Gonarezhou National Park

Gonarezhou three years later. Southern area

After our accidented Chipinda Pools stay, we got to Mabalauta in mid afternoon. By that time we were already famous, expected and treated like VIPs (or silly old folk?)!

A booking was indeed ready for us at the reception but, on arrival to the Swimuwini camp itself we noted that our favourite bungalow was available. Negotiations follow as it was more expensive and finally, through an additional payment, we secured it.

Not only the bungalow was comfortable but it was beautiful. It had a great view of the vast expanse of the Mwenezi River below and it also had its own “resident” baobab next to its entrance.

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Our bungalow by the river and the views from it, below.

It even had the added and valuable bonus of a bush cellular phone signal! We have learnt that cellphone signals are often found at weird places such as under the third marula tree facing the river or by placing your phone inside a cut out shampoo container hanging on the pole holding the entrance gate of a camp! In this case, the signal was obtained in the center of the backrest of the middle veranda armchair and, capriciously, nowhere else! So we were connected.

Fungisai, the camp attendant we knew from the last time, was still there as helpful as usual. This time she sported a bigger smile and she was very happy with the new park management as they were getting things done fast and their salaries were now being paid in time. There was a busy atmosphere around camp with the garden being refurbished and the various bungalows re-built. A look at the ablution block’s brass fittings’ condition further testified to the staff willingness to get on with the work!

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Taking good care of the brass fittings!

This time we had electricity and hot water at the ablutions block provided by a donkey boiler (also known as a Tanganyika boiler in East Africa) that worked great but that will soon be replaced by solar heaters. After enjoying its abundant hot water, we agreed with my wife that there are no better showers than these albeit their environmental friendship can be argued!

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The donkey full blast.

Swimuwini (Place of baobabs) is one of the nicest national park camps we have ever stayed. It is not only small and beautiful but not many people stay there. For the first two nights we were alone and only then one more family arrived the third night. I believe that this will soon change when the on-going refurbishing work gets completed.

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We spent some time exploring the camp admiring its plant and animal life. There are four bungalows that come with their own baobabs and a super tree is located at the staff village. In addition, the camp is splashed with impala lilies (desert roses in East Africa) that come in all shapes and sizes and are incredibly beautiful.

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Another special of Swimuwini is the herd of Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) that daily walks through the camp grazing and browsing on their way to and from the Mwenezi river. We remembered a rather large male from our previous visit but now, apart from it, there are at least two more young males and about ten females and young. They are tolerant of humans so we could approach them on foot and take a few pictures before they disappeared in the thicket behind the camp.

We drove many km carefully looking for game (we all know that my wife can spot anything that is there!). Impala were plentiful again but no Greater kudus were seen. A herd of about a dozen giraffe kept a prudent distance and they were seen mainly drinking in the distance down at the Mwenezi river (see above). This time we only heard jackals but did not see them but spotted three young hyenas walking around camp.

We saw a few elephant bottoms crushing through the brush and, eventually, caught a glimpse of two at the Nyamugwe pan. The sighting lasted for a minute perhaps and they were off! Clearly, despite the new management, it will still take time for the elephants to tolerate humans as it is clearly spelled at the sign that is found in Wright’s tower down the Mwenezi river, close to Malipati.


DSCN0225 wright tower Gon Aug 17 copyThe camp offered further entertainment in the evening as the baobab crumples were the home of bats that would come out and hunt for insects under our veranda light.

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The first night the camera trap -a great new addition to our safari gear- pictured a genet looking for left overs around our bungalow. In the camera we saw that it had started visiting our place between 19:30 and 20:00 hours so we decided to wait for it during the second night. We were immediately rewarded with several visits and a few (bad) pictures!

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Albeit small, the Mabalauta section of Gonarezhou offers a nice drive along the river where a few river pools can be visited. Rossi pools offer a great view of the river where patience is rewarded with the arrival of different animals to the water. While you wait you will find entertainment counting the crocodiles either swimming or basking under the sun and, when the wind stops and the ripples settle, tilapia shoals can be easily seen moving about in the shallows while tiger fish patrol the deeper green pools in search of prey and the occasional terrapin surfaces to take a lungful.

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Rossi pools.

A couple of kilometres further down the river the rather ugly Wright’s tower offers another nice view of the river. Searching for the origins of the tower I learnt that Allan Wright was a District Commissioner that was largely responsible for the establishment of the Gonarezhou National Park in 1975 so he probably built the tower [1].

