Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge
Gonarezhou National Park, Southern Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
At a Glance
Soak in the knowledge imparted by the expert guiding team
Explore the rocky sandstone cliffs by foot
Stop on a sandbank in the Save River for a sundowner
Cool off in the outdoor pool during the heat of the day
Dinner on the deck is a great experience: out under the stars and with the hippo grunting below
Best time to Visit
Good time to visit
Average time to visit
From mid May through to early August the days are warm and clear but the night time temperatures can drop below freezing. September through to May is generally hot in the day and warm at night, Gonarezhou usually sees rain from late November to April.
The best time for game viewing is from August to early November, water is scarce, the bush has died back and game congregates around the water. Birdlife is prolific during the rainy season, and although the game has dispersed due to readily available surface water, this is still a great time to experience this area.
Call us on 858 345 1761 to start planning your vacation to Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge or take a look at our itineraries to Southern Zimbabwe
Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge is perched high above the Save River in the south eastern corner of Zimbabwe. This recently refurbished lodge offers a fantastic range of activities and incredible game viewing in Gonarezhou National Park.
As with much of Zimbabwe over the past fifteen years Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge suffered from a drop in tourism and a lack of investment. This gem of a lodge reopened in 2012 after a team of Zimbabwean and international investors recognised the extraordinary potential of the area and the lodge itself. A complete refurbishment was led by original Chilo founding father and head guide Clive Stockil, a real pioneer of Zimbabwean conservation. In 2013 Clive won the Tusk Trust lifetime achievement award for conservation.
The lodge itself is perched high on a rocky outcrop above the Save River on the north eastern boundary of Gonarezhou National Park in south eastern Zimbabwe. The views from the lodge are spectacular, the Save River draws animals in to drink, it is not uncommon to see elephant and buffalo below the lodge, and the river itself is home to large populations of crocodile and hippo.
The style of the lodge is that of a large two level building, it is of timber and stone construction and the large thatch roof keeps the internal areas cool during the heat of the day. At the front of the lodge is a large outdoor pool, the patio in this area is a great location for dinner under the stars.
There are ten chalet rooms each with a lovely private balcony where you can sit and take in the views of the river. There are also two luxury rooms with an interleading balcony, ideal for families.
Chilo Gorge offers a fantastic range of activities and is a brilliant base from which to explore the vast wilderness of Gonarezhou National Park.
The main camp consists of ten king or twin chalets. All rooms overlook the Save River below from private balconies. All rooms are en-suite and comfortably furnished in a local Shangaan style. Rooms are equipped with mosquito netting, tea and coffee making facilities and a minibar.
A short distance away from the main area are four double and one family chalet that sleeps up to six. This area is called Nhambo Camp and is marketed as a self-catering option, however, meals can be provided in the main lodge throughout guests stay.
Chilo Gorge caters for all ages. Children's beds and cots are available. It is important to note that this area of the country is a particularly wild big game safari area. The elephants in particular are know to be more afraid of humans and therefore more jumpy than in other more visited areas of the country.
As the lodge is perched high on the cliffs above the Save River, and due to the presence of a large outdoor swimming pool, it is important that children are supervised by their parents at all times.
Chilo Gorge is blessed with an excellent team of guides, led by senior guide and Chilo Gorge founding father Clive Stockil. His expertly trained team all have great experience in the industry and fantastic local knowledge of the area.
Activities at Chilo Gorge are varied and offer a great all round safari experience. Game drives and walks are usually taken within Gonarezhou National Park and include full-day trips to visit the Chilojo Cliffs. Early mornings and afternoons are the best times for viewing game. An early morning walking safari along the Save River is a great way to begin the day. A superb location for photography is Tembwehata Water Pan, rich in game and home to extremely diverse birdlife.
A walk of 3 km from the lodge takes you to the Chivilila Falls, and a viewpoint over the dramatic falling torrent.
At the end of a long day a sundowner on a sandbank in the Save River is unforgettable.
He looks like an Old Testament prophet even though his fiery chariot is an elderly, single-engined Cessna. White-haired, bearded & grave, the pilot gazes down at the story of postcolonial Africa written on the landscape 3,000ft below, and sighs. Its a different country now, he says.
