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Head for the Highlands

2840
VIEWS

Words by Patrick Cruywagen Pictures by Patrick Cruywagen and Alison Cole

EXPLORING EASTERN ZIMBABWE
Mention Zimbabwe to most travellers and their first thoughts will be of Victoria Falls, houseboats on Lake Kariba or watching elephants stroll by at Mana Pools. Our Bush Editor goes east to Zimbabwe’s Highlands, a place to 4×4, hike, climb and maybe even hook the odd trout.

“Over the eastern edge of Southern Africa sprawls a magnificent tumble of mountains, referred to loosely as the Drakensberg. The head of this vast, imaginary dragon looks towards the south, and it is not unreasonable to think that such a mythical creature has none of the more mundane attributes of its smaller relations. In short: it can shed the tip of its tail. The severed tail tip of the dragon is Nyanga.”
So reads the introduction of the book The Flyfisher’s Nyanga by Peter STJ Turnbull-Kemp, which I found on top of the stone fireplace of Wagtail Cottage. The cottage is one of two found at Pungwe Drift, which lies in the southern reaches of the Nyanga National Park in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, which stretch for about 300 kilometres from north to south and can be divided into three distinct ranges: the Chimanimani Mountains in the south, the Bvumba Mountains in the middle and the Nyanga Highlands up north. Each of these ranges is a distinct attraction worthy of a multi-day visit. The area lies in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland Province, which forms the border with Mozambique.
We began our explorations in the Nyanga Highlands, having driven up via Harare. Long before we arrived the landscape started changing, with granite koppies popping up everywhere alongside the winding road.
The Highlands are renowned for their massive timber plantations, sawmills and productive farming lands. Sadly the area was devastated by the land grabs so these days it’s not as productive as it used to be. Some of the parks we’d be visiting have some wildlife but this is not the reason why most Zimbabweans holiday in the Highlands – they come here to hike, fish, play golf, ride horses, explore and relax. Attractions in Nyanga National Park include Zimbabwe’s highest point, several spectacular waterfalls, significant archaeological sites as well as elevated forts.
To get here we’d turned right onto the Mutare road just before Juliasdale, and after 25 km we headed left onto the Honde Valley Road. We negotiated a series of tight bends as the tarred road dropped dramatically, but it wasn’t long before we turned off onto a dirt track known as the Pungwe Scenic Road, which would allow us to enter Nyanga National Park from the south. The track was extremely dry and powdery and within seconds our silver FJ had a coat of fine dust and was beginning to look like the rough and ready off-roader it is. The track goes through the Chingamwe Forest Estate, and every hill we climbed was covered in precious timber.
I see an interesting track off to the side and, on a whim, I take it. This is our first real 4×4 section and before we know it we’re parked next to a lookout tower. The three occupants come out to admire our FJ. They tell us that they sleep up in the tower, always leaving one person on duty to report any signs of fire to the estate’s HQ. I see a steaming pot on some coals. It contains sadza, the cooked corn meal which is the staple diet of Zimbabwe.
Head for the HighlandsIn the distance I can see the Honde River and the Honde Valley Road we were on a few moments ago. The river forms part of the border with Mozambique and locals would later tell us that this was the preferred route used by Moz-based bandits and rebels. The Honde Valley is filled with tea and coffee plantations, which means it’s of vital importance to anyone who enjoys a good brew.
Just before entering Nyanga National Park we take another detour to Pungwe View. According to my guidebook one can hike from here to the Pungwe Falls in about half an hour, but I don’t want to leave my fancy 4×4 parked all alone with all our gear in it for that long, so we just enjoy the great green views. The sign explaining what we can see from here is rusted and the text illegible, and the area is overgrown, but there are still cement seats and a table where one can enjoy a picnic.
From here it’s not far to the Pungwe Drift Cottages I mentioned earlier, where I found The Flyfisher’s Nyanga on top of the fireplace in the Wagtail Cottage.
