PARQUE NACIONAL DA GORONGOSA
One of Africa’s great game reserves, the Gorongosa National Park (www.gorongosa.net) in central Mozambique, is back on track after civil war forced it to close in 1983. And it’s magnificent – a kind of mini-Okavango Delta - and well worth the effort of getting there.
The 4,000 square kilometre Park is located at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley. The Park includes the valley floor and parts of the surrounding plateaus, and is criss-crossed by rivers originating on the nearby Mount Gorongosa. Seasonal flooding of the valley – on average, a mere 14 metres above sea-level - creates a remarkable variety of distinct ecosystems - grasslands dotted with patches of Acacia trees, savanna, dry forest on sands (including the largest Fever Tree forest I’ve seen, as well as Lala Palms and Baobabs aplenty!), seasonally rain-filled pans and termite hill thickets.
The park at one time supported some of the densest wildlife populations in all of Africa. But large mammal numbers were reduced by as much as 95% during Mozambique's many years of civil conflict. During the civil war, Gorongosa was the scene of frequent battles between FRELIMO and RENAMO forces. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting and aerial bombing destroyed buildings and roads. Both sides slaughtered hundreds of Elephant for their ivory, selling it to buy arms and supplies. Hungry soldiers shot many more thousands of Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo, and other antelope species. Lion and other large predators were gunned down for sport, or died of starvation when their prey disappeared.
In 2004, the Carr Foundation, a U.S. non-profit organisation, teamed up with the Government of Mozambique to restore the park to its former glory. Anti-poaching teams have been trained, the park’s infrastructure rebuilt, game re-introduced (the game population has increased by 40% in just 3 years!) and local communities involved – the most important element in the success of the programme so far.
In the flooded rainy season, water backs up into the valley and out onto the plains, covering as much as 200 square kilometres. For obvious reasons, therefore, the park is closed between November and April. During the dry season, by contrast, Lake Urema's waters shrink to as little as 10 square kilometres.
Several thousand tourists are now visiting the park each year, and the legendary Chitengo Safari Camp – destroyed in the war - is open for visitors once more. Camping and very comfortable lodge accommodation is available, a restaurant serves good meals (breakfast is included in accommodation cost), and guided game drives and walks in the reserve are conducted by superbly trained guides. You can do your own game drives, of course – but parts of the park are best reached by
4 X 4 vehicles only.
For an even more luxurious safari experience, Explore Gorongosa (www.exploregorongosa.com) is a private tented camp within the park, with a maximum of eight guests at any one time.
A visit to the Gorongosa National Park will involve you in one of the greatest wildlife restoration projects in Africa!
Gorongosa can be easily accessed by road – we drove up from Maputo, with a few overnights en route (at Barra Lodge - www.barraresorts.com - near Inhambane, and Bazaruto Lodge - www.pestana.com - on Bazaruto Island), and the roads are in perfect condition, by and large. There are also flights into Gorongosa from Maputo, Beira and Vilanculos.
Well worth seeing - National Geographic's film on Gorongosa, "Africa's Lost Eden."