By Norma Tsopo
The history of Chimanimani’s tourism sector can never be complete without the honoured mention of Tempe van de Ruit’s family. True to her family’s esteemed name, she espouses all qualities that made her father contribution stand out.
Tempe van de Ruit is a doyen of the rustic in tourism. She is so effortlessly at home in it that she takes it as play.
But her place is paradise for backpackers and towns’ folk who would be dying for break. Hers is an expertly restored colonial farm house which she aptly named The Farmhouse.
“I’m just playing in tourism. My husband takes care of the family and I’m just having fun,” she says with a wide smile.
That perhaps places her apart from most in the industry. Tempe is in it out of passion and will not mug her guests with exorbitant charges.
And naturally so. She is the second daughter of John Balls.
It was her father, a renowned botanist, who proposed that Chimanimani Mountain be designated a national park. His extensive exploration of the area and his contribution to the knowledge of plants is commemorated in the specific names of plant subspecies he discovered – Aloe ballii Reynolds, Bulbophyllum ballii, P. J. Cribb, Nervilia ballii G. Will, and Zeuxine ballii P. J. Cribb.
He was largely responsible for the building of the famous Mountain Hut up in the mountains in 1956 which until only a few decades back was fittingly termed Balls Hotel.
Their family’s imprint in Chimanimani will remain as prominent for as long as there is water cascading beautifully into Tessa’s pool which lies at the foot of the immaculate quartzite mountain.
This is so because Tessa is actually Tempe’s sister. “The pool got its name from the fact that my father would leave my mum and Tessa at the pool as he went up the mountain.”
It is however rather ironic that Tessa got married and now stay in the United Kingdom while she remains in Chimanimani and – as she likes to put it – plays in the tourism industry where Tessa’s pool is a big attraction, without any natural site with her name attached to it.
To cure that she whispers to us that she has secretly renamed three hillocks on the ridge that overlooks the Farmhouse – John, Tempe and Tessa with herself taking the slightly bigger hill to herself.
She mostly moves around with a pack of beautiful dogs one of which only has three legs. They do not all her but just like her. Tempe loves animals as much as she loves plants.
She is the perfect host for families too.
“I’m in my element around children,” she says. It is no wonder that the farm is set up to give the best experience for young children. Its layout will keep young children entertained.
Tempe keeps a few dairy cows, four ponies, a flock of sheep, geese and poultry. She often has a couple of pigs fattening up too.
“Children delight in all the animals and learn a lot from watching the farming activities going on,” Tempe says adding that she would be happy to take them horse riding and give them riding lessons if required. She has three well-schooled horses and two little old kids’ ponies.
That would be for a nominal fee of cause.
At half past seven every morning she sells milk from the dairy just to add to the intrigue of her Dairy Plot small-holding farm.
Saul, one of his employees, helps take care of the animals and maintain a very productive organic vegetable garden from where guests can buy vegetables in season.
Tempe is currently a member of Chimanimani Tourist Association which continues to lead efforts to preserve the environment and place Chimanimani back on local and international travellers’ radar after the region which used to be only second to Victoria Falls took a heavy knock at the back of political squabbling and violence at the turn of the millennium.