Here we meet Prince Masaya who hails from the Nyanga village. We call him the Prince of Pungwe because he’s priceless to us. He helps us unload, then stokes the donkey so we have hot water in which to bath. Later he finds us some fishing rods so we can try our hand at trout fishing.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this place. I immersed myself in the pages of The Flyfisher’s Nyanga while a log fire roared comfortingly nearby. Just prior to this I’d been immersed in a lovely bath of whiskey-coloured water (it looked that way before I climbed in – the water comes from the Pungwe River). In the kitchen a Zim Cast stove (similar to an Aga) was being loaded with logs so that we could prepare our dinner. For those in a hurry there’s always the gas stove option or a braai, but sometimes it feels good to prepare food the way grandma used to. We’re just downstream of the drift and upstream of the Pungwe waterfalls. There’s no cell signal, so life seems just perfect. Well it would’ve been if we’d managed to catch a trout during our fishing mission.
It was the end of the burning season, which takes place just before the summer rains, so a white haze hung everywhere, I felt like I’d spent the day in a chlorinated pool. Blackened hillsides smouldered and the smell of burnt earth made its way into our FJ Cruiser’s cocooned cab as we explored the area.
This is what Turnbull-Kemp had to say about the area in The Flyfisher’s Nyanga: “Nyanga is one of Zimbabwe’s most varied and beautiful landscapes, but to the flyfisher its principal attraction lies beneath the surface of its many rivers and manmade lakes: the trout. It is the art and craft of the pursuit of this redoubtable quarry that provides a common interest for hundreds of Zimbabweans of all ages and background.”
The above statement is proved true by what we come across at Gecko cottage, just upstream. We encounter the Storrer family, who hail from a place just north of here called Troutbeck, having an absolute ball. Kids Shannon, Tyla and young Brad are in kayaks splashing about in the river while dad Duncan is standing at the drift with fly rod in hand. It’s an idyllic family scene. “This place is isolated, and perfect if you have young kids like I do. There’s no electricity or communication, the perfect recipe,” explains Duncan as he casts.
The next day, instead of backtracking to get to the northern section of the park we decide to take the more direct 4×4-only route to Mount Nyangani. The drive takes us through the private Nyazengu Nature Reserve, and is a must-do. A sign at the beginning of the trail says that one has to pay a toll to drive through the reserve, but this is no longer the case. The track isn’t too technical although it does become really slow towards the end, which is exactly what we’re looking for. It takes us about two hours to drive to the start of the hike. We have a healthy bite to eat and then start tackling the climb. The car park sits at 2 140 m and the hike to the peak took us a little more than an hour to complete. The worst bit is the first part, which is pretty steep but flattens out once you reach the top of the plateau, from where you make your way to the beacon which marks the highest point in Zimbabwe.
Head for the HighlandsWe’re prepared for any eventuality and have warm clothing, food and drinks in our backpack; we didn’t need any of it except the odd sip of water as it was a glorious day. But they say that the weather can change very quickly up here, so if you’re doing the hike, take the right gear. Our trusty Garmin 276C confirms that this is the highest point. It feels like we’re on top of the world; to the east lies Mozambique while to the west all we can see is smoke from the burn-offs.
Once at the bottom again we realise that we don’t have time to visit the forts and dams of the park, but we allow for a stop at the little museum at the Rhodes Nyanga Hotel. The hotel itself is closed for renovation but the museum is open. Here we meet with curator and qualified archaeologist Edmore Nyamutowa, who, upon noticing our arrival, takes out a plate of popcorn from one of his desk drawers for us to enjoy.
“Tourists don’t hold this area in very high esteem – they rather go to Vic Falls or Mana Pools,” says Edmore. I ask him why he thinks people should come here. “We have a variety of waterfalls, quality accommodation, indigenous forests, great scenery and lots of bird life. The game is pretty elusive so you have to book well in advance if you want to see animals,” he jokes. He goes on to reminisce about the days when the hotel was up and running and guests used to go and do cultural tours to the local villages, something which provided them with a much-needed source of income.
The actual museum is located in the stables used by Cecil John Rhodes and our guide seems rather pleased with himself when he points to some straw in a trough, telling us that that was the hay Cecil’s horses used to feed on. While it was good to see the beds, chairs and saddles that Rhodes used, the highlight of the museum tour for me was the plight of the Tangwena people who used to reside in these parts of Nyanga. They were forcibly removed by the former Rhodesian authorities who then tried to resettle them on other, let’s call it less attractive, land.