Under the right wing of the plane is his own lost paradise; the family tobacco farm, gone in a morning. It had been the lifetimes work of generations, ended by a rabble calling themselves war veterans, puppets of a tyrannical state. The pilot & his family were ordered out of their home there & then. He can't even say he was sent packing because they weren't allowed to take their belongings. Their past & future, all gone by lunchtime. The valuable tobacco crop, he says, was left to rot. Some of his land is now being used for subsistence farming. Looking down, you can see, here and there, a few patches of maize, the odd cow. But most is returning to bush. The pilot describes it all with a detachment that is almost shocking. He seems to have trained himself not to express any opinion, any emotion. Life is obviously a long battle against bitterness but even he cant keep the sadness out of his voice. He has reinvented himself as a charter pilot, flying the few tourists who still go to Zimbabwe around some of the finest sights in Africa. The sun still gets up every morning, he says. And so do I.
Zimbabwe's economy depended on tobacco & tourism. In that spasm of calculated madness a decade ago, President Robert Mugabe destroyed both. When 2,500 white farmers were turfed off their land, the tobacco industry collapsed. The brutality with which it was done deterred all but the bravest of visitors. People are strange, one tour operator told me. The violence against the farmers and their workers put a lot of tourists off. But when television showed their family pets being killed, 98% of my bookings were cancelled overnight.
The tourists are starting to come back now. The politics of Zimbabwe are still poisonous but the country has reached the stability of stalemate. Mugabe retains power through fraud & thuggery. The opposition was first beaten to a pulp & then sucked into a unity government and neutered. Mugabe may not even have needed to rig the last elections but he did anyway. Hes 90 and says hell live to 100.
The tourist revival is being spearheaded by the dispossessed. Everywhere we went, the places seemed to be run by former tobacco farmers, or their sons and daughters. They work hard and keep their heads down. They cant, or wont, leave the land they loved and lost. You can see why. It was is the most beautiful country in Africa. When it was part of my patch as a BBC correspondent, we used to spend most of our vacations there. My children got soaked in the rainforest created by the Victoria Falls, thrilled there was no fence between us and the thundering chasm (there still isnt).
That, or much of it, is still true. The economy may have been ransacked & ruined. A nation that once had the highest standard of living in Africa now has among the lowest. A country that fed much of the region cant feed itself. Millions of people have left the country; among those who remain, only one in 20 has a job, and life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 36. But there are small signs of improvement you can buy things now that they have swapped Zimbabwean dollars for US ones (only after the exchange rate had reached 308 trillion to 1).
It is still a great place to visit, and you dont help anybody by staying away. You have to see Victoria Falls at least once in your life and it is much better from the Zimbabwe side. You could join the trickle of tourists returning to the well-known glories of the Zambezi valley, Mana Pools, Hwange. But if you want to taste the real Africa, & see how a little high-level tourism could do a lot about poverty and official neglect, go to the southeastern corner of the country. Go to the Lowveld.
Chilo Gorge is a collection of stone and thatch luxury lodges set spectacularly high on a cliff over the great Save (pronounced Sah-vay) river. Its just downstream from the Chivirira Falls, a beauty spot now, but a place of indelible sadness. For centuries there was a slave market by the boiling cataract because it was the furthest point inland that the Arab traders could bring their ships.
Across the river from the lodges is Gonarezhou National Park, the 2nd largest in Zimbabwe and roughly the size of Devon. The name means Place of the Elephants. There are lots of them still, lots of almost everything that moves on the low African savannah, except for black rhino. They were wiped out, the park was restocked, and they were promptly wiped out again. Too many poachers, too many guns, too much money to be made, & too few rangers.
To go from Chilo with a knowledgeable guide Zimbabwes guides are still regarded as the best in Africa over the river & into the, largely unvisited, park is a raw & wonderful experience. I like the big stuff but other things thrill me more these days. Lions, in particular, are overrated. How can a lions loafing compare with the Sisyphean odyssey of the dung beetle, endlessly pushing 50 times his own weight of excrement in pursuit of love?
