Gonarezhou Bushcamps

As part of our active safaris story, we chatted with Anthony Kaschula from Gonarezhou Bushcamps about walking safaris in this special part of Zimbabwe, Gonarezhou as a destination, and safari stories in this unique and beautiful part of Africa.

The size of everything in Gonarezhou just seems bigger than anywhere else – the baobab trees, the sand rivers, the towering cliffs, the elephants, the endless swathes of mopane vineyards
A man taking photographs and a woman with binoculars wearing safari clothing on a walking safari in Gonarezhou at sunset

What do you love most about Gonarezhou?
The fact that the majority of Gonarezhou is totally pristine, untramelled wilderness of the purest kind left in Africa.

What makes it a special place for walking safaris - and what makes walking in the bush so special to you?
The fact that it is so vast and has such a variety of habitats and landscapes to explore makes it a very exciting place to explore as one has virtually unlimited walking options. What makes walking in the bush for me so special/enjoyable is the constant feeling of anticipation; one never knows what you’re going to find around the next corner, gorge, gully, ravine, or bush for that matter. The ground underfoot is our daily newspaper on which each animal that has passed has left his/her signature stating when, where, how fast, in which direction etc. he/she has gone and, when one knows just how much is there, makes one aware that it’s possible to bump into any one of them at any time... 

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Gonarezhou. What drew you there? What has made your passion for it so enduring?
It’s a pretty long story of how I ended up choosing Gonarezhou as the focus of our tour operations but, save to say, the catalyst was an exploratory school trip in 1993 when I was a teenager that got me hooked on the place. The size of everything in Gonarezhou just seems bigger than anywhere else – the baobab trees, the sand rivers, the towering cliffs, the elephants, the endless swathes of mopane vineyards, etc. What particularly draws me to the place is the park’s elephants, which I have a very keen interest in. For decades, these animals have endured levels of abuse from human beings that no creature should suffer, so to see them finally starting to settle down is indeed a privilege. To spend time in the company of a wise, old bull in the twilight of his life and for him to peacefully come up to you without any aggression whatsoever is an experience not soon to be forgotten.

Riverbed at the foot of the red, square Chilojo Cliffs in Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe with the moon rising in the sky

The sun is setting. Tea, G&T, or beer?
G&T or beer, as it depends on the day.

What is the first place that comes to mind where you would love to drink it in the park? Why there?
Sitting out on the sand of the Runde River with the orange glow of the afternoon sun on the Chilojo Cliffs is about as good as it gets. Often, this is the time when elephants by the drove also make their way down to the river after a long hot day feeding in the mopane.

Your walking boots must have stories to tell of your adventures on foot over the years. What is the most memorable experience you - and your walking boots - have shared?
I seldomly wear boots and prefer to live/walk in Tevas as they allow one to feel the ground so much better than a boot and are easy to get on/off when crossing the river. One of my most memorable experiences occurred a few years ago when I was spending time with a trainee guide, Scott, who was soon to attend his proficieny test - a week-long exam where he would be tested on everything he’d learned over the years of his training. We found two young elephant bulls which we approached on foot and managed to get into a ‘cage’of dead branches a few metres away from them. One of them picked up our movement and came to investigate us, stopping a few metres away. I unwrapped the sweat-soaked scarf which was around my neck and, rolling it into a ball, gently tossed it near his feet to see how he would react to the scent as, at that point, we were down wind of him. After giving it a good sniff, he picked it up and, after swishing it a few times, threw it up into the air and it landed on his head. He then turned and slowly walked away with the scarf draped over his head. It fell off a few metres away, at which point his buddy came up and did exactly the same thing. We eventually managed to recover the scarf once they had lost interest in it about 10 minutes later…

View of the Chilojo Cliffs and sun on the river in the valley at sunrise in Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe
From a vehicle, you’re not much more than a spectator whilst, on foot, you’re a participant
Wetland with water birds feeding and a forest in the distance on a walking safari with Gonarezhou Bushcamps in Zimbabwe

And the funniest/quirkiest experience you have had?
I’ve had a couple of interactions with elephant cows where I have tossed an item such as a flip flop towards them and, in several cases, have had them pick it up and throw it right back at me! When spending time with elephants in close proximity, there is very often a two-way interaction/connection.

What wildlife is Gonarezhou known for? Is there anything in particular people travel to see? What do you recommend guests to the area should be on the lookout for?
“Gonarezhou” means “The Place of Elephants” so they are one of the park’s biggest attractions and their presence is impossible to ignore. However, numbers of all other charismatic species are healthy and on the increase year upon year. The majority of wildlife in Gonarezhou is, considering the history of the park and few visitor numbers over the years, inherently skittish/shy and the elephants have a reputation for being very aggressive. Whilst there are indeed some family units that are still very mistrusting/unsettled with people/vehicles, they are becoming a lot more relaxed with people and we are having interactions with elephants that are incredibly peaceful and engaging.

What time of year is best for game-viewing? When is the rainy season? When is it unbearably hot? What is the average summer high and winter low temperatures?
My favourite time of the year in Gonarezhou is mid-April until mid-June. The rainy season is from November to March and, during this time, we do not operate. It can get unpleasantly hot and humid in November just before the rains arrive. I don’t pay much attention to thermometers but, for most of the year, one can wear a t-shirt and shorts and, for a couple of weeks in July and early August, a fleece is needed for a couple of hours in the early morning and after sunset.

Elephant bull with curved tusks spotted walking while game-viewing on a walking safari in Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe

Is there one thing in the area visitors shouldn’t miss?
Visitors should not miss a walk along the Runde River as there are some magnificent trees, many of which are centuries old.

Apart from Gonarezhou, where else do you love to go on safari?
In addition to Gonarezhou, I really enjoy the Matthews Range and Chyulu Hills in Kenya; Zakouma National Park in Chad, and the Mahale Mountains in Tanzania.

Based on your experience, what are the 5 essentials you recommend clients should bring on their walking safaris?
Five essentials to bring on a walking safari include a pair of Swarovski binoculars (EL8x32s are great); a wide-brimmed hat; walking shoes with soft soles (hard rubber makes too much noise on gravely soils); a good pair of sunglasses; and a comfortable day pack with at least a 30-litre capacity.

Is a walking safari for everyone, or do you need to be very fit?
Walking safaris are not only suited to fit/active people. However, should you want to make the most out of any experience that might present itself, then having a moderate level of fitness is definitely worthwhile.

Anything else to add?
From a vehicle, you’re not much more than a spectator whilst, on foot, you’re a participant and this is what makes a walking safari such a rich experience. Also, the main reason for the success of Gonarezhou and the increasing wildlife populations and well-maintained infrastructure is the formation of the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust which took over full responsibility and management of the park in February 2017. The GCT is a partnership between the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

View of the brown flowing water of the Runde River surrounded by rock, bushveld, and a cloudy sky in Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe
A canvas safari tent with beds, canvas bath, tables, and awnings set up in the middle of the bush at Gonarezhou Bushcamps

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