Chief Rekayi Tangwena opposed these moves by Ian Smith’s government; some of his people hid away in the mountains while their property, crops and livestock were captured or destroyed. The chief would get his moment in the sun when Robert Mugabe returned to the country in 1980 and the chief got to address a Zanu PF rally in Harare. _They say that history repeats itself and it seems to be true with most white farmers in the area recently also being forcibly removed from their farms by the Mugabe regime who then handed these over to party cronies and war veterans. Maybe 10 years from now we’ll see pictures of these recent farm invasions on this very same museum wall.
Not far from Nyanga’s main entrance gate is the Inn on the Rupurara, the premier property of Inns of Zimbabwe. If you only have time to do one thing at this inn it must be the climb to the top of the Rupurara rock (1 893 m). Rupurara is Shona for ‘the bald-headed man’. I only know a few Shona words, but I’m bald and bold so decide to give the walk a go at dawn the next day. Our guide is Colin Chigura, who hails from this district; he’s climbed this imposing rock 897 times in the past four years. Like us he also drives a Cruiser, although his is a much older model. His record time to walk to the top is 18 minutes; we take a little longer, just under 30 minutes to be exact.
“The rock was used as an escape by the local Manyika people when the Ndebele would come and attack them from Bulawayo. The Manyika prefer hunting to fighting,” explains Colin. As we make our way higher we can see the remains of the kraals where they would keep animals safe during battle. There’s only one way up the rock so they built a fortified entrance from where they could monitor who was approaching. As we reach the top we spot a juvenile Snake Eagle soaring in the thermals below. There’s a little plant life at the top of the Rupurara and some of the hollows look as though they’ll catch water during the rainy season. So, it’s easy to imagine why this ‘bald head’ was a good retreat during an attack.
Colin may be short in stature but he has a heart of gold and is a very competent and informative guide. “I never tire of bringing tourists up here. I am very happy in my job,” he says to me as we head down again. This gets me thinking about the situation in Zimbabwe and how desperate they are to receive tourists. Every time I go for a meal at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town my waiter is without fail a highly-educated Zimbabwean – I’ve had lawyers and teachers from that country serve me.
But chat to some South Africans and tell them that you’re going to Zimbabwe and they tend to say that as long as Uncle Bob is still in place, they won’t visit. Sure, one might not support him and when we have to pay our Fuel Emission Tax or a dollar at every toll gate one can’t help but wonder where this money is going, but what about poor old Colin, Prince and Edmore? So many people in Zimbabwe survive off tourism revenues and they need us to visit. So go, your money will do a lot more good than harm.
Head for the Highlands To get to our next destination, the Bvumba Mountains, you have to travel through Mutare, the third largest city in Zim. We take a little detour on the way and head for a lodge called Drifters on the Harare road, about 19 km before Mutare. For hundreds of people (including a visitor from as far as Afghanistan) this lodge has become a pilgrimage of sorts. It’s achieved fame through the book The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers, which tells the terrifying tale of how his parents tried to survive in Zimbabwe during a time of land grabs, violence, intimidation and just plain craziness.
The place is exactly how I imagined it: run-down, a great big empty pool and no sign of guests. The staff are busy with coffee roasting and grinding out back. I take a walk to the main house and get to meet one of the novel’s great characters, the author’s mum, Lyn Rogers. It’s a Saturday and her husband Ros is out playing bowls. She had her nose buried in a book but is quick to welcome us in. It almost feels like an intrusion but after reading the book, one feels very nearly obliged to stop and see if Lyn and Ros are still okay.
“After the book came out our first visitor was the Swedish ambassador. Then we had a 50-year-old judge from Cape Town who used the book as a reason to visit Zimbabwe. We’ve had young and old stop by, the reach of the book has been extraordinary,” states Lyn before heading off to make some tea.
As we sip our tea I ask Lyn if the area’s politics have scared away the tourist. “It’s not dangerous for tourists to come here; the people are friendly and obliging. We don’t have the same infrastructure as other tourist places but it’s perfect for the South African self-drive market – they’ve been the backbone of our tourism industry for the last while,” she tells us. As we leave Lyn concedes to us that when we’d arrived in our shiny 4×4 she’d thought we were government officials.
