Gonarezhou National Park is situated in the south eastern lowveld of Zimbabwe and covers an area in excess of 5 000 square kilometres. “Gonarezhou” meaning “Place of many Elephants” is an extremely scenic Park full of rugged and beautiful landscapes.
Alternative folklore suggests the are was named for the herbalists who would stock their medicines in tusks (known as gona in the Shona language).
Three major rivers – The Save, Runde and Mwenezi – cut their courses through the Park, forming pools and natural oases from which hundreds of species of birds, wildlife and fish gather to feed and drink. As its name implies, Gonarezhou is famous for its elephants, and many of the largest-tusked elephants in the region maybe found within the Park.
Gonarezhou National Park is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP), a massive Pan-African Park that includes South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park and Mozambique’s Gaza National Park(Limpopo park) . This huge area is set to become one of the finest “peace parks” in the world and is dedicated to conservation, biodiversity and the economic development of the surrounding local communities. The vast and diverse nature of the mega-park will provide world-class eco-tourism to the visitor and strive to re-establish historical animal migration routes and fragile regional ecosystems.
The combined Park will include more than 500 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, at least 116 species of reptiles, 34 species of frogs and 49 species of fish.
Lion, leopard, cheetah (including the rare king cheetah), buffalo, giraffe, zebra and many species of large antelope are also present within the Park. The rare nyala and smaller suni are two of the highlights of the Park’s smaller antelopes. In addition, hundreds of species of birds may be spotted in the Park. Unique species of aquatic wildlife such as the Zambezi Shark, Freshwater Goby, Black Bream and the unique turquoise killifish can be seen within the Park’s rivers and pools.
One of the most prominent and enduring natural features of Gonarezhou National Park is the beautiful Chilojo Cliffs. These magnificent red sandstone cliffs have been formed through eons of erosion and overlook the scenic Runde River valley.
Gonarezhou experiences mild, dry winters and warm, wet summers (temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celcius can occasionally be expected). Mabalauta and Chipinda areas are open throughout the year. During the rainy season (November – April), access to certain parts of the Park is restricted and the visitor should consult with the Park’s offices before undertaking game drives.
Bilharzia is endermic to all lowveld rivers and visitors should take appropriate precaution. In addition, malaria can be present within the region so visitors are advised to take prophylactics before, during and after their stay in the Park.
Mabalauta was once a communal area until the 1960s when it became a game reserve. It was later declared a national park in 1975 when it became part of Gonarezhou. The name Mabalauta hails from a hardwood tree species common in the region. The Mabalauta section in the Mwenezi sub-region includes the Swimuwini rest camp, “The place of the Baobabs”. The camp is situated 8 kilometres from the warden’s office and overlooks the the Mwenezi River. There are thatched self-catering accommodation facilities at the camp.
There are 19 sites at the beautiful Chipinda Pools Camp, each with basic shelter, braai area and ablution facilities. Camps with minimum facilities are located at Nyahungwe, Madumbini, Bopomela, Lisoda, Gota, Chitove, Chamaluvati and Chilojo. These exclusive sites may be booked by a single party of up to 10 people and there are no attendants available. Visitors need to bring their own water. Dead wood in the vicinity may be collected for firewood.
Follow the main tarred road from the Chirediz turn-off to Mutare for 18 kilometres. Turn off to the south at the Chipinda Pools sign post. Follow the gravel road for approximately 34 kilometres to the entrance of the Park, about 59 kilometres from Chiredzi.
Turn east off the main Masvingo – Beitbrifge road at the Mwenezi Police Station turn-off, about 20 kilometres south of Rutenga. Proceed down the the dirt road about 3 kilometres and turn left at the entrance to the Police Station – the signboard indicates Mwenezi Ranch HQ and Chikombedzi. Follow this road for about 60 kilometres to Chikombedzi Business Centre. Do not turn off this road. The road you take follows the Mwenezi River southeast from the Mwenezi Police Station to Chikombedzi (the river will not be visible from the road).
The only major intersection you will encounter is 20 kilometres from the Mwenezi Police Station and is signposted. Head straight through the intersection to Chikombedzi. Turn right after entering Chikombedzi Business Centre at a 4-way intersection where a National Parks sign indicates the route to Gonarezhou, Mabalauta, Right. About 300 metres down the road another sign indicates the route – turn left. Follow this road around a small dam and DO NOT turn off it.
About 6 kilometrees further you will pass Zhou School and 3 kilometres later you will come to Gonarezhou Natioonal Park boundary. The route from there to the Warden’s Office, Mabalauta is clearly signposted. The total distance from the Masvingo – Beitbridge Road to Mabalauta is 105 kilometres.