GEOGRAPHICALLY AN extension of the world famous Kruger National Park, Gonarezhou gets but a fraction of the visitors. Camps are small, unfenced, unstaffed and isolated.
Locals may tell you that you can’t get in with even the hardiest of 2WD bakkies. Listen to them. You need high clearance. You need 4WD.
In a remote corner of south-east Zimbabwe, Gonarezhou is north its famous neighbour Kruger.
Bordered by Mozambique and the Save River, it is Zim's second largest park.
I had been advised against going with a Hilux 2WD, but checked before going and again on arrival, and was told I'd have no problems on most roads.
The only available camps were at the spectacular Chilojo Cliffs site- unstaffed, no water, remote bush camping.
We asked the reception about using the Sililijo Loop road, where there'd been a morning leopard sighting. No problem at all, they said.
Bounced along and around and off the rockiest road in Zimbabwe for hours, we eventually went up, and down onto a rock which pierced the radiator.
We spluttered and stop-started and limped the last 4-6kms into camp, and literally at our camp site, the car gave up.
A passing couple had alerted rangers to our woes, and mechanics arrived after dark, removed the radiator, which they repaired and fitted the next day. Unbelievable service.
Not part of the big plan, we now had just a day left to enjoy the park.
Gonarezhou means "place of elephants", and we had already seen a few in the river and come through our camp.
There was no shortage of smaller game in the immediate camp area.
Lions were calling on our final morning, so we headed off in that direction.
First we had to get past these guys, having a slow breakfast on a curve in the road.
Our mechanic-saviour had said we couldn't get to the pool in the north, but for the time being, the road presented no issues, elephants aside.
We did eventually see two lions, on a river bank, 2-3kms in the distance.
Eventually, and quite suddenly, the road deteriorated, and we needed no encouraging to U-turn back to camp.
Black rhino have twice gone locally extinct, and twice been re-introduced, most recently in 2021.
29 were re-introduced, joining over 11,000 elephants, 350 leopard and 125 lions.
Given the parks vast size -5,000 sq km- we were happy with our two lions.
Our exit route didn't turn up any cats, but plenty of hippo and birds.
In some ways, I regret going there. With the same car, we could have spent 2-3 days enjoying better game in Kruger.
But the sense of isolation and the scenery of Gonarezhou cannot be reproduced in busy Kruger.