imagined I would fall for it the way I have. There is a lot more to the park than I have described here, and there is a whole southern section, even more remote and – apparently – even more appealing. I’m going to need a few more green pins in this area over the next couple of years for sure…