The Mystic of the Eastern Highlands

Mtandazo Dube —
On December 18 2016, we gave you an account of our Chimanimani experiences, oh that place of unrivalled scenic beauty. Our tour did not end there, we also drove to Mutare, Nyanga and Honde Valley – right on the border with Mozambique where a natural world still exists.

Aberfoyle Country Club
From Chimanimani we had to skip Vumba as we had an appointment at Aberfoyle Country Club – we had to go water rafting on Pungwe River with teams that had waited for us for the whole day. Our hosts told us that besides the “easy” water rafting, they are also the only place in the area that offers kayaking, distinguished from canoeing by the sitting position of the paddler and the number of blades on the paddle.

The area where the activities take place (Matondosa), through which Pungwe River flows past, falls under Chief Mandeya and it is a few kilometres from Mount Nyangani. Languages spoken are Barwe, Sena and a little bit of Shona.

Back at Aberfoyle Lodge, the Palm-nut vulture is a rare sight and makes birding in this low altitude area of Honde Valley one of the most intriguing and sought-after activities by tourists.

The tea plantations, through which one drives through while chasing after the various activities in the Honde Valley area, are a significant sight for sore eyes. Among these tea estates are Eastern Highlands Tea Estate, Katiyo Tea Estate, Aberfoyle Plantations, and Rumbizi and Chiwira tea estates.

Other spectacles include Mtarazi and adjacent Muchururu Falls that are caused by the abrupt drop in topography from the 1800m above sea-level in surrounding areas to Honde Valley’s average 900m above sea-level.

This place has a lot to offer, even the nearby growth point, Hauna, would blow a visitor away with all that it offers.

Pit structures of Nyanga
Away from Honde Valley is the well-documented Nyanga. It is easy for a traveller to focus on the obvious attractions – Nyangombe Falls, World’s View, Rhodes Hotel with its rich history or the beauty of Montclair Hotel and Casino, and Troutbeck Resort. Nyanga is also famed of its vast pine and wattle plantations, interlocking valleys and a lot more.

Nyanga’s low favourable temperatures are an attraction on their own. However, it has other hidden secrets. For instance, Nyanga’s unknown architectural wealth – an architectural splendor by the original inhabitants.

Most architectural lovers talk mostly about the Great Zimbabwe National Monument. Yes, the monuments are some of the most important archeological sites in Africa that gives a vivid picture to the lost civilization of the Shona people but Nyanga can be equally educative and rich in terms of how our ancestors used to live not only under the ruins but maybe first, under pit structures. Visiting one such pit structure was fascinating. According to a National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe official at the site, there are at least 35 such structures dotted around Nyanga, although some are now run down. The major one is the Ziwa Ruins, some 27 km north west of Nyanga Village.

The structures are believed to have been in existence for about 600 years, itself an intriguing insight on how people lived in ancient Zimbabwe. The pit structures, thatched pole and dagga huts have stood the test of time.

At the middle of the structures is a huge open pit, about 10m deep, with a shallow five-metre long shaft used as an entrance. Its underground walls are neatly built with stones to contain erosion.

The pit has a drainage that allows the water to be sucked out when raining. Smart! According to locals, the pit was the safest haven to protect the inhabitants’ livestock such as sheep and goats from being attacked and killed by wild animals.

Some daring predators like lions and hyenas that would attempt to attack the goats while in the pit would fall inside upon which the inhabitants would have an advantage and kill the intruder. That way the number of predators would be reduced. Clever! Information on how these pits were used is not well documented. Some historians argue that the pits were used as a traditional court by the head of the homestead when disciplining an errant member of the family.

There is a belief that there could be many of these pits, which are yet to be identified in Nyanga.

Trout fishing in Nyanga
Apart from the picturesque mountain scenery and cool clime of Nyanga, the Eastern Highlands have an added attraction for fish lovers – trout.

Trout fish is one of the attractions of Nyanga. If not at Clermont Trout Farm, Nyanga National Park or Ruparara Trout Farm – one can still find several other places in Nyanga where trout fish is in abundance. There is even a fishing tournament based on a type of trout fish, the Rainbow Trout Fish, believed to have been introduced to Nyanga from the colder Canada, Australia and Scotland in the 1940s.

Not only is the sport unique to Nyanga but it also provides an alternative to the bass and tiger angling tournaments held elsewhere in the country. There are several types of trout fish in the world and these include the brown, brooke, lake splake, sea, bull and tiger trout, to name just a few.

We even made our own supper that evening using a recipe given to us by a friend at Rhodes Hotel. The recipe will appear in next week’s edition.

La Rochelle Botanical Gardens
After a night in Mutare, we spent a few hours at Mutare’s Museum, which I believe is a story for another day. We gained lots of insights into not only the culture of the Zimbabwean people, how Mutare came to be or the history of Manicaland, but also got a glimpse into world history and how some events were shaped.

