If you are looking for a taste of wild and remote pristine wilderness, look no further! You HAVE to go to Gonarezhou!

Drive in or fly in, that is the hardest decision you will have to make! Once there, everything is taken care of and you will only need to work out whether you would rather spend a chilled few hours sitting at a water hole watching bird and animal life go by, or a full day trip to the stunning Chilojo cliffs game viewing en route or a chance to see African wild dogs based on the local knowledge of Jess Watermayer of the AWCF and the experienced tracker Ruben, or all of the above!

The stunning, Chilo Lodge, founded by Clive Stockil, is on the edge of Gonarezhou National Park. As you walk out onto the spacious deck you are greeted with a magnificent view over the wide sand banks along the Save River to Mahenye Island downriver and let your gaze sweep over the pristine bush generously dotted with baobabs of all shapes and sizes. Down below the crocodile’s glide through the water and the elephants slide down the river bank out of Gonarezhou National Park to drink and bathe. As you relax in your ‘out of Africa’ room, nestled privately into the bush surrounding the lodge, the sound of the trumpeter hornbills and sweet smells of the bush are just perfect.

This year all the guests flew in, including a group from Poland, two old boys from Falcon College in Zimbabwe with their families (where Jeremy went to school), and the Canadian ambassador. The weekend was filled with informal wine tastings in a wide variety of venues hosted by Jeremy, and much drinking and enjoying of our Painted Wolf Wines in general! Jess Watermayer gave us precious insights into her work in the area with AWCF (sadly Dr Rosemary Groom wasn’t able to join this year) with particular focus on African wild dogs of course. Clive recounted many fascinating stories of his experiences over the years and is always keen to take visitors to visit the Mahenye village community, where he has been involved for 37 years. This year we visited the medical clinic with its impressive records of the number of patients they have treated successfully out of such a limited space. There is a Shangaan kraal where they hold an annual community event and where visitors can see the traditional way of life without invading privacy. On a previous visit we were able to watch the harvesting of palm wine, and even sample it! Artist Lin, is always busy with a new project, this year involving her artwork on a designer dress… and a plane!

and plenty of game drive time soaking in the magic of Gonarezhou…

The amazing Chilo Gorge team with our wines

Now, in the dry season it is incredible to drive onto the thick sand of the river bed and realise just how wide this river can be, and exhilarating to launch into the water and drive the short section through the river, carefully following the markers, swinging hard and climbing up the sand bank into Gonarezhou. Woe betide not knowing the path as the main channel is far too deep to cross as some recent travellers found out to their cost.

It was a valuable time to catch up with Jess and extremely exciting to hear that the total population of African wild dogs in the Save and Gonarezhou areas continue to be doing really well. Their count at the end of 2016 was an estimated 246 wild dogs across 30 packs. Given that there is only estimated to be 660 breeding packs left in the wild, those 30 packs represent a significant stronghold!

They are carefully monitoring the dens as they do at this time of year each season, and have been rewarded with images of pups from various camera traps. A large percentage of their time is spent working with the local communities to help them understand the importance of conservation, and were delighted that this led to three children from a local primary school taking action and rescuing two African wild dog puppies that were drowning in a canal near their school. They also need to dart and remove snares from the wild dogs and of course keep track of the populations. We were fortunate to catch a glimpse of some of the seventeen strong Marikiti Pack

Our adventure to the famous Chilojo cliffs some distance away, took us through Mopane scrub, Ilala palm forests, areas with huge, beautiful trees such as the Jackal berry and baobabs everywhere. A small pan must have had dozens of species of birds, and numerous animals came in to drink and wallow in the mud.

The view from the top of the cliffs was awesome, the winding semi dry river bed stretching into the distance and miles and miles of bush. Last year we were fortunate to see a pack of wild dogs way down below, trotting along getting into hunting formation, a very special sighting given the huge area of the national park.  This year the guests were very fortunate to see some of the twenty two strong Chalanda Pack. Continuing down to enjoy the view from below, the magnificent cliffs completely dwarf the elephants in the river bed.

We enjoyed sundowners surrounded by flowering aloes and the steep cliffs of the gorge, listening to the waterfall and Clive’s story of the legendary creature living in the deep narrow pool through which all the rivers water is funnelled. Legend has it that anyone who fell in was turned into a mermaid and had eternal life.

Previously we had the special privilege to enjoy a bush feast in the brand new, 8 bed tented camp, Mahove, where we sat soaking in the view over the floodplain, with elephants, baboons and warthogs wandering in and out of our canvas…it was hard to tear ourselves away although sitting on the wide sand bank enjoying sun downers was the next best thing!

Sincere thanks to the Chilo lodge team for their incredible hospitality, nothing was too much trouble, and the special touches were very much appreciated. Whether you are drawn to Mahove, where you can meld into the bush, or Chilo Lodge where you can step back a little, you are sure to be very well looked after.

Sitting outside on a balmy Zimbabwean evening at a long table bursting with food, wine and like-minded people chatting up a storm will be a lasting memory for me. That is what the Wine and Wild dog weekend is all about, a coming together of people passionate about conservation and with a deep understanding that education through working alongside rural communities is the key…

You may well wonder why hold a ‘Wine and wild dog weekend’ – well, it all started with the maiden vintage of our flagship wine, Pictus 2009, needing a stunning piece of artwork for the label, and a most fortuitous contact with artist Lin Barrie who is as besotted with African wild dogs as we are!

Before we knew it our designer,  was busy with Lin’s gorgeous artwork, ‘Snare and her siblings in the moonlight’ and we had 4500 bottles (being the approximate number of African wild dogs remaining in the whole of Africa) of our Rhone style blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache. (Pictus is named for the scientific name for an African Wild Dog, Lycaon Pictus, meaning Wolf in Greek and Painted in Latin)

Lin’s stunning artwork can also be found on Pictus III, our 2011 vintage.

The Borg Family getting back to their roots in the bush

Having lived and worked in a bush camp in Botswana previously, it was really important to Jeremy and I that our wine company, Painted Wolf Wines, ‘gave back’ to the African bush, hence our choice to support the highly endangered African wild dog (or painted wolf), and our donations to their conservation from every bottle sold to organisations such as the TUSK Trust and EWT.

As we got to know Lin and her partner, conservationist and tourism operator Clive Stockil, it became clear we had much in common and that we could help each other spread the word.  We also strongly support Clive’s belief that community led conservation is vital for the survival of African wildlife.  He has been working with the Mahenye village community in the Chilo Lodge area for four decades, and the mutual respect is clearly evident. He most deservedly received the Prince William Award for a lifetime achievement in Conservation, in 2013.