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Zimbabwe’s Deep South: Gonarezhou National Park

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Words: Mark Samuel Photography: Mark and Stiv Samuel

Shunned by South Africans for many years because of political issues, Zimbabwe is slowly re-emerging as an enticing and vibrant holiday destination for off-road travellers. With an Echo Kavango off-road caravan in tow behind his Land Rover Defender, editor Mark Samuel heads back to Zimbabwe, to Gonarezhou National Park, to see if more South Africans should consider a holiday across our northern border.

Zimbabwe's Deep South

It echoes through the evening’s silence. The loud cracking of dry branches a short distance from our campsite alerts us to his presence. Then comes the deep, guttural rumbling, which confirms our suspicions: it’s a lone elephant, roaming the thick riverside vegetation. Our curiosity gets the better of us, and against all common sense we venture towards the sound for a closer look. The branch cracking stops suddenly and there’s deathly silence. Through the undergrowth and mangled branches our head torches snatch a brief glimpse of a glistening eye, not more than ten paces away and easily four metres from the ground; this is one huge specimen. Then comes another stomach-churning, rumbling growl, and we’re under no illusions: this is a final warning. Cautiously, but with a hint of haste, even panic, we retrace our steps to the perceived safety of our camp, and chuck a few more of the biggest logs onto our campfire, until it’s giving off a roar of its own. Elephants are deterred by fire, right? Our chatter has ceased, and we’re all now keenly interested in the action unfolding down the steep embankment next to our campsite, which ends with a narrow, heavily wooded flat section that stops at the riverbank. Never before has a high embankment given me such a sense of security.

The big lone bull who’s now at the bottom of the slope has thankfully lost interest in us, and like a giant grey ghost in the night continues his slow meander along the water’s edge. But he’s still acutely aware of our proximity, raising is trunk every so often to the gently drifting air to monitor our position. This is Africa, and we are privileged to be in the presence of one of her most majestic creatures.

Journey starts

Two days’ drive takes us from Gauteng into Zimbabwe and across to the south-east corner to a place known as Gonarezhou, a name aptly meaning ‘the place of many elephants’. This park is a member of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park triumvirate – the others are the Kruger National Park in South Africa and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique – which covers some 35 000 km2 of protected conservation land in the three countries, and there are plans to extend this to 100 000 km2. It’s a priceless asset that all three nations must treasure and preserve at all costs…

To read the full article, order a copy of the September 2011 issue of Caravan & Outdoor Life.

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