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The Eastern Highlands is a collective name given to the 300km area of rugged mountains forming a natural border between countriesZimbabwe and Mozambique. There are three main mountain ranges - the Chimanimani in the south, Bvumba near Mutare and the Nyanga National Park in the north. Mt Binga is the highest peak of the Chimanimani Mountains at 2,437 metres but the country’s highest peak is Mt Nyangani (2,593m).
It is possible to visit the area year round with a climate which is warm to hot in summer and cool and dry in winter. The area is inspiring with breathtaking views, deep gorges and beautiful waterfalls, including the famous Bridal Veil Falls.
Nyanga National Park
Nyanga National Park is not a game park but there are waterbuck, steenbok, leopard, kudu, wildebeest and the area is rich in birdlife. The whole area is sparsely populated although there are ancient ruins throughout the whole of the Nyanga area, indicating habitation for many years. There are essentially three main types of ruins to explore and ponder; namely pits, forts and terraces. There are also some caves with rock paintings and ancient gold workings.
Other sights include the Nyazengu Nature Reserve, Pungwe Gorge and the Honde Valley, although much of this area is now neglected as the tea, coffee and fruit estates are no longer farmed in any meaningful way. There is also the Mutarazi National Park where Africa’s second highest waterfall is situated, Mutarazi Falls.
Many of the dams and lakes in the Nyanga area are famous for their good trout and bass fishing; it is also an excellent area for golf, horse riding and mountain hikes as well as birding, rock climbing and abseiling.
The border town of Mutare is the backbone for the area and is the prettiest town site in the country - perched amongst the hills and mountains. It has an excellent climate and was a major source of supplies for the whole area, including Mozambique, until recently.
The Bvumba Mountains
Twenty to twenty-five kilometres to the south east of Mutare lies the start of the Bvumba Mountains which hosts a wealth of plants, birds and butterflies. Although somewhat neglected at the present time, the Botanical Gardens in Bvumba provide an enchanting walk with its wooden bridges, aloes, streams and lakes. There are many fantastic views and plants gathered from all over the world including a range of orchids, tree ferns, fuchsias, hydrangeas, azaleas and lily ponds. The annual rainfall in this area is higher than London!
Beyond the gardens there are spectacular views into Mozambique and the surrounding countryside with a range of vegetation including montane forests. The Bunga Forest in the Bunga Botanical Reserve is just one excellent example. The best way to see this area is to drive along the Burma Valley Road which is a circuitous route. There is always exquisite bird song in the forests and any visit should be ended with a visit to “Tony’s Coffee Shop” for outstanding cakes and tea,s including an assortment of alcoholic versions! The coffee shop is situated on the grounds of Genaina Guest House (Tel: +263 20 68177).
The Bvumba is a hot spot for birding enthusiasts and there are a number of specials including the Swynnerton’s Robin, which lives and breeds in small patches of forest. This bird likes to live around dragon plants Dracaena fragrans, particularly in summer when the birds are nesting. The best place to stay in the Bvumba if you’re a birder, is at Seldomseen Cottages, a bird watchers paradise. The property has self-catered chalets at a very reasonable price and has two extremely knowledgeable guides; it also has several dragon plants! The gardens around the chalets host several other endemic species including Robert’s Warbler. A protea stand on the property draws the Bronzy Sunbird and if you’re lucky Gurney’s Sugarbird, when the proteas are in flower.
Leopard Rock Hotel is an excellent hotel with a very pretty golf course which is also a spectacular place to see the silvery-cheeked hornbills when the fig trees are fruiting. On the golf course you may be lucky to see the Red-faced crimsonwing, which also occurs at Seldomseen.
Other options for birding in this area include the Cecil Kop Nature Reserve, north of Mutare which offers good miombo birding and the Burma Valley to the south which is good for spotting the Twinspot Indigobird. Mount Gorongosa in Mozambique, is home to the much sought after Green-headed oriole and can be included in a trip to the Bvumba.
If you want an old fashioned treat, the White Horse Inn is a very popular favorite with anyone who has stayed in the Bvumba in the last 20 odd years. Of particular note is the excellent and well cooked menu including specialities like fresh quail and lobster tails.
The Chimanimani Mountains
This is a grandiose range of volcanic peaks reaching over 2,400 meters and stretching for 50km. There is a gentler section between Chimanimani Village and the border with Mozambique, but it will still stretch the average hiker.
The slopes are scattered with flowers and little rivulets pop up everywhere. Protea bushes are found on the higher slopes along with everlasting flowers and thick growths of giant Erica with its memorable `pencil wood` smell. Spring is in August/September and the msasa trees come into full autumnal colours, providing a great contrast to the fresh spring greens of the other plants.
This is not an area with rich numbers of mammals, but there are still sable and eland and the odd elephant in the low, thicker forests. Leopard, baboon and porcupine are sometimes seen. Many of the birds in this area are rare and found only in the mountains and woods.
The Chimanimani is attractive to hikers, birders and mountaineers - offering views of:
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Specialised birding
- Chirinda Forest - a primeval forest with the tallest tree in the country. This famous tree is a Red Mahogany which was still a sapling when Christ was born.
- The evergreen forests of Haroni/Rusitu Botanical Reserve