The thing about sleeping in a roof (yes, that’s correct) is that the first soft sounds of singing birds is ever more amplified and the first rays of sunlight softly creep into your sheets as they pull you from half-past-dead into the waking state.
Half-past-dead is that state you enter after spending a large part of the evening driving on undulating roads carved into the interminable extent of the Chimanimani Mountains.
This marked my first experience of the Chimanimani Mountains, which is said to form part of the longest mountain range in Africa.
The sleeping in a roof thing? It’s the cutesy little lodge that we came across on arrival in Chimanimani Village. Call it luck, call it fate, but we were too tired to do an area search of the town’s best offerings.
So, as it so happens we spent the first night and the rest of the trip at Heaven Lodge, which I must say is a marvellous piece with its unique bedding but has fallen into disrepair in recent times.
Anyway having turned into the Chimanimani mountain range from the main Mutare-Chipinge road just as dusk was settling, my first real experience of Chimanimani were those singing birds so early the next morning.
Don’t even ask which birds were singing. Chimanimani is bird land just as it is mountain land. With 186 bird species having been discovered in this area I wasn’t about to start naming them.
But an area brochure tells you of some of the species you can expect to come across (or not) such as purple-crested lourie, malachite sun-bird, laughing dove, trumpeter horn-bill, secretary bird, francolin, paradise flycatcher, dusky flycatcher, golden breasted bunting, miombo double collared sun-bird, yellow white eye, bar throated apalis, kurrichane thrush and several species of eagles among others.
Listening to those birds singing meant my day had started early, I’d say 4 a.m. An hour later I was standing outside taking in the warm sun. Things happen fast here.
The environs of Heaven Lodge are stunningly microcosmic of the Chimanimani macrocosm, especially in terms of its flora. In retrospect, standing there, I had seen most of what I would consider as “commonplace” over the next three days.
Chimanimani is an area of yellow-wood trees and cedar, protea, ferns and orchids. The mountain flora is primarily sub-Alpine plants such as heather, lobelia, orchid, aloe.
By 7:30am the rains had started pouring down. Like I said, things happen fast here.
What I got to find out is that the wet summers of the Chimanimani Mountains are characterised by quick fluctuations between rainfall and sunny periods, which contribute to its typically tropical mountain climate.
It was sunny again very soon and we were off to explore.
The Chimanimani Mountains are (for obvious reasons) best suited for the professional hiker. But they also offer other more leisurely activities.
In the immediate vicinity of the town (more popularly known as the Chimanimani Village) is the Arboretum and Pork Pie — both offering walking opportunities, and vantage points, from which to take in the surroundings.
The Bridal Veil Falls picnic and camping site is located in the Eland Sanctuary. The falls plunge 50 metres into an accessible, crystal clear pool. Nearby is the Chirundu forest, Africa’s southern-most tropical rainforest, which is a popular hiking spot.
This forest is home to many rare tree species, including cycads and strelitzias.
For thrill seekers there is the nearby Outward Bound centre offering a range of activities and life-skill programmes, accommodation and camping facilities, and access to the Paradise Pools.
Other points of interest are the Nyakwaha and Haroni Botanical Reserves, but then the Chimanimani mountains are also speckled with clear mountain pools and waterfalls among them the Haroni and Mukurupiri Waterfalls, and the Muhohwa Falls among others.
Then there are the mountains themselves.
An 18km drive from the village are the Chimanimani Mountains, which form a massive barrier of ancient and jagged peaks and deep ravines along Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique.
The Chimanimani Mountains are composed mostly of sandstone, with its peaks stretching for fifty kilometres, and the main plateau reaching a height of 2 440m (Mt Binga), dropping to 320m in deep gorges and river valleys.
The mountains are only accessible through a series of footpaths, and although the park provides only basic facilities, the breath-taking beauty and pristine environment of the Chimanimani Mountains make this a popular destination for hiking, rock climbing, camping and birding.
A popular camping site in the mountains is “The Hut” — a day’s journey on foot — which is a good vantage point to explore the immediate surroundings.
Alternatively you can camp in any one of the caves dotted around the mountain range.
Chimanimani is an area where you get to hear a lot of stories about mysteries and magic. The only thing I can say with absolute confidence is that there is something about the water that you drink and the air that you breathe here that has magical healing properties (of course I won’t tell you why I believe so).
Chimanimani is certainly the perfect destination if you want some distance (both physical and mental) from the hustle and bustle of city life.