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It was also in this general area that S.C. ‘Bvekenya’ Barnard, the notorious hunter and poacher roamed during the early 1900’s avoiding the police by moving to different countries around Crook’s corner the point where the borders of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe converge. Bvekenya’s errands have been immortalized by T.V. Bulpin in his book “The Ivory Trail”.

But that is a different story.


[1] Allan Wright described his time in Nuanetsi District in his books Valley of the Ironwoods. A Personal Record of Ten Years Served as District Commissioner in Rhodesia Largest Administrative Area, Nuanetsi, in the South-Eastern Lowveld (1972) and Grey Ghosts at Buffalo Bend (1976) both now out of print.



Gonarezhou three years later. Northern area

We were last in Gonarezhou National Park almost three years ago and I wrote about our impressions then [1]. This time the idea was to try the Chipinda Pools Tented camp so we booked ourselves there for five nights from 21-26 August.

Interesting developments had taken place during our absence. The management of the park had changed when on 30 June 2016 the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority signed an agreement for the creation of the Gonarezhou Trust. The latter represents a new management style for a National Park in Zimbabwe, aiming at running the park in a sustainable way on a long-term basis.

The first thing we noted was that the park can now be only booked at the Chipinda Pools office and not at the Harare Reservations office as all other national parks. Despite the distance from Harare (about 500km), the process was smooth and I soon arranged for our stay through an exchange of messages via Messenger and e-mail that ended with an advance payment to secure the bookings.

The trip went smoothly and we were not stopped at Police checkpoints at all despite the rather long distance! After Chiredzi we turned towards the park and drove through land managed by the Malilangwe Trust [2]. We wondered at the time if they would have accommodation that we could try another time [3]. We were soon at the Chipinda Pools gate where we produced our booking at the reception to a friendly lady.

As the checking of our papers was taking a while we took the opportunity to read some of the posters that explained the work on the various predators that is being carried out at the park. Our reading got interrupted when we heard the lady saying, “I have bad news!” As you can imagine, she was successful in calling our attention so we were with her in a second while we heard her adding: “Your booking is for the 21st all right but of September, not August!” and she handed me over the voucher I had given her moments before! While my heart was sinking, I confirmed my error and cursed myself for not checking the booking earlier!

It was about 16:30 hours so my wife and I looked at each other and both said the same thing: “Maybe we will need to see if Malilangwe has a lodge after all!” However, before playing that last card I asked whether there was any chance of putting us up for the night at the staff camp and then decide what we did the following morning as it was now too late to depart. I felt that I was wasting my words as the lady was on the phone and ignored my plea!

As we could not hear her conversation in the office, we waited, unaware of what was going on. The uncertainty lasted until she hanged up and informed us that she had just confirmed that the camp was full as it was time for school holidays in Zimbabwe. We were clearly in a tight spot and awaited again while she made another call before finally declaring gravely: “Sorry, no luck, we are full”.

At a loss, my jerk response was “So, we go back to Harare”, feeling rather upset with myself but ready to accept the situation and go away. Then, to our astonishment she burst out laughing as only Africans can do! “I was joking,” she said, “a colleague is coming to see if what we have would be OK with you”. After recovering from narrowly missing a heart attack, I calmed down and -internally- celebrated her sense of humour and I even managed what I thought it was a smile but probably it was a smirk!

Eventually we were shown into one of the tents that are normally used by researchers that happened to be empty. We were told that, unfortunately, we needed to share the ablutions with other people. We were so delighted with the offer that we immediately accepted it as it was for the duration of our booking! We noted that we even have our own painted dog couple residing at the tent although they were papier-mâché ones!

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Our tent.

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The veranda of our tent.

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The setting.

The camp was composed of four tents with a communal kitchen and ablutions nestled by a small stream that flowed into the Save river a couple of hundred metres down the river. The camp was well shaded and it was very well kept. We finally settled down while noting that the tent had large windows closed only by mosquito mesh and curtains so we prepared for a cold night and we were happy to have our sleeping bags with us!

That night, now relaxed, we enjoyed our dinner and, after reinforcing the provided bedding with our own warm bags, went to bed for what I thought it was a well deserved rest while congratulating ourselves that we managed to survive a potential disaster. Later during the night, we heard lion roaring while it walked by our camp and we were happy to be smug in our strong tent! The following morning we learnt that there was a lone male lion stationed near camp at the time. Despite the lion living next to camp, we did not see it, unfortunately.

