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Eastern Highlands

Eastern Highlands Overview

Extending for an estimated 300 kilometers along Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique lies the “Eastern Highlands – the combined name for three ranges of hills and mountains which sit in distinct contrast to the rest of the country, and renowned for its mixture of sub-Montane forest woodlands, open savanna grasslands and large mountain peaks and rolling valleys.

The highlands have a cooler climate than the surrounding lowlands, which in turn support a unique ecology of plants and animals. The eco-region is home to several plant communities; sub-Montane and Montane grasslands, moist evergreen forest, dry Montane forest, Miombo woodlands, and Heathlands. Many streams and rivers originate in these mountains, which form the watershed between the Zambezi and Save River systems.

The mountain forests are vulnerable to logging and the grasslands susceptible to fire and the rain forests, which by definition grow on well-watered fertile land, to clearance for agriculture. The moist climate is ideal for planting tea, coffee and hardwoods. However, much of the original vegetation remains, especially at higher altitudes, which are not suitable for farming. Large areas of the Highlands are protected, including the 171km2 Chimanimani National Park and Nyanga National Park.

The range comprises of three main mountain groups:

Nyanga National Park (to the north)

The characteristic Montane forest-grassland of Nyanga National Park is wetter than the surrounding areas as a result of higher rainfall, and its setting is characterised by low cloud cover, early morning mist and heavy dew. Nyanga not only contains Zimbabwe’s highest mountain (Mt Nyangani), but also contains Africa’s second highest waterfall (Mutarazi Falls) and has breathtaking views overlooking the lush Honde Valley into Mozambique.

Whilst sparsely populated, there are ancient ruins throughout the whole of the Nyanga area, indicating that the region was habituated for many years. There are essentially three main types of ruins to explore; namely the pits, the stone forts and the terraces, making this a prime destination for historical and archaeological interest. Nyanga National Park also contains a few caves with rock art paintings. Many of the dams and lakes in the area are famous for good trout and bass fishing, and popular activities include golf, horse riding and mountain hiking.

Bvumba Mountains (centrally situated near the city of Mutare)

Often referred to as the “Mountains of the Mist”, the Bvumba mountains are capped by cool, green hills which shelter one of the most exquisite botanical gardens with one of the best views in the world and providing an enchanting walk across its wooden bridges, and alongside aloes, streams and lakes. and small country hotels. The Bvumba is a hot spot for birding enthusiasts and there are a number of specials including the Swynnerton’s Robin, which lives and breeds in small patches of forest. Forest walks are rewarded with a choir of bird song and any visit should be ended with a visit to “Tony’s Coffee Shop” for outstanding cakes and tea,s including an assortment of alcoholic versions!

Chimanimani (to the south)

Chimanimani is the final grandiose in the range of volcanic peaks, reaching over 2,400 meters and stretching for 50km. There is a gentler section between Chimanimani Village and the border with Mozambique, but even this section will still stretch the average hiker. The slopes are scattered with flowers and little rivulets pop up everywhere. Protea bushes are found on the higher slopes along with everlasting flowers and thick growths of giant Erica with its memorable `pencil wood` smell. August / September is when spring shows its full bloom amidst the Msasa trees as they come into their full autumnal colours, providing a vivid contrast to the fresh evergreens of other plants. Whilst the area is not rich in its mammal species, there are sporadic sightings of sable and eland in the low-lying thicker forests. Leopard, baboon and porcupine can occasionally be sighted.  Spring is in August/September and the msasa trees come into full autumnal colours, providing a great contrast to the fresh spring greens of the other plants. The spectacular Bridal veil falls are a must visit as well as the Chirinda forest, which contains a primeval forest with the tallest tree in the country; a Red Mahogany.

When To Travel

The annual rainfall in this region is highly variable ranging from 741mm to 2,997mm per year. Most of the rains fall during the months November through to April and annual temperatures range from a minimum of  9°C to 12°C to a maximum of 25°C to 28°C.

The Eastern Highlands can generally be visited throughout the year but birding is best between November to April, when the migratory birds are present and many resident birds are in breeding plumage. The scenery is best during this wet season when the vegetation is lush and green, and the air is clear and crisp. The dry season tends to get more hazy as the weather drys out and the winter months are much colder than across the rest of the country.

Getting There

Good tar roads lead between Harare, Mutare, Nyanga, Bvumba and the Chimanimani. However, those who wish to go off the main tar roads and explore the smaller network of roads in specific areas, it is highly recommended to travel in a 4 x 4 vehicle. A number of the roads are potholed and in need of rehabilitation and so it is best to travel at a slower pace and with caution. Certain roads become difficult to navigate during the wet season.