The only way to get to the Bvumba Mountains is through Mutare, which is where most people in Manicaland come to do their serious shopping, get a tooth pulled or other business. We stop at the local Spar and BP to top up on supplies and fuel, but don’t spend too much time in the city. Maybe it’s the headline in the Manicaland Post that scares us off; it reads, ‘Women rape Mutare man’. As a headline it’s only marginally better than the one we’d seen a few days ago in Harare which read, ‘Gaddafi welcome in Zimbabwe’.
People often make the mistake of spelling the word Bvumba without the B; the only time you drop the B is when speaking the word. In the local Manyika language it means “mist” as more often that not the central mountainous section is shrouded in mist. But we didn’t see any during our few days there.
Our first stop is the Prince of Wales viewpoint which is on the only steep road into the mountains. Here we are greeted by Sergeant Festerr Phiri, who is one of four policemen at the viewpoint. “There’ve been attacks and robberies on tourists in the past so we always have policemen here,” says Phiri, who’s from the Mutare Central Police Station. This makes us feel safe so we disembark from the FJ for a look around; the only problem is that there are so many fires about that we can barely see anything through the smoke. This manmade mist is inevitable if you choose to travel here in September.
The biggest single attraction in the Bvumba is probably birding, which I have to say is not one of my greatest passions. As we make our way towards Leopard Rock, the area’s world-class golf course, we spot a group of birders next to the road, so we stop to see what they’re up to. It’s a group of about 10 in all, who hail from the UK and are here to see attractions such as Robert’s Warbler, Gurney’s sugarbird or the highly sought-after Swynnerton’s robin, which is normally found around dragon plants. They tell us that these plants and rare robins can also be seen at Seldomseen Cottages, where we’ll be staying tonight.
Even if you don’t know the one end of a golf club from the other you have to go and have a look at the Leopard Rock golf course. In its heyday it was listed as one of the best courses in the world. My good school friend George Borstlap, who has graced several covers of this magazine, joins us for a round.
George is a scratch golfer and he looks way more excited than the birders we’ve just passed. I’m a hacker at best so I’m a bit out of my depth when playing with George. But I’m not the only monkey on the course – after a few holes I spot some samango monkeys watching our antics from the treetops. One of the highlights of this trip (even better than the golf or visiting Zim’s highest point) was the chicken pie served at the clubhouse and washed down with a few Lion Lagers. It was so good I ordered another.
One could easily just indulge in golf, birding, visiting the botanical gardens and enjoying the chocolate cake at Tony’s Coffee Shop, but I’m keen to experience the whole area so decide to take the Burma Valley road, a 70-km trip around the perimeter of the Bvumba Mountains. Initially tar, it drops down into the Burma Valley passing various villages; we stop at one to buy a few cooldrinks at a shop. Someone grabs my arm and mumbles something incoherent – it’s clear my new friend has drunk all the palm wine in the valley. But suddenly I recognise him – he’s a waiter who’d served us the day before! I realise what he’s saying is that now it’s our turn to serve him. Good try!
If the signs on some of the buildings are anything to go by, the people here are very enterprising. One of my favourites is the one for the Zamba Investments (PTY) LTD building, a structure which has three doors. One goes into the general dealer, the other into a butchery and the last one into a liquor store. What else does a man really need? Zamba Investments has covered all the bases.
Soon the developed area gives way to farmlands and the tar road ends. Now we’re now driving through one of the biggest banana plantations I’ve ever seen. I would later find out that during the good times they would harvest 30 tons of bananas a day, whereas these days they’re lucky if they reach this figure in a month. When we stop to take some pictures we’re met by some rather aggressive looking fellows armed with machetes. One keeps repeating the phrase “Zimbabwe Defence Force” over and over again. It seems as if the military has taken control of these plantations.
The red track we’re following becomes more and more dilapidated but it’s nothing that our powerful FJ can’t handle. The green valleys are very fertile, and soon the bananas are replaced by coffee and then cattle. But I don’t like the vibe from the locals, no-one waves or says hello, so we push on, eventually arriving back where we started.
Our last stop on this trip is the Chimanimani Mountains. It would be criminal to take the boring old tar road via the Skyline Junction to this area and so we opt for the Cashel Scenic route, a 70-km dirt track that spits you out near Chimanimani village. If you read what the Bradt guide has to say about this route, it will put the fear of God into you.