We spent the day exploring the area and we took a recommended route that brought us along the Sililijo stream. As soon as we left camp we climbed a hill and had a great view of a large tract of the park through which the Runde river meanders its way towards its meeting with the larger Save river.

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The view of the Runde river.

Soon we had left the Runde river behind and, after a route that was rich in game we re-joined it near the Chilojo Cliffs, Gonarezhou’s famous landmark.


The Chilojo cliffs. Gonarezhou’s landmark.


Another view of the cliffs.

Among the animals we found on the way were elephants, buffalo, giraffe, impala, greater kudu and eland. Yet again we admired the numerous baobabs and realized that the plentiful rains have had a positive impact on the vegetation cover as the park was very bushy. This, of course, had a negative impact on game spotting but we did not mind that at all as it was clear that the game numbers are on the increase!

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A female Greater kudu watches us.

After enjoying a picnic by the cliffs, followed by the mandatory bush siesta we waited a while longer for elephants to come to the river but, as they did not come, we decided to return to camp. As usual, we underestimated the distance and we arrived rather late as we took a wrong turning and, near the camp, we got charged by a loud trumpeting lone elephant bull that we just managed to see. The animal was very nervous and it kept coming towards us until we finally managed to avoid it and safely get back to camp. Later we learnt that the elephant was scared because of the proximity of the male lion.

We arrived tired and looking forward to a shower, dinner and bed. However, the appearance of the game ranger in charge of tourism, stopped us in our tracks. He was the bearer of more bad news: our tent was needed for some unexpected visitors! He asked us if we would mind moving to the Mabalauta area in the southern part of the park where there was room for us at Swimuwini Camp. Aware of the well known saying “beggars can’t be choosers”, we immediately and gladly agreed and convened that we could leave at about 09:00 hours the following morning.

The next day, before departure, we had a chance to talk to other guests that told us that it was possible to drive to the Mabalauta area through the park and that it was a nice and scenic drive. This was good for me as I also wished to have a look at a place called Lion pan as, years back, I was told that it was -obviously- good for lions… So, thanking the management for their hospitality we departed at a leisurely pace towards our new camp, about 100km south.

Our drive was, as expected, interesting although we did not see many animals. A rock monitor (Varanus albigularis) that crossed the road and a Purple roller (Coracias naevius) were the only animals of note we saw although there were plenty of hornbills and other common birds as well as a few squirrels. We found elephant spoor but no sign of the pachyderms anywhere. Unfortunately we missed the GPS point where we should have turned East for the Lion pan so we decided to explore it the next time we come.

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A river on the way to Mabalauta in the south of the park.

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Most pans had water, product of the excellent rains of last year. This one is on the way to Mabalauta in the south of the park.

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A male namaqua dove.

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The rock monitor that slowly crossed the road showing us its rather long tongue.

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Close up of the rock monitor.

[1] See https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/gonarezhou-national-park-safari-diary-day-1/ and the two posts that followed.

[2] See: http://www.malilangwe.org/

[3] After returning to Harare I learnt that they have a lodge called Singita Pamushana Lodge.





Spot the beast 27

We got back from Gonarezhou National Park yesterday evening and I have a lot to do before I am able to post anything yet! However, there is always time for a “Spot the beast” to keep your minds active until I can get mine starting!!!

This was the view from our tent at Chipinda Pools in the park. I am sure that you will agree with me that is a very nice spot: a river with a bit of water, lots of trees and lianas and the light filtering through the foliage.

There is a beast somewhere there (the reason why I took the picture) that it will take you some time to find, I think.

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DSCN0121 copyIt is a male bushbuck that came down for a drink and we saw it (or rather my wife, again) spotted when it was climbing back to spend the rest of the day wherever the bushbucks do this.

(Please be aware that it was walking so the second picture shows it after it walked a about a metre to the right of the first picture)


The desert roses at Swimuwini Rest Camp were spectacular.

The desert roses at Swimuwini Rest Camp were spectacular.

From Gonarezhou to South Africa

29/7/14 – After another good night’s sleep we were up and ready to go by 08:30 hours. We set off towards Rutenga and the dreaded Beitbridge, the infamous border crossing. We said farewell to our nice and helpful camp attendant Fungisai Shava and co-workers. The weather was chilly and there was a tenuous drizzle.

