Boundless SA Expedition Blog

Dispatch 27 - The paradise of Gonarezhou

This week's Boundless Southern Africa Expedition dispatch comes from Gonarezhou National Park in the south east of Zimbabwe - it's an important chapter for the Kingsley Holgate led expedition that is crossing Africa from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, linking 2 oceans, 7 Transfrontier Conservation Areas, 9 countries, more than 30 Nature Reserves and Game Parks and the communities in and adjacent to these areas. Gonrarezhou is the core of Zimbabwe's contribution to the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. The 5000 sq/km Gonarezhou is bounded and dissected by three large river systems flowing into Mozambique, notable the Savé in the east, the Runde to the north and the Mwenezi in the south. For the expedition this is one of the most exciting chapters - none of them had ever been here before and with all the media negative reports coming out of Zimbabwe, they didn't know quite what to expect. As always, it's a story best told in Kingsley's words.

A mopani pole causeway at Mapai takes us across the Limpopo, out of the Parque Nacional de Limpopo in Mozambique and then north following the railway line to Chiqalaqala and the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe - we can't believe there's a banner that reads: 'Zimbabwe welcomes the Kingsley Holgate Boundless Southern Africa Expedition.' Gonarezhou National Park rangers do a march-past and a salute of honour, government and parks officials make welcome speeches in the car park outside customs and immigration, there's a table of snacks and a single plastic roses in white and yellow are pinned onto our grubby bush jackets. And then a dream come true as well-known Zimbabwe conservationist Clive Stockil and famous wildlife artist Lin Barrie lead us into the Gonarezhou paradise to a small pan in the dark - it's called Centre Pan and it's unbelievably beautiful. Soon there's the warmth of a mopani fire and a ring of canvas chairs. Out comes the talking stick from where it lives behind a Landy bulbar - the stick is passed round, it's an African custom. With the stick in both hands, Lin Barrie leans forward in her camp chair. The fire lights up her animated face as she tells us this story of her last visit here...

At Centre Pan muddy but still barely drinkable water existed, so we camped for a night and by dusk had four buffalo bulls, one with a broken horn, arrive to drink.

In the near distance a lion, probably male, roared.

Then came a fat and cheeky Zebra stallion, brave, but nevertheless cautious, he scouted the pan and approached the far side to begin sipping water where we could barely see him. The first intimation of trouble was the Crowned plovers, who rose up clattering and shrieking in the dark. At the same time, the zebra, with a mighty explosive fart leaped away from the water's edge, galloping across our filed of vision and pursued by a low shape - a lioness half-heartedly trying her luck from the vantage point of a termite mound where she had been in ambush! Failing her attempt, the speed and lethal hooves of the prey too much for her, she moved away out of our line of sight, only for the arrogant and very thirsty zebra to eventually return to drink!

A second time the plovers rose up clamorously and now we knew why - they dive bombed the bounding cat as she made a more determined try for the zebra - we could track her progress in the dark as they yelled above her! The wily zebra had her measure, easily keeping ahead of his pursuer, but was nearly intercepted by the more determined advance of a second lioness materialized to join the chase. Breathlessly we watched as the zebra managed to dash into the surrounding night and the two cats gave up, one sneaking off back behind her termite mound, and the other sitting, slumped disconsolately, on the banks of the pan, to stare hungrily after the juicy, escaped dinner.

She disappeared from our sight after a time. We moves about camp organizing ourselves for the night, going later back to the edge of the firelight to watch the crisp night unfold as Scorpio curled a long and elegant tail of stars above us.

All had gone quiet and we assumed that the lions had retired, disgruntled, to join the male somewhere out there in the silent bush. Down came a stocky black shape to the water's edge - a civet, which drank and shortly wheeled about and trotted away. It was the last drink that poor civet ever had - As he passed over the rise of the termite mound ambush and out of our sight, there was a rush and a scuffle and an abrupt shriek, followed by the swift rustle and snap of grass and twigs being thrust aside as the victorious lioness trotted away rapidly with her prize, evading the hungry mewlings of her sister who heard the kill and wanted some… All over in minutes, a lesson in the virtue of patience! The next morning we tracked the progress of the ambush, the kill and the departure of the lioness who had secured herself a good snack...

"Tomorrow", says Clive still wearing his old bush hat woven from the fronds of the ilala palm, the talking stick in his hand, "we'll journey to an even more beautiful part of Gonarezhou, to a bend in the Runde River, to the sand stone cliffs of Chilojo. They tower some 300 metres above the meandering river and at sunset their banded colours of russet, orange and pink, light up the whole area - you won't believe it," he says as he raises his enamel mug. We'll keep you posted...

Anyone who wishes to visit this beautiful piece of paradise can contact Clive Stockil at clives@senuko.com

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