Maybe the road had been recently graded because we found it a doddle. Yes, it’s slow going with lots of climbs and descents, but the scenery and fact that you won’t encounter another vehicle is what makes it special. The only problem we encountered was at the beginning of the trail when we took a wrong turn and drove into one of Mugabe’s youth military training camps. The gentleman in the black beret and Bob-with-clenched-fist T-shirt was very friendly and he got some kids to open the back gate of the compound so we were soon on the right track again.
This alternative route took us three hours to drive, including a few stops for photos and our wrong turn. In the rainy season the track’s condition may well deteriorate but in our opinion it remains a great alternative to the tar road. As we enter the tiny town of Chimanimani we see another Cruiser with a blonde woman in it and we stop to say hello. “Welcome to our village, it’s so nice to see some new faces, enjoy your time here,” she says before continuing her conversation with another local.
After some enquiry I discover that we had spoken to Birgit Kidd, someone who features in Peter Godwin’s book, Fear. There’s a whole chapter dedicated to her, entitled Birgit’s Bad Hair Day. This chapter describes the intimidation and beatings she and her husband had to endure after they rented out their bottle store to the MDC opposition party to use as offices during the previous elections.
I do some more reading and discover that the village has had a torrid time over the past few years; nevertheless the National Parks offices are open for business and we see another South African tourist in the village.
We base ourselves at the lovely Frog and Fern during our time in this town; it’s about two kilometres from the village, up a hill. The owner, Jane, is a star. We tell her how much time we have left and ask how much we can fit in. “You have to get to the mountains for a proper hike,” she advises. It seems that too often visitors come to the village, play a round of golf, go see the odd waterfall and maybe drive up Pork Pie Hill but don’t make the effort to get into the imposing Chimanimani Mountains which envelop the village from the east. They’re beautiful, especially when the late afternoon light falls on them, turning the rocks a rosy red.
Head for the Highlands I begin our only full day in town at the crack of dawn with a lovely run to the nearby Bridal Veil Falls. It’s so early that no parks officials are about so I get in for free. The slim waterfall drops into a black pool which looks tempting but turns out to be very cold. Next, my fiancé Ali and I head for Base Camp, some 20 km from Chimanimani, near Mutekeswane village. Here we pay the National Parks gentleman who will also look after (and attempt to wash) our FJ before we head into paradise.
One can spend a number of days hiking these mountains but we had just one so we head for the mountain hut and then onto Digby’s Falls for a swim and some lunch. Ali and I are relatively fit and so it takes us just under two hours to get to the falls. Multi-day hikers normally camp at sites of their choosing, in one of the caves or in the tatty mountain hut.
It wasn’t too long ago that the area suffered a massive gold rush; Zimbabwe’s economy was in freefall at the time and it’s estimated that over a million people headed for these mountains and valleys to pan for gold. We’re told by National Parks officials that there are no more panners left in the mountains and that they send out patrols to make sure it stays this way. We certainly don’t see any on our hike but when we stop at the falls we find some fool’s gold beneath the water’s surface.
It was a lovely hike; we were the only people officially on the mountains and all around us the msasa trees had swapped their green leaves for red – a beautiful sight. When we get back we stop off at Tessa’s Pools, which are very close to Base Camp at the Outward Bound School. While some kids try to build a raft I test the water – the perfect way to cool down after a long hike.
There was still enough time to take Ali to the Bridal Veil Falls I’d visited in the morning. We grabbed a beer from our LA Sport Pro Cool fridge and sat on some rocks watching the water cascade down into the rock pool. All that was missing was some classical music.
Our time in the Eastern Highlands had come to an end. It was easy to see why locals and foreigners alike are charmed by this region. Its mild climate, fertile valleys and countless activities make it a worthy destination. Through my research and readings I concluded that the place has suffered of late, especially around the last elections, but this aside I found the people to be beautiful, warm, welcoming, service-driven and just plain happy to see a tourist.
We erred on the side of caution at times but never felt unsafe or threatened. So my fellow overlanders, I implore you, add the Eastern Highlands to the list when you next cross the Limpopo heading north. Pack a pair of hiking boots, some golf clubs, the binos and a good bird book. This area will give you a holiday you’ll never forget.

