Expert Reviews – Nyanga NP

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Wooded hills and waterfalls
Overall rating
4/5

If you believe a safari just isn’t a safari if it doesn’t include a few Big Five encounters, Nyanga is unlikely to make your shortlist. To me, this park’s biggest appeal lies in its hiking potential. Naturally, hikers would argue that a shortage of large, dangerous animals is a distinct advantage in making lengthy walks both feasible and enjoyable. The region is so tame that, in the 1890s, Cecil Rhodes snapped up a large chunk of it for orchards and grazing.

While you’re unlikely to see big cats in Nyanga, this large, mountainous park in the Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands is by no means devoid of wildlife – you’ll see antelopes and birds as you tackle the trails.

I love the variety of scenery here – there are some stunning panoramic views from the higher ground, and some tremedous rivers and waterfalls in the valleys.

Nyanga - Zimbabwe’s mountain playground
Overall rating
3/5

I feel mean marking down Nyanga because it is a place I love dearly. I lived near here as a child and spent many happy weekends picnicking in these mountains, swimming in freezing waterfalls and rowing on Mare Dam. About 100 kms north of Mutare, the Nyanga Mountains form part of the Eastern Highlands that form Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique. The land is high, rising from 1,800m to a peak of 2,593m at Mount Nyangani, the highest point in Zimbabwe. Much is made of the fact that this is the home of the African clawless otter, but you’d have to look hard to see one and there is truthfully little in the way of wildlife – the odd blue duiker or kudu, samango and vervet monkeys.

There are plenty of birds, but Nyanga is really all about glorious scenery. Old colonials used to talk about it as ‘Rhodesia’s Scotland’ – the rolling grasslands and granite outcrops are there but much higher and grander. There are watery spectacles such as the Pungwe Falls and Mutarazi Falls, at 762m (2,499 ft) the highest in Zimbabwe. The dams are stocked with brown trout for fishermen, the forests cradle wonderful stands of Mulanje cypress and tree ferns. And for those who care to hunt them out, ancient ruins of some of Zimbabwe’s earliest stone builders dot the hidden valleys.

A short scenic drive through the Eastern Highlands, and a view of Zimbabwe’s tallest waterfall
Overall rating
1/5

This is an easy park to visit and there were good views of the Nyanga Mountains from the main ‘circular’ gravel road. On the higher slopes was moorland vegetation and in the valleys, dry grassy plains but I only saw a couple of grazing antelope. The highlight was the viewpoint overlooking the Mtarazi Falls (761 metres); a free-leaping waterfall of two delicate tiers and the tallest waterfall in Zimbabwe. Beyond was the Honde Valley, some 800 metres below, with its lovely bright green tea estates and wooded areas of wild fig trees. Combined with a stop for tea at one of the country hotels near the park, it was a pleasant country drive, but I find the scenery in the Vumba and Chimanimani mountains south of Mutare more dramatic.

Rhodes’s former estate in the Eastern Highlands
Overall rating
3/5

The centrepiece of the highlands to the north of Mutare, Nyanga National Park, was at one time the personal property of Rhodes. The boulder strewn moonscapes, dominated by immense onion peel granite domes that dwarf their more publicised Matobo relations, are inherently very beautiful – and unmistakably Zimbabwean. But this is also the most ecologically compromised of Zimbabwe’s major reserves, with much of the natural cover of heath and indigenous woodland now replaced by timber plantations and fruit cultivation. Several wonderful sites lie close the park, notably the Chirinda Forest Reserve, which protects several very rare bird species in what is Africa’s most southerly true rainforest, and the wonderful waterfalls and highland meadows of the Chimanimani Mountains.

Scotland in Africa
Overall rating
2/5

This is a great park to come to after a lengthy vacation in hot, dusty, open game viewing vehicles when you’re dying for some cool mountain air, but don’t come for big game viewing because there isn’t any. Golf, trout fishing and hiking will keep you busy, the scenery’s lovely (if you can ignore the forestry plantations) and there are some great places of historic interest but it’s not a safari destination. Having said all that, if you’re a keen birder this, along with other places a little further south in the Eastern Highlands (notably the Bvumba area) is truly one of the continent’s hotspots. You’ll need a specialist guide to locate your wishlist deep in the indigenous woods and forests (also home to the charming Samango monkey) and needless to say the best birding is during the wet, summer season but you certainly won’t go home disappointed.

Nyanga, the garden of Cecil John Rhodes
Overall rating
2/5

This scenic area in the Eastern Highlands is excellent walking country. This isn’t a pristine park though. Unfortunately a lot of the indigenous vegetation has been cleared in the past for farming and forestry. The birding is good, but I haven’t seen any other wildlife. Samango monkey, baboons and reedbuck are the animals you’re most likely to see. The park is also home to the little blue duiker, but you would have to be very lucky to spot one. There are several walks available taking in waterfalls and other points of interest. I walked to Nyangwe Fort, one of several mysterious ancient ruins within the park.

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