April 9th – to the Eastern Highlands

The most spectacular scenery of Zimbabwe is to be found in the Eastern Highlands – which had to be inspected, of course, so I drove to the town of Nyanga, near the National Park of the same name.

On the way is Diana’s Vow, a farm on which land is located the most famous, most detailed, most colourful and most complex of Zimbabwe’s rock paintings. The paintings, or what is left of it, are not in a cave, but under an overhanging rock, and much of the work has been washed away by rain over the years. But the remaining panel, about 2×1 meter in size, is indeed quite extraordinary. The image of the man, comfortably lying down, one knee bent and holding his head with his hands, is the one iconic image used in books and flyers promoting local rock art. There is even a signpost to the paintings, 500 meters from the entrance of the farm!

more photos of the Diana’s Vow rock paintings are here.

Nyanga itself is pretty small, but the area around it, and the way towards it, are indeed of outstanding beauty. With ever changing scenery, from large acacia trees to dense pine forests competing with vast views over rolling hills and cascading waterfalls, you really don’t know where to look anymore. It is spring season, wild flowers are everywhere, and fruit trees in blossom.

There is a place called World’s View, which is indeed magnificent: high up on a plateau, at the edge of a sheer 800 meter drop, or so, one looks across mountain ridges, one after the other, as far as the eye can see, and that is pretty far. On the plateau itself there are a few small lakes, artificial, it looks, around which some superb houses have been built, not too far away from a beautiful hotel and an 18-holes golf course. Some place to retire to, eh?

beautiful nature, forests and flowers in the Eastern Highlands
the panel of rock paintings at Diana’s Vow
waterfall on the way to Nyanga
accacia trees are everywhere, in the Eastern Highlands
ruins in the Nyanga area, some original, some clumsily restored

The first type of stone constructions are the pit structures, basically a hole in the ground, perhaps 2-3 meters deep and 5-10 meters wide, entered from the surface level through a sloping walkway, or sometimes a tunnel. According to the literature, these were cattle pits – but why would one go through so much effort, digging the hole, and an entrance tunnel, and lining the inside with a neat wall of rocks. In most other parts of the world a fence from trees and branches, or at most a low stone wall at surface level, would suffice. Beats me.

April 10th – the ruins

The area around Nyanga has gained some fame because of its ruins. Nothing like the Great Zimbabwe ruins, or the Khami ruins near Bulawayo, which I had seen two years earlier, but still, worthwhile a quick look. Apparently there are hundreds of different sites. And with the quick look comes the longer speculation, of what these were, and why.

haphazard tourist inspecting some of the ruins
circular structure – but not a pit structure! – on a hill top

Then there are these other ruins, presumably older than the pits. They are nothing more than one meter, to a maximum two meter, high walls – and I don’t think they have been higher in the past, otherwise you would find rubble around, but often more than a meter thick! I went to a place called Dzima, where hundreds of these walls can be found, circular, or parallel to each other, but never straight, always bended. And what for?

circular ruins, low stone walls for no apparent purpose
look at the size of these walls!
this could well be a stronghold, on top of a hill; great views, too

The last type of ruins are the so-called forts, believed to be strongholds against an attacking enemy. But that, too, doesn’t make sense. The Nyanga fort, the one I went to, is on a hill, but others are on a slope. The Nyanga fort covers a huge area, at different levels, and with multiple entrances, not exactly easy to defend. To me it is more likely to have been a village structure, growing in time with the addition of another compartment. But at least there is more to see here than at the other, earlier visited ruins: circular platforms, individual niches, door entrances, and the occasional monolith, an upright stone placed inside the circular structure. And furthermore, a lot of walls.

the Nyanga fort, or part of it
and one of the many entries to the fort
luckily, there is more than just stone ruins: traffic on the road

April 11th – to Mutare

Nyanga is also the place of the Nyanga National Park, and of Zimbabwe’s highest mountain, 2592 meter high Mount Inyangwani. Too much effort, and too little time, to climb on this trip, but attractive enough for a drive through the park, on my way to Mutare.

Not that long ago, during the earlier phases of the civil war in Mozambique, Mutare was ghost town, only a few kilometres from the border. But these days life has returned, and people like me can enjoy the fabulous scenery on the way. The hills, with an explosion of purple heather on the slopes. And the next moment you drive through a magnificent pine forest. I stop at the Pungwe Falls, where the water in the river of the same name drops some 200 m, before continuing in the a beautiful gorge, with steep, densely vegetated slopes. And a little further, at the Mutarezi Falls, with 792 meters higher than the Victoria Falls – but a lot smaller, of course, just a trickle in comparison.

not all of the roads are tarmac on the way to Mutare
the view in the Nyange National Park
the Pungwe River canyon
more of the views around Nyanga and Mutare
more Mutarezi Falls, an impressive drop indeed
the Mutarezi Falls, the highest in Zimbabwe

Outside Mutare is the huge Vumba Botanical Garden, an interesting concept in a country like Zimbabwe, where natural beauty, including an explosion of wild flowers in season, doesn’t seem to justify the efforts to create landscaped gardens. I would think that the average black Zimbabwean couldn’t care less, and that this garden initiative is a largely white Zimbabwean idea. Luckily, there is also a lot of farmland in the surroundings, growing tobacco, coffee and bananas. Especially the tobacco sheds are impressive, including those of the Amsterdam Farm, owned by one Mr. Hildebrand. Would he be aware than one of the Dutch cigar brands popular in The Netherlands is called Hildebrand, as well?

tobacco shed outside Mutare
the Amsterdam tobacco plantation of Mr Hildebrand

April 12th – back to Harare

In the afternoon I drove back to Harare, to the end of my one-and-a-half weeks in Zimbabwe. Completed my unfinished business; next stop Namibia.

through the huge forests, back to Harare
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