At some distance from the camp we started coming across elephant paths and fresh spoor and, while speculating about the reasons, we came across a small road leading to a pan with lots of water. I believe it to be Nyamugwe but it requires confirmation. Despite its water abundance and plentiful traces of elephants, it was completely devoid of mammals. Clearly the trend in the area is for most animals to move at night. It was then back to the main road without another stop as time was passing

Copious elephant spoor took us to this pan that was empty.

Copious elephant spoor took us to this pan that was empty.

This rubbing tree trunk confirmed that elephants visited the pan, probably at night.

This rubbing tree trunk confirmed that elephants visited the pan, probably at night.

Before leaving Harare my wife learnt through the Bambazoke Nhasi web newsletter that the Tourism Authority of the Zimbabwe Government offered a free service to assist you at the border crossing as this can, sometimes, take several hours. I am not a good queue person and the ones at border posts are not my scene as I get upset and do not enjoy them at all. This time, however, we had already pre-booked the Tourism Authority assistance and made an appointment for 14:00 hs at the border. We had names and cell phone numbers so with this helpful “shield” the border crossing was out of my mind!

We drove back to Rutenga through the dirt road where, again traffic was absent although this time we met 100 per cent more traffic than before: one pickup, loaded with cotton. We did hit a number of rather large potholes but reached the asphalt unscathed, only dusty.

Leaving Mabalauta the railroad is crossed prior to reaching the main road.

Leaving Mabalauta the railroad is crossed prior to reaching the main road.

The first road junction leaving Mabalauta.

The first road junction leaving Mabalauta. Rutenga (via Boli) to the left and Mozambique to the right.

As agreed, about 40 kilometres from Beitbridge, I called Tourism and I was told that there was a person already at the border and, after contacting him we agreed to talk later at the border itself. Not what I expected for a supposedly “excellent service” I thought but kept the reflection to myself as we continued. About one hour later, already in Beitbridge, as agreed, we phoned again only to be told that the person was busy with other clients and he could not be with us! All of a sudden the “border terror” assaulted me big-time on hearing the bad news and I did not want to cross. Luckily my wife persuaded me to attempt it while I was thinking of plan B, a deviation through Botswana!!!

Gathering my wits as well as I could I entered the buildings and was welcomed by no queues! “We are in the wrong place” I said, and went to ask at a window but, relief of all reliefs, we were at the right spot and, five minutes later, yes five minutes later, we were through immigration, customs, police and free to go! The same happened on the South African side: 10 minutes (because of the use of a more advanced computer system!) and off we went. No need to search for psychiatric backup but only to drive on! So easy was it that I kept waiting for something to go wrong for a few kilometers after the border but nothing did…

As we crossed so fast we now had extra time on our hands and decided to push on to Louis Trichardt as we find Musina -like most border towns- rather unattractive and even unsafe. So we happily drove on and got to Louis Trichardt by mid-afternoon, with sufficient time for some shopping for our sojourn to Kruger National Park and hoping to find a nice place to stay. As we did not know the town, I decided to ask a customer in the supermarket for a hotel and she sent us to one nearby that was clean and quiet, she said.

It was a small pub with four rooms that looked OK but that really was not. The place was being refurbished so parking space was severely reduced and the hot water was very limited and finished before both of us could have our showers. Food came in small portions, particularly my wife’s quarter chicken that was as she defined “quarter pigeon”! In addition, the floor of the dining room shook and squeaked very badly when patrons and waiters walked by and making knife and fork use a real hazard. The waitress also squeaked not to be left out! That they served us the best mashed sweet potato that we ever tasted, I am afraid, was not sufficient to offset all other inconveniences.

I was sure that such an easy border crossing could not end well! Next time I will contact Psychiatrics Anonymous to prepare me for both: bad borders and poor quality hotels!

Gonarezhou National Park Safari Diary – Day 1

We are back and trying to catch up with all issues left on departure and the new material!

I will be writing and posting information as it becomes available and cleared by my Senior Editor.

I start with reports on the time spent at Gonarezhou in a diary form and then a few entries on Kruger National Park.

Please note that I could not post before as there were technological challenges that, in the absence of my son I could not solve!


The first view on arrival at Swimiwini Rest Camp.

The first evening view of the Mwenezi river on arrival at Swimuwini Rest Camp.

