by NORMA TSOPO
CHIMANIMANI – a narrow passage, is a name derived from a narrow pass through which Musapa River flows (see picture) in the unique quartzite mountain range that bears its name along the eastern highlands on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border.
The mountain is a treasure trove of enchanting forests, mystic caves, towering mountain peaks, beautiful falls, breath-taking gorges, a tapestry of rivers and streams adding to a heart-stopping stunning scenery that includes a mythical bubbling spring among others.
Its vegetation cover is equally diverse and is classified as a montane forest-grassland mosaic eco-region. These hold over 1,000 plant species of which at least 73 plants are found nowhere else in the world.
Botanist Chris Chapano says this rich plant concentration carries a third of Zimbabwe’s 224 endemic plants. He describes Chimanimani as “a centre for high plant endemism.”
Add to this over 160 bird species – many near endemic, 49 fish species, 35 amphibian species, of which two – bufo vertebralis grindleyi and anthroleptis troglodytes, are endemic and 60 reptile species to make these spectacular mountains a gift like no other.
Celebrated tour-guide Collen Sibanda strongly believes there is no region that can match these mountains anywhere else in the country due to the diversity of its features and the wide range of the life forms it sustains.
“It has everything from falls, gorges, caves, endemic plants, rare birds, the list is endless. The only surprise is why it’s not doing as much as all other regions in the country,” Sibanda said.
He feels that it is a complete summary of everything Zimbabwe has to offer – all in one big concentration.
The absence of the more abrasive members of the big five – lions, cape buffalo, elephants and rhinoceros fit perfectly with the terrain which is only not spoiled by roads.
This enthralling wilderness is only accessible by footpaths guaranteed to give every traveller a magical connection with nature—it only adds to the fun of the wild and unspoilt character of the area.
Standout large mammals that occur in the mountains are the shy leopards, mountain reedbuck, klipspringer, blue duiker, common duiker and simango monkey with the rest being various small mammals.
Key tourist activities may include one or all of going on the diverse hiking trails, rock climbing challenges, birding, camping in caves among the sparkling waterfalls and swimming in the natural crocodile-free swimming pools.
The Mountain Hut – formerly known as Balls Hotel, sitting bare at 1,630m above sea level offers ideal refuge to visitors.
Tourists can also camp freely anywhere within the mountains except at Base Camp – at the foot of the mountains from where visitors pay to gain entry. Those that are daring can take the option of spending the night in either Terry’s or Peter’s caves – disused mine shafts.
Those who may feel that they are not up to the challenge of the ascent to the mountain hut, which is accessible through various routes depending on the choice of difficulty one desires, may prefer the Corner Camp Area that borders Chikukwa Village.