The driving force behind Chilo is one of Africas most famous conservationists. Clive Stockil is a big man in small shorts & a cowboy hat, a dispossessed tobacco farmer. His insight, long before it became fashionable, was that the wild places & their animals will not survive unless the local people have a stake. He has pursued it for decades. Over dinner in the gloaming on Chilos deck above the river, he summed up his lifes work. In Africa, he says, aesthetics are a luxury. The challenge is not species, but space. Hes a native himself: born here, speaks Shangaan, runs his businesses & trusts in partnership with local communities. They get a cut from every hunting licence, every visitor
Tusk Conservation Awards: Princely custodians of the bush
Two conservationists were honoured tonight for their work in Africa with awards presented by Prince William. Nigel Richardson, who spent time with both men, in Zimbabwe and Kenya, reports on what they do and where tourists can see them in action.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Winner (and sole nominee) - Clive Glenn Stockil, Zimbabwe
If we flush her out in the thick bush she may charge. In which case, find a tree. Ideally to climb, but if not, move around the back of it so the rhino cant see you properly, and shell run past He made a downward sweep of his arm to indicate a close shave.
Two minutes later we spotted the rhino, 20 yards away, squinting from undergrowth, mindful of her calf. There was no charge and after a few seconds we withdrew. Fantastic. Brilliant, Stockil whispered, patting me on the shoulder a rare show of emotion from a private man.
For the winner of Tusks first Lifetime Achievement Award a man lauded as one of the early visionaries of community conservation this sighting was a moment of perfect happiness in a life characterized by highs and lows like youd never believe. Stockil wears as many metaphorical hats as the straw ones stacked in his Lowveld house, among the paintings, books and animal skins.
But his achievements on two fronts stand out: his creation of a stronghold for rhino, elephant and the African wild dog in the Save Valley Conservancy where we tracked the black rhino; and his pioneering work on behalf of rural communities and for community conservation initiatives, here and near the border with Mozambique.
Of English and Scottish descent, he was born in this hot, dry, remote region in 1951 (It was like a little bit of the Garden of Eden that had been left behind) and grew up with the Shangaan and Shona people, speaking the two languages as naturally and fluently as English one of the keys to his later successes. In 1967 he rebelled against formal education by going on a five-month walkabout in the bush with three Shangaan friends. That wilderness experience with a few quality individuals stands out as a highlight in ones life, he told me.
In 1982 he started acting as an interpreter and facilitator for the Shangaan community at Mahenye, on the edge of Gonarezhou National Park. Before independence in 1980, villagers had been turfed out of their homes within the park boundaries, and when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe they expected to be allowed back. But they werent, and poaching then went through the roof, he recalled.
Over several years, and literally hundreds of meetings between villagers and the parks management, he gained the trust of Mahenye and helped the community develop ways of working with, rather than against, wildlife a notably successful example of the Campfire (Communal Areas Management Programme For Indigenous Resources) initiative. To achieve sustainable conservation, especially on the continent of Africa, you have to build in human needs and pressures, he said.
The fruits of that work include Mahenye school, which opened in 1986, and Chilo Gorge Lodge, a 10-room tourist lodge overlooking the Save River. The latter opened in 1996, was refurbished late last year and employs 30 staff from Mahenye. The latest plan is to establish a wilderness reserve on community land so that tourists dont have to go to the national park to see wildlife.
In addition to his work here and in the Save Valley Conservancy, Clive Stockil has found time to be nearly killed twice (by a buffalo and a rhino respectively), to have his livelihood the family sugarcane farm taken away in Zimbabwes land reforms, and to win the French National Order of Merit (in 2011, for his conservation work).
Giving generously of his time and expertise, he serves on many boards and committees dedicated to conservation and tourism. But he is happiest with his straw hat on, downwind of a rhino. As his partner, Lin Barrie, said, Hes like a baobab. If you took him out of this environment he wouldnt survive.
Location & directions
Gonarezhou National Park, Southern Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Chilo Gorge is located on the Save River along the north eastern border of Gonarezhou National Park in south eastern Zimbabwe.
How to get there
By road, Chilo Gorge is a 6 hour minibus transfer from Harare Airport. To avoid this long journey, we recommend either chartering a plane into the private Mahenye Airstrip, or taking advantage of the Federal Air scheduled flights from Johannesburg to Buffalo Range, 1-hour from the lodge, which operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is possible to charter a plane to fly to Mahenye from any location in Zimbabwe or beyond.