Species

Wildlife

The region is best known among wildlife conservationists for the blue duiker and Samango monkeys. Neither of these species is found outside of the Eastern Highlands. Other specialties include the blue monkey, the rare tree civet, squirrels such as the sun squirrel and the red squirrel, the thick-tailed bushbaby, the East African little collared fruit bat (Myonycteris relicta), the dark-footed forest shrew and the four-toed elephant shrew (Petrodomus tetradactylus), as well as the Marshall’s pygmy chameleon.

The African clawless otter is common in the upper Kairezi River, in the north-east of the Park. The Inyangani River frog is in endangered amphibian found in rocky, fast-flowing streams. Leopards are found throughout the region and there are occasional sightings of buffalo and lion and hyena that stray in from the Mozambique lowlands.

Birdlife

The Eastern Highlands are rich in birdlife and include specialties such as the trumpeter hornbill, the Knysna turaco, the purple-crested turaco, crested guineafowl and crowned eagles. Two species, the Chirinda apalis (living in the evergreen forests) and Roberts’s warbler inhabiting the forest edges), are endemic to the Eastern Highlands. In the heathlands of the Chimanimani Mountains, Fynbos species such as Gurney’s sugarbird and the malachite sunbird can be seen.

Extending for an estimated 300 kilometers along Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique lies the “Eastern Highlands – the combined name for three ranges of hills and mountains which sit in distinct contrast to the rest of the country, and renowned for its mixture of sub-Montane forest woodlands, open savanna grasslands and large mountain peaks and rolling valleys.

The highlands have a cooler climate than the surrounding lowlands, which in turn support a unique ecology of plants and animals. The eco-region is home to several plant communities; sub-Montane and Montane grasslands, moist evergreen forest, dry Montane forest, Miombo woodlands, and Heathlands. Many streams and rivers originate in these mountains, which form the watershed between the Zambezi and Save River systems.

The mountain forests are vulnerable to logging and the grasslands susceptible to fire and the rain forests, which by definition grow on well-watered fertile land, to clearance for agriculture. The moist climate is ideal for planting tea, coffee and hardwoods. However, much of the original vegetation remains, especially at higher altitudes, which are not suitable for farming. Large areas of the Highlands are protected, including the 171km2 Chimanimani National Park and Nyanga National Park.

The range comprises of three main mountain groups:

Nyanga National Park (to the north)

The characteristic Montane forest-grassland of Nyanga National Park is wetter than the surrounding areas as a result of higher rainfall, and its setting is characterised by low cloud cover, early morning mist and heavy dew. Nyanga not only contains Zimbabwe’s highest mountain (Mt Nyangani), but also contains Africa’s second highest waterfall (Mutarazi Falls) and has breathtaking views overlooking the lush Honde Valley into Mozambique.

Whilst sparsely populated, there are ancient ruins throughout the whole of the Nyanga area, indicating that the region was habituated for many years. There are essentially three main types of ruins to explore; namely the pits, the stone forts and the terraces, making this a prime destination for historical and archaeological interest. Nyanga National Park also contains a few caves with rock art paintings. Many of the dams and lakes in the area are famous for good trout and bass fishing, and popular activities include golf, horse riding and mountain hiking.

Bvumba Mountains (centrally situated near the city of Mutare)

Often referred to as the “Mountains of the Mist”, the Bvumba mountains are capped by cool, green hills which shelter one of the most exquisite botanical gardens with one of the best views in the world and providing an enchanting walk across its wooden bridges, and alongside aloes, streams and lakes. and small country hotels. The Bvumba is a hot spot for birding enthusiasts and there are a number of specials including the Swynnerton’s Robin, which lives and breeds in small patches of forest. Forest walks are rewarded with a choir of bird song and any visit should be ended with a visit to “Tony’s Coffee Shop” for outstanding cakes and tea,s including an assortment of alcoholic versions!

Chimanimani (to the south)

Chimanimani is the final grandiose in the range of volcanic peaks, reaching over 2,400 meters and stretching for 50km. There is a gentler section between Chimanimani Village and the border with Mozambique, but even this section will still stretch the average hiker. The slopes are scattered with flowers and little rivulets pop up everywhere. Protea bushes are found on the higher slopes along with everlasting flowers and thick growths of giant Erica with its memