Chizarira, although one of Zimbabwe's larger and most beautiful National Parks, is also one of the least known. It lies on the Sijarira Horst, approximately 50km east of Binga.
The name is derived from the Tonga 'chijalila' or 'sijalila' - a closing off; a barrier - and Chizarira is probably the least-visited of all Zimbabwe's major National Parks, largely because of this remoteness and seclusion.
On rhe park's northern boundary, high ridges of hills are cut by deep, near-sheer gorges through which rivers flow to Lake Kariba. The views from the adjacent hills are spectacular, whether looking out across the Zambezi Valley and Lake Kariba, south across the park itself, or into the dark depths of the gorges. Meanwhile, at the park's northeastern tip, lies Tundazi, the sacred mountain which, according to local legend, is inhabited by a huge serpent. In the low-lying south, on the Busi River, acacia floodplains are flanked by mopane and lowveld scrub.
Chizarira's 'special mammals' are the roan antelope and the tsessebe, both of which occur here, but are rare or absent in many other Parks. Dense vegetation in the gorges provides habitats for uncommon species such as the Angola Pitta, and the Park is thought to hold an estimated 368 bird species including Taita falcons on the escarpment cliffs.
Lovers of wilderness and solitude will find Chizarira entrancing. There are few visitors; no tarred roads; and no accommodation other than basic campsites, some with amazing views across the Zambezi Valley to Lake Kariba.
Chizarira was once a black rhino stronghold. Sadly, there are now none left within the Park. Most were poached out during the 1980's and early 1990s and Dick Pitman, ZIM4x4's tour leader, remembers flying the Super Cub 'spotter aircraft' on an exercise to relocate the survivors to Intensive Protection Zones such as the Matusadona National Park.
Chizarira - and its south-easterly neighboure, the Chirisa Safari Area - is really where the elephant culling issue got under way. Some of its woodlands suffered severe elephant damage when Lake Kariba filled. This, allied to the construction of tsetse fences to the south, 'compressed' elephant populations into a much smaller area than before, resulting in heavy pressure on woodlands.
The management of wildlife populations - whether through culling or in other forms - is still a hot topic, and guarantees a lively discussion round the evening's camp fire.
When to visit
It's sometimes possible to reach the park HQ during the rains - and the area is very lovely at that time - but most will probably prefer the drier months, from April to November.
ZIM4X4 RECOMMENDATION: Chizarira does not generally have the huge and very visible concentrations of animals for which parks such as Mana Pools are famous. Its strong points are scenery, variety, and that elusive attribute known as 'wilderness quality'.
We suggest Chizarira to clients who enjoy genuinely wild surroundings and are ready to take time to explore them without becoming impatient to see large numbers of animals.
Best combined with visits to the Matusadona and Mana Pools National Parks. Eight hours (approx) from Harare; and we'd stay either at the nearby Chizarira Lodge, or at basic campsites inside the Park itself.