Ambling around the Eastern Highlands

Wanting a change from the warm plains of Zimbabwe, we headed up into the mountains bordering Mozambique. Our guide book promised it would “look more like Scotland than Africa”. There were extensive fir and eucalyptus plantations; rocky outcrops; waterfalls; and a type of tree that showed the whole autumnal spectrum of colours in its spring foliage (I must find out what it’s called).   
We spent a couple of nights camping at Nyanga National Park campsite, in a pine forest. I felt very at home, as it looked just like the fir plantations surrounding the small town I grew up in, in Southern England – apart from the waterbuck.  

   
Many of the facilities in Zimbabwe’s National Parks are very run down, usually the hardworking park staff keep then scrupulously clean with lots of elbow grease but not much more. The girls and I were delighted to find a bath tub in the block. As we were almost the only campers and the caretaker had stacked the wood burning donkey boiler with enough wood to heat a whole apartment block, we thought we’d take advantage of it. We were rather surprised when we saw the colour of the water, it smelt fresh though, so in we jumped. I’m not sure how clean we actually were afterwards but it felt so good, we had another the following night.

  
We pootled around going to a waterfall and had a cup of tea at Troutbeck, a famous hotel in the area, so we could have a nose around. Unfortunately all of the promised views into the plains and Mozambique were completely obscured by a smoky haze as they were burning the wood stumps in the tree plantations. 

   
From there we headed south to the Bvumba Mountains, it was still pretty hazy but we got some glimpses of the surroundings. We caught up with Chris and Jolanda, the Swiss motorcyclists we met in Namibia, in the pretty little Ndundu campsite. It was lovely to see them again and catch up with their travels. We decided against a visit to the nearby Botanical Gardens and instead to all go for a walk along the back roads. After a game of cricket in the afternoon; John, the friendly campsite manager, took us up to visit Leopard Rock “Castle”. Built in the 1940’s for a couple by Italian POW’s, it was a rather bizarre structure. Now much run down, it is opened every afternoon by the staff of the nearby smart hotel for tours and sundowners. The Queen Mother and various royals had visited in the past. Inside it was really a very unattractive design with some small poky rooms; even a windowless turret alcove so servants could wait out of sight in the dining room. The “throne” toilet built out of the rock face got us all laughing though. However the views were sublime, even through the haze.  

    
   
That night over a shared barbecue dinner the mists drew in. When it started to rain (our first rain since the flood in South Africa) as we got in bed, we quickly got up to do a bodge job to keep the water out of the gash in the truck’s side…… 

 Yep, that’s exactly what it looks like: an IKEA table mat parcel-taped to the side of the truck. It will have to do until we can get some fibreglass to mend it. 

On our way down through the rain and mists the following morning, we made a stop at “Tony’s coffee shop”, something of an institution we understand in the country. We had been recommended it by at least 3 sets of people when they heard we were heading that way. Two of the insanely rich cakes, filled the 4 of us very happily. It was all beautifully done with the best china.  

 Chimanimani National Park was our next stop, where we camped next to the pretty Bridal Veil Falls. It felt pretty isolated and alone in the narrow valley as the mists drew in for the night. 

   
 
Another area of the park about 20km away was supposed to be good for hiking. We didn’t have high expectations as we parked up in the mist and drizzle but as we climbed higher it dried out and started to clear up. After a few of hours of hiking up through rocky ridges; we could see all the way into Mozambique. It was beautiful and felt so good to be walking again. We haven’t hiked in Africa as much as we did in South America, mostly as when we’ve been out in the wilds we have been in game parks. The National Park’s campsite at the start of the hiking area was pretty, under those lovely trees again, and staffed by a very friendly couple. They get very few visitors, which is a shame as the hiking is excellent, but still keep the very ageing facilities spotless. We awoke, after a snug night in the truck, to thick mist and bumped our way back down to the town with the warden’s sister and three nephews all squeezed in the cab.  

  

    
    
   

 

2 thoughts on “Ambling around the Eastern Highlands

  1. Steve – I forwarded a link to your blog to our friends in Harare who comment:
    “The trees they mention are msasa (pronounced m’-sar-sa; with a glottal stop on the m!), elsewhere in the country you get mnondo doing a similar colour though not as bright, known collectively as the brachystegia woodlands, but in the Eastern Highlands it is almost exclusively msasa”.
    End of lesson!

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