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Great Game Parks 1 2021

22 March to 1 April 2021

Gorongosa National Park, Gona-re-zhou National Park and Chirinda Forest

Our trip takes us to two iconic African game parks, Gorongosa National Park in central Mozambique and Gona-re-zhou National Park in south-eastern Zimbabwe. We will also be visiting Chirinda Forest, the southernmost tropical rainforest in Africa.

Gonarezhou
Chilojo Cliffs, Gona-re-zhou National Park

THE DESTINATIONS

Gorongosa National Park

Gorongosa National Park is situated approximately 200km from the Zimbabwe border, west of the coastal city of Beira.

Gorongosa National Park
Gorongosa National Park

The 3770 sq. km park stretches across a huge floodplain at the southern end of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, encompassing savannas, woodlands, wetlands, and a wide pan called Lake Urema. The dry woodland, grassland and seasonal marshes in this huge park support large numbers of birds, mammals and other wildlife.

Once a premier safari destination, the park’s wildlife was decimated during Mozambique’s 1977-1992 civil war and the desperate years that followed. Now Mozambican and international conservationists are bringing the park back to life by bolstering the animal population and improving human lives by opening schools, clinics, and promoting sustainable farming in nearby communities.

In October 2018, researchers in the park counted more than 100,000 large mammals, an increase of more than 700 percent over figures from a decade ago. More than 650 elephants now inhabit the park-a robust increase since the days of the country’s civil war. The growth of the elephant population is only part of the encouraging news. Most of the big fauna, including lion, African buffalo, hippo, and wildebeest, are vastly more numerous now than in 1994. In the realm of conservation, where too many indicators herald gloom and despair, success on such a large scale is rare.

The park is one of the most rewarding birding destinations in Mozambique, with more than 500 species recorded, and what it lacks in terms of the forest specials associated with Mount Gorongosa, it compensates for in terms of variety, with waterbirds, in particular, being very well represented. The open woodlands, grassland and huge wetlands make for easy and highly rewarding birding. The road into Chitengo camp passes through many grassy areas and extensive miombo woodland.

Storks & Egrets
Storks & Egrets

Mount Gorongosa

An isolated mountain peak of 1863m in central Mozambique. Although it lies outside the park’s original boundary, the mountain is an indispensable part of the Gorongosa ecosystem. It not only captures rainfall and delivers it to the park’s floodplain, but also adds a diversity of altitude, climate, soil, vegetation, and wildlife to the greater Gorongosa whole. In 2010 the highlands of Mount Gorongosa (above 700 meters) became part of the park. The mountaintop encompasses the source of the Vunduzi as well as some remote forest.

It is sacred in local tradition and the only site in southern Africa to see the Green-headed Oriole. Habitats include lowland woodland with riverine thickets at the base, cliffs, scrubby slopes and montane forests higher up, with montane grassland at the peak. Footpaths lead from the base to the forests on the slopes and birding is rewarding all the way.

Mount Gorongosa
Mount Gorongosa

Chirinda Forest

Big Tree, Chirinda Forest
Big Tree, Chirinda Forest

 

Chirinda Forest is the southernmost area of tropical rainforest in Africa, covering the two rounded hilltops of Mount Selinda. It is situated 30km south of Chipinge in Zimbabwe and is easily accessible along a tar road. It is one of the best-researched forests in Zimbabwe, with scientific collections of flora and fauna being made as early as 1900. This spectacular forest, controlled by the Forestry Commission, is well known for its magnificent trees. Over 100 species occur in the forest, the most famous being the remains of an enormous red Mahogany Khaya nyasica. Mount Selinda rises to 1,200m altitude from the surrounding plateau and Mozambican coastal plain.

Being the only high ground from there to the Indian Ocean 200km away to the east, it is frequently covered in cloud and mist and receives about 1,400mm of rain per year.

 

We spend two nights at a charming farm guesthouse situated a stone’s throw away from the forest.

Gona-re-zhou National Park

Gona-re-zhou National Park is situated in the south-eastern lowveld of Zimbabwe and covers an area in excess of 5 000 square kilometres.

The Park is the second largest National Park in Zimbabwe, cutting a swathe of sandstone cliffs, scrub and baobab trees along the country’s south-eastern border with Mozambique. Largely undiscovered by the outside world, this striking land is one of the last great pristine wildernesses in Africa and takes in a huge diversity of habitats. It consists mainly of open grasslands and dense woodlands.

The park is divided into the Chipinda Pools section in the north and Mabalamata section in the South. It forms a natural migratory triangle with the wildlife population from the adjoining Kruger National Park.

Gona-re-zhou means ‘Place of many Elephants’. Alternative folklore suggests the area was named for the herbalists who would stock their medicines in tusks (known as gona in the Shona language).

The northern part of the park has two main rivers, namely the Save and Runde. These sustain the park and a wide variety of wildlife and birdlife.

Together, they give the northern part of the park a unique sense of place. From the top of the Chilojo Cliffs, Gona-re-zhou’s diverse landscapes are clear to see. Most obvious are the extensive floodplains along the Runde, which remind one a little of those at Mana Pools in the extreme north of the country. The large Tembwahata Pan lies near the confluence of the two rivers and draws plenty of elephant, buffalo and other wildlife during the hot days. The nearby and smaller Machaniwa Pan is just a few hundred metres south of the Runde River, and a superb place for spotting storks, herons, egrets and ducks.

The park could also be Africa’s epicentre of baobabs, with thousands of these arboreal grandfathers dotted throughout the areas.

Lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, hyena, buffalo, hippo and giraffe can all be seen within the boundaries of the Park, but this country is known, first and foremost, as the land of the elephant and many of the largest-tusked elephants in the region may be found within the Park. This is despite years of uncontrolled poaching. Thanks to recent stringent anti-poaching measures, the animal statistics make for reassuring reading. The last predator survey in 2015 showed that there were approximately 125 lions, up from just 31 in 2009. Other predator and herbivore numbers have also increased significantly.

Gona-re-zhou’s Chilojo Cliffs

Mana Pools has its albida forests alongside the Zambezi River. Gonarezhou’s Chilojo Cliffs elicit a similar sense of wonder. Rising 200 metres above the floodplain of the broad Runde River, the 13-kilometre sandstone rampart is magnificent. It is the defining feature of this remote wilderness.

Visible from 50 kilometres away, morning and evening light give the cliffs a rich hue and dramatically silhouette the distinctive baobab trees. Composed of oxide-rich sandstone, the cliffs are spectacularly colourful at sunset.

Chilojo Cliffs
Chilojo Cliffs

We spend our first two nights in the area at the delightful Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, built on top of cliffs that overlook the Save River, next to the north-eastern boundary of Gonarezhou National Park.

Our last two nights in Zimbabwe are spent at Triangle Country Club. Using the club as our base we spend a full day exploring Gonarezhou National Park and the magnificent Chilojo Cliffs.

Birding Attractions 

Gorongosa National Park

Palm-nut Vulture, Ayre’s Hawk-Eagle, Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Red-necked Falcon, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Grey Crowned Crane, Long-toed Lapwing Grey-headed Parrot, Arnot’s Chat, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Green-backed Woodpecker, Racket-tailed Roller, Collared Palm-Thrush, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Southern Hyliota, Red-winged Warbler, Orange-winged Pytilia, Cabanis’s Bunting, Lemon-breasted Canary.

Mount Gorongosa

Green-headed Oriole, Marsh (Anchieta’s) Tchagra, Livingstone’s Turaco, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Broad-tailed Warbler, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Black-winged Bishop (non-breeding), Lesser Seedcracker (with much luck!).

Chirinda Forest

Crowned Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, Swynnerton’s Robin, Narina Trogon, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Livingstone’s Turaco, African Broadbill, Olive Bush-Shrike, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Grey Cuckooshrike, Crested Guineafowl, Lemon Dove, Tambourine Dove, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-eared Barbet, Dark-backed Weaver, Chirinda Apalis, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Grey Waxbill, Green Twinspot, Red-throated Twinspot.

Gona-re-zhou National Park

Boulder Chat (en route), Bateleur, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, Dickinson’s Kestrel, African Barred Owlet, Southern Ground Hornbill, Grey-headed Parrot, Senegal Lapwing, Arnot’s Chat, Collared Palm-Thrush, Mosque Swallow, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Bohm’s and Mottled Spinetail, Racket-tailed Roller, Narina Trogon, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Green Malkoha, Eastern Nicator, Red-throated Twinspot, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen.

This 11-day tour departs from Johannesburg. We travel in an air-conditioned VW Caravelle, 4-wheel drive Microbus.

Itineraries

Day 1

Date : March 22, 2021

Johannesburg–Beira-Gorongosa Adventures

Depart from OR Tambo Int on late morning flight to Beira. Travel to Gorongosa Adventures, via Inchope. Late afternoon birding and overnight at Gorongosa Adventures.

Day 2

Date : March 23, 2021

Gorongosa area

Early morning ascent of Mt Gorongosa. Return to camp late morning. Rest of day spent birding and relaxing. Overnight at Gorongosa Adventures.

Day 3

Date : March 24, 2021

Gorongosa National Park

Morning birding around Gorongosa Adventures. Depart after brunch for Gorongosa Nat Park. Afternoon game drive in open safari vehicle. Overnight at Chitengo camp, Gorongosa Nat Park.

Day 4

Date : March 25, 2021

Gorongosa National Park

Early morning game drive in open safari vehicle. Rest of morning spent relaxing in camp. Afternoon game drive in open safari vehicle. Overnight at Chitengo camp.

Day 5

Date : March 26, 2021

Gorongosa National Park-Chirinda Forest

Early morning birding around camp. Depart after breakfast for Zimbabwe. Travel via Chimoio and enter Zimbabwe at Espungabera border post near Mount Selinda. Overnight at farm guesthouse near Chirinda Forest.

Day 6

Date : March 27, 2021

Chirinda Forest-Chilo Gorge Safari Lodg

Morning birding in forest and surrounding woodland. Depart after brunch for Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, via Chiredzi. Mid- afternoon arrival and overnight at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge.

Day 7

Date : March 28, 2021

Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge

Full day game drive in Gonarezhou National Park. Overnight at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge.

Day 8

Date : March 29, 2021

Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge-Triangle

Morning birding in community forest near lodge. Depart after brunch for Triangle, via Chiredzi. Overnight at Triangle Country Club.

Day 9

Date : March 30, 2021

Triangle-Gonarezhou National Park-Triangle

Day spent birding and game viewing in Gorongosa National Park. Overnight at Triangle Country Club.

Day 10

Date : March 31, 2021

Triangle-Soutpansberg

Early morning birding in lodge grounds. Depart after breakfast for South African border. Late afternoon birding and overnight at lodge in the Soutpansberg.

Day 11

Date : April 1, 2021

Soutpansberg-Johannesburg

Early morning birding around lodge. Depart after breakfast for Johannesburg. Visit Polokwane Game Reserve on route and arrive in Johannesburg in the late afternoon.

Includes

Flight from Johannesburg to Vilanculos, ground transport, all meals and accommodation, guiding, specified activities, conservation and entrance fees.

Excludes

Alcoholic beverages, gratuities and items of a personal nature.