Chilo Gorge is set on a cliff over looking the Save River as it flows towards Mozambique
Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge: Our full report
Elevated atop a cliff, Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge has fantastic views over the Save River below and Ghonarezhou National Park beyond. Refurbished and re-opened in 2012, the lodge lies just outside the park, whose north-eastern boundary is formed by the river.
We first visited in the late 1990s, but in the subsequent decade the lodge’s fortunes followed a similarly rocky path to those of Zimbabwe itself. We were delighted then, when at the end of 2012, a team of enthusiastic Zimbabwean and ex-pat investors informed us that the refurbished Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge was now open. We were even more encouraged to hear that a key figure in this team is Clive Stockil, a man instrumental in the foundation of the original Chilo Gorge Lodge and a pioneer of Zimbabwean conservation.
A member of the Expert Africa team went to visit Chilo in June 2013 and we were really impressed by a lodge offering a great variety of activities and serving as a fantastic base from which to explore the vast and still relatively unknown Gonarezhou National Park.
Chilo Gorge’s main area makes the most of the views. Large, open and constructed from stone, timber and thatch, it houses the bar, a small library, a few lounges and the dining areas in an expansive double-storey structure which provides plenty of nooks and crannies for relaxing in. .
At the front of the main area is a large outdoor pool which also takes advantage of the views. The lodge will gladly provide dinner on the patio by the pool for guests who want to eat out under the stars. When the weather cools or the rains arrive there is also an indoor dining area, which has more of a restaurant feel to it, with separate tables.
Game viewing from the main area is interesting in its own right. On our last visit we saw a number of nyala come down to drink late one afternoon on the opposite bank of the river. There is also a large number of hippo and crocodile which call the Save River home, while elephant and buffalo come to drink at the water’s edge regularly.
Accommodation at Chilo Gorge comprises 15 chalets across two different locations:
- Ten king-size or twin chalets are located at the main camp, each overlooking the river gorge from a private balcony with glazed doors. These split-level chalets are very comfortably furnished and decorated in the local Shangaan style, and are kitted out with en-suite showers, mosquito nets, tea- and coffee-making facilities and a minibar. On our last visit to Chilo Gorge we stayed in the ‘Hornbill Chalet’, with fantastic views onto the river and sandbank about 40 meters below.
The chalets have an elevated bathroom behind the sunken bedroom. The toilet is situated in its own separate cubicle with a locking swing-door for added privacy. Complementary toiletries are provided, and on our last stay the high-pressure shower had plenty of hot water.
- Four self-catering double chalets and a family chalet (sleeping up to six) are set in Nhambo Camp, a little way from the main area. This smaller enclave of Chilo Gorge includes its own plunge pool, barbecue area and kitchen, and is a good option for a family or group of friends looking for a more self-contained option. Guests may also head to the lodge for their meals while staying in these units; they don’t have to stay on a self-catering basis.
The lodge has its own back-up generator but runs on mains electricity. On our last visit there were a couple of evenings when the camp was unexpectedly plunged into darkness, and although the back-up generator came on relatively quickly, for a ten-minute spell we were getting dressed for dinner by torchlight. This wasn’t a major annoyance, but as at most safari camps, a head torch is a useful item to pack in your luggage.
The diversity of activities offered by Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge is excellent, and includes morning and afternoon game drives and nature walks in the north of Gonarezhou National Park, accompanied by fully trained and armed professional guides. It’s also possible to walk to the Chivilila Falls, about 2km from camp – again with an armed guide. Game cruises on the Save River are another option (water levels permitting) as is canoeing during the rainy season.
Further afield, the lodge offers visits to the Chilojo Cliffs through the ‘Chilojo Adventurer’ – a three-night sleep out safari which enables guests to get deeper into the national park, and is well worth considering.
Visits to the Shangaan village of Mahenye, with which the lodge has very close ties, can be arranged on request. On our last visit to Chilo, we enjoyed an afternoon drive around the village, spending a couple of hours exploring Mahenye and visiting the village school. A community centre was under construction in Mahenye and we’re sure it’ll be a fascinating place to learn more about the local tribe, the Machangana.
The Machangana survive through a subsistence way of life and have a great respect for the local environment. Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, largely due to the influence of Clive Stockil, is very conscious of the conflict that exists at the boundaries between wildlife and human habitation, and doesn’t try to sugar coat these issues.
Our viewChilo Gorge Safari Lodge has undergone a renaissance and is now a very smart, luxury safari lodge offering a great variety of activities and some fantastic guiding. The variety of activities here is of real appeal, and we particularly appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the very real challenges facing this area in the context of a remote wilderness experience.
Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend a stay of about three nights at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, especially if you’d like to partake in the ’Chilojo Adventurer’.
Directions: Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge is a six-hour drive from Harare, with guests transferred between Harare and the lodge by six-seater minibus. It’s worth bearing in mind that the price of the transfer is for the vehicle so the more people travelling, the less expensive the transfer is per person. By air, it is possible to charter a plane into Chilo’s private Mahenye airstrip. Alternatively, there are scheduled flights from Johannesburg to Buffalo Range (60km from Chilo Gorge) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Staff: Shirley Wilson – Harare based marketing manager Michelle Hein – Harare based office manager John Laing – Operations manager at the lodge Nadine du Plessis – Lodge manager Thomas Mutombeni – Head Guide Clive Stockil – Director
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits will cost extra and may need to be requested in advance.
Attitude towards children: All age groups are catered for.
Property’s age restrictions: All age groups are catered for.
Special activities & services: None
Equipment: Children’s beds and cots are available. Highchairs are available. We have a selection of children’s toys.
Generally recommended for children: Chilo Gorge has a family chalet and we’re told that the staff are dedicated to providing a wildlife experience for the entire family. Indeed, Nadine and John (lodge managers at the time of writing in March 2013) have a four-year-old daughter and therefore have first-hand experience of what works for small children in a bush environment.
Notes: There are potential dangers to children from wildlife, including Gonarezhou’s notoriously aggressive elephants, as well as from the swimming pool and steep cliffs, so parents must be vigilant at all times.
Communications: The lodge has WI-FI, a land line telephone, e-mail and Skype connectivity. There is mobile reception with the local provider.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The lodge has first aiders on site and a doctor available in nearby Chiredzi. In the event of an emergency we have a casualty evacuation plan from our private airstrip with Medical Air Rescue Services (MARS).
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: 24 hour security patrols the property
Fire safety: The lodge has fire extinguishers throughout and lightening conductors.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included in the all-inclusive package. Turnaround times are normally 24 hours.
Money: All rooms have safes and there is a safe at the lodge. The Lodge accepts US$.
Accepted payment on location: Credit Cards are accepted (1.5% commission charged by the provider)