FJ Trail Cruiser
R451 700

While the uninformed might think that this is a vehicle for city slickers, it’s a Land Cruiser and thus when asked to do a 4×4 job it does it quietly and without any fuss. During our trip I let Roger Barrie, a member of the Mutare 4×4 Club, drive it to the top of a mountain to where a cellphone tower stood. Roger couldn’t believe how easily it negotiated the track.
This new model has several things going for it. Firstly, it’s highly capable off-road. Secondly, when called upon to tackle long tar stretches that 4.0-litre petrol motor comes into its own and you have to engage cruise control mode otherwise you could very easily find yourself travelling at a very uncharacteristic (for a Cruiser) 150 km/h.
As it was just the two of us in the vehicle we folded the rear seats away and this made packing and organising a breeze as you have a large area to work with. I also enjoyed the driving position – I felt like a tank commander going into battle. Of course, on the coolness front this vehicle is off the charts – in Harare we turned more heads than a presidential cavalcade. Then there are the little touches, like the box on the dash in front of the driver that’s perfectly positioned to chuck tollgate receipts and other bits and bobs into. Explore the rest of the vehicle and you’ll find more hidden storage places, useful to hide money and other valuables in.
Another useful feature is the reverse camera, which I used not only for reversing but also for watching people lurking behind the vehicle or when Ali had to respond to nature’s call behind the FJ and I could watch for approaching lions. Not that there are any in the Highlands. After spending many hours spanning two weeks in the FJ, I was smitten. It laughed at all the tracks and trails we threw at it, revelled in the long distances and emerged a champion.

Head for the Highlands

GPS Points (WGS 184)
Pungwe View
S18°25.557’
E032°46.934’
Start of hike to top Mt Nyangani
S18°17.029’
E032°49.639’
Inn on the Rupurara
S18°19.391’
E032°40.267’
Seldom Seen Cottages
S19° 06.323’
E032°45.125’
Start of Cashel Trail
S19°330.434’
E032°47.784’
End of Cashel Trail
S19°48.206’
E032°52.365’
Frog and the Fern
S19°48.358’
E032°51.553’
Base camp Chimanimani (start of hike)
S19°47.313’
E032°59.642’

SA4x4 Route Guide

WHERE WE STAYED
Head for the HighlandsBowood Lodge, Harare
Set in the leafy suburb of Mount Pleasant, away from the city centre, this is a safe, clean and comfortable B&B with a pool. For more details see www.bowoodlodge.net or call
+263 430 4613.

 

Head for the HighlandsChelmsford Manor, Harare
A massive English country house located near the embassies (and a great Chinese restaurant). For more details call +263 4 332193/4/5 or +263 775 464 797.

 

Head for the HighlandsPungwe Drift Cottages, Nyanga National Park
Set on the banks of the Pungwe River the cottages have no electricity but have everything else you might need. Though located in the Nyanga National Park they are privately run and are well worth a visit. For more details see www.farandwide.co.zw or call
+263 11 613 582.


Nyanga National Park

We entered the park from the south near Pungwe Drift and paid US$5 per vehicle and US$8 per person. There’s a place to camp near the western entrance of the park, near the Park HQ, called Mare Caravan Park. This costs US$8 per person per night.

Head for the HighlandsInn on the Rupurara, just outside the Nyanga National Park
One of the nicest places to stay in Zim with friendly, experienced staff. The inn has its own small reserve which you can explore on foot or 4×4. For more info see www.innsofzimbabwe.co.zw or call +263 11 613 582 or
+263 29 3021.

Head for the HighlandsMusangano Lodge, Mutare
These lovely self-catering units are situated 23 km from Mutare, with friendly staff and a restaurant. Perfect as a stop-off when exploring the area. For more details see www.musangano.com or call +263 204 2267.