26/7/14 – Harare to Mabalauta

We left Harare at 07:30 hs and drove through Masvingo to the turn off at Rutenga. As it was a Saturday the traffic was light, and the lack of lorries to and from South Africa was particularly welcome! The road from Rutenga to Mabalauta was rough but it did not offer any specific difficulties apart from the dust. Fortunately it was just a question of leaving it behind as there were no cars in sight for the entire journey and very few people on the road. Obviously, there is not much traffic going through to Mozambique via Sango!

We got to the Chipinda Pools junction at 15:00 hs, after 86 km. At this point you can branch off to the northern area of the park, which is larger and better known by us. So we drove on and, after a further 32 km we turned into the Mabalauta entrance road to the right, leaving the road which would have taken us to the Mozambican border about 20 km further on.

We got to Mabalauta at about 16.00hs to check in. At this point we were casually informed that Swimuwini Rest Camp, our destination, had no electricity as the power line had been cut a couple of days earlier. Now, if you have had the mixed pleasure of being with us on safari you should know that good food is normally an important part of the deal. As this usually involves cooking, the absence of electricity was a blow to my wife, the Chef (in haste I add that this title only applies in the kitchen territory…). A potentially major culinary crisis was in the making as she was highly displeased.

The issue wasn’t the lack of electricity, but rather the fact that we had not been forewarned in order to adjust the menus! The staff, seeing the unfolding drama, added that there was firewood and that everybody cooked on the fire! The Chef just looked on… Trying to defuse the bomb I changed the subject asking about game occurrence, trees, plants and flowers but only partially succeeded. In hindsight, I probably did more damage than good when I mentioned that hot water may not be available either! Another fulminant look came my way.

Again, the staff came to my rescue stating that the firewood would be free and that there would be assistance available. As for hot water, it was true that the chalet would not have any but we could shower at the ablution blocks which was supplied with hot water by a Tanganyika boiler. We moved on, taking part of the crisis with us!

By the time we got to the rest camp things were better as plan B was developed and whatever remaining crisis residue there still was dissipated on arrival, as the view of the camp was beautiful. Its nine bungalows were nestled on high ground and three or four of the chalets had their private -and very large- baobab tree. As if this were not enough, the place had an abundance of desert roses that happened to be in full bloom, marvelous pink brush strokes in the otherwise brown landscape.

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A few chalets come with “baobab en suite”

The chalets were well equiped and the ones at the front had a magnificent view over the sandy Mwenezi river that runs in front of the camp. Several water channels were still running, cutting through the sandy banks. There were reeds where the water was more permanent with abundant water bird life and fish along with noticeable frog activity (quite vocal at night).

We were the only guests. Nyala was the name of our house and, although it did not come with its baobab tree, it overlooked the river with an ideal overhang for watching the action in the sand, about three metres below. And action there was but closer to home! As the Chef was inspecting the fire cooking facilities and taking control of the situation, a loud crashing noise came from the river, followed by a rather large animal that avoided her at the last possible second and bounded away. Recovery of her wits took a while (we have learnt that this time increases with age!) and, despite the shake she was still able to identify a Nyala derriere that, judging by its dark hue, was a male of the species. It was a narrow miss and we then understood the reason for the name of our chalet! It was a relief that there were no casualties and that there was no need to change the chalet’s name in my wife’s memory!

The male Nyala resident at the rest camp.

The male Nyala resident at the rest camp.

The Tanganyika boilers were glowing and beckoned us to the shower place after sunset. Despite the blaze and to our great disappointment, only a lukewarm trickle came out of the showers so we abandoned the project. The following morning we learnt that rather than a technological hitch it was human error: someone had forgotten to open the mains water tap!

Apart from the male nyala that hung around the camp looking for protection, we saw some impala, baboons and warthogs. They all seemed to come in XXL sizes. To end the evening, a small bat landed on my wife’s shoulder while she was coming back into the house and it refused to move until it was persuaded to climb on a towel and allowed to fly off. Bats have great difficulties taking off from the ground and need to climb to the appropriate height and then launch themselves from that height in order to become airborne!

The bat on my wife's shoulder.

The bat on my wife’s shoulder.

A final look around revealed that the right rear tire appeared to be a bit deflated but we agreed that not much could be done until the morrow so we went to bed, dusty and “shower less”. The latter is my preferred option on safari as I am a morning shower person. The Chef was not at all amused though…