La Rochelle proved to be another rich history lesson. From the smallest flower in the nursery garden to the oldest tree, the place is a well-kept and neat manmade forest garden. One could spend time there exploring the endless trails, which traverse the lengths and breaths of the Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld’s former country home.

The Courtaulds lived there in the 1950s and 60s and were known for their lavish and warm hospitality. The gardens and nurseries where Sir Stephen’s Orchid collection continues to expand under the watchful eye of a caretaker who got the job after the death of his father, the man who worked for the Courtaulds.

La Rochelle has long been recognised as one of the most celebrated botanical gardens in Zimbabwe as well as an icon of the Art Deco movement. Whether you are seeking a venue for a wedding or small conference, or indeed a relaxing country escape, La Rochelle is the perfect destination.

Musangano Lodge
After some history lessons on La Rochelle, the flowers and trees, it was time for lunch. Musangano Lodge along Mutare-Harare highway proved to be a perfect place.

Upon arrival, we were charmed by the serene and peaceful atmosphere, staff, superb cuisine and stunning views. I even promised the general manager Leonard Bwanya that I would return with my family as the place has beautiful chalets with up to three bedrooms. It is indeed a place to linger and unwind.

Bwanya, our host and tour guide, told us that the lodge sits on 140 hectares and can take in 28 guests in 14 rooms.

Set on the lower slopes of a tree-covered hillside, blending well into the surrounding Miombo woodland, the chalets are tastefully furnished, spacious and comfortable.

Located just over 20 km from Mutare, Musangano Lodge is also referred to as the Gateway to the Eastern Highlands.

Vumba
On our way to Vumba, our car broke down. Yes, it had had enough. The Eastern Highlands is not called an adventure destination for nothing – even cars need to be able to pull using all four wheels. Those beastly off-road vehicles that we see being wasted in Harare are actually meant for the Eastern Highlands and such other places.

So last week we gave you pictures of part of the tour as we went back to Vumba to finish what we had started, this time driving a sleek SUV that is meant for that terrain. Our first real stop after several little stops along the way, taking pictures, was at White Horse Inn, where we had lunch.

This is one of Zimbabwe’s best known country hotels. True to the Christmas spirit, we had tasteful turkey served with rice, accompanied by fresh vegetables and soup in a serene environment 17 kilometres (20 minutes’ drive) from the city of Mutare, the Eastern Highlands capital, which always gives an experience befitting kings.

White Horse Inn is owned and managed by David Graham, is an affiliate of the Inns of Zimbabwe hospitality group and boasts of a reputation for comfort and quiet relaxation in a wooded corner of the Bvumba Mountains south of Mutare. The Inn, once a family home, was converted into a hospitality establishment when more people started showing an interest in the Bvumba area as a destination for holidays in the 1950s.

It complements the breath-taking views of Zimbabwe’s Bvumba Mountains, overlooking the plains of Mozambique to the East, which qualify among southern Africa’s most spectacular natural attraction.

The name Bvumba is a derivation of a local word, meaning “Mountains of the Mist”. White Horse Inn, itself situated in-between mountains, is a world class hotel offering a variety of services and entertainment for guests, including swimming and sightseeing, among others.

Vumba Botanical Gardens
In the final ascent to the City of Mutare, huge mountains form the eastern background. The scenery there is that of high massifs, lush green natural forests, vast plantations of pine and wattle and perennially flowing rivers, deep ravines and waterfalls.

South of this green mound lies the Bvumba or Vumba Range with a distinct flora and it is in these mountains that the Vumba Botanical Gardens are located. Run by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the gardens are fit for the best weddings with a taste of flora and of course, rare fauna.

The Vumba Botanical Gardens and Reserve, located 32km from Mutare, are established on a portion of a farm formerly known as “Manchester”. The nucleus of the combined area was bought by Government from Mr F. J. Taylor in 1957 and was proclaimed a national park in 1958.

In 1960, the name of the gardens was changed to Vumba National Park and again in 1975 to the present Vumba Botanical Gardens. Known as Manchester Park then, the gardens became a tourist attraction and was visited by thousands during and after World War II. Today, 10 000 people visit the gardens annually from every corner of the globe. The well-wooded park includes 159 hectares of landscaped gardens built around perennial streams that form a small lake.

Vumba is well endowed with indigenous orchids and ferns. A superb collection of both the winter/spring and summer flowering varieties has been assembled for the visitors’ enjoyment throughout the year.

Bird-life attracts a number of visitors. Also found in large numbers is the Samango monkey, which is endemic to the Eastern Highlands. The self-catering lodges in the gardens are very popular with visitors to the area.

The story of the Botanical Gardens would never be complete without mentioning the campsite, which has ablution blocks with hot and cold water systems.

There is also a Caravan site with beautiful panoramic views.

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