Head for the HighlandsInn on the Vumba, Bvumba
Located just off the main road into the Bvumba area. A good spot if you plan on exploring Bvumba for a few days. For more details see www.innsofzimbabwe.co.zw or call +263 20 60722.

Head for the HighlandsSeldom Seen Cottages, Bvumba
Four self-catering cottages of various sizes in a quiet and private setting. It’s a birders’ paradise – resident guides take you for a walk in their private forest reserve. For more details call +263 20 68482 or see mhumhe@zol.co.zw.

Head for the HighlandsFrog and Fern, Chimanimani
Top class! Jane and Dee will help you see the best of the area. They offer three well-kept self-catering cottages and a small campsite with a braai area and hot shower. Breakfasts available on request. Chalets are US$35 pppn while camping is US$15 pppn. For more see www.thefrogandfern.com or call +263 26 2294 or +263 775 920 440.


Chimanimani National Park

Entrance to the park is US$5 per vehicle and US$8 per person. If hiking in the mountains, leave your vehicle at Base Camp, about 20 km outside the village. You can camp anywhere in the mountains, at Base Camp or at Bridal Falls. Camping is US$8 per person per night.

ROUTE
You can immediately head east once in Zimbabwe at Beit Bridge but we opted to head for the northern part of the highlands via Harare. Then we made our way south through the highlands. There’s some tar travelling but you can link these areas via gravel and back roads.

FUEL

One day we couldn’t find fuel in central Harare but found some on the city’s outskirts. That experience aside there was always petrol and diesel available, and we never used our jerrycans.

WHERE TO BUY PROVISIONS
You can buy nuts, avos, bananas, apples, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes and onions next to the road. All large towns or cities have well stocked supermarkets.

ESSENTIAL GEAR
The electricity supply is still erratic so take along an inverter so you can charge things while driving, and don’t forget the Petzl or some candles. The Highlands are hiking country so take along a good backpack, hiking shoes, hydration bladder or water bottle and foul weather gear just in case.

CONVOY OR SOLO
We went solo but you could just as easily travel in convoy. South African vehicles have been targeted in Harare and Mutare so beware. In the Highlands we always left our vehicle near a park office or behind locked gates. If doing the Cashel route let someone know your movements.

ROAD CONDITIONS
Zim’s roads are in surprisingly good nick, even the gravel and 4×4 trails were fine. We were there at the end of the dry season so be sure to con_ rm conditions in the wet season.

TYRES
The Cooper Discoverer ATR is ideally suited to this kind of all-road terrain. It provides excellent on-road performance and the extensive zig-zag siping increases water evacuation and provides excellent traction in the wet. The tyre is also solid in off-road conditions with its 5-rib tread design and enhanced cut and chip resistance. Call 0800 335 722 (toll-free) for your nearest dealer.

MAPS & DIRECTIONS
When we left the main roads we used maps and directions given to us by friends in Harare who had recently been in the area.

VEHICLE REQUIRED
To do the same route you need good ground clearance and decent 4×4 capabilities otherwise you might struggle with the some of the routes described.

RISK
Zimbabwe remains a tricky destination. While it’s currently safe to visit, you’d do well to keep an eye on the political scene.

BORDER CROSSINGS
The Zim side of Beit Bridge has cleaned up its act and is now easier to navigate than the SA side. You must have your original vehicle registration papers or a certified police copy.

BOOKS TO READ
The Fear by Peter Godwin
The author of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun is at it again; this time he dissects the events just after the ’08 election. It gives graphic insight into what happened in the areas we travelled through. ISBN 978-0-330-51395-1

The Bradt Guide to Zimbabwe

This makes the Lonely Planet look rather pale in comparison. Paul Murray has done the hard miles on the road to make sure that this guide is the most comprehensive and up-to-date. ISBN 978-1-84162-295-8

THANKS
To Beck of Off2Africa, a Zimbabwean tour operator offering over 100 lodges, hotels and guest houses. They know Zim’s best-kept secrets and offer a personalised service, arranging your stay across Zimbabwe to suit your budget. Contact them on beck@off2africa.co.zw, +263 4 2933197 or +263 772 309271 or go to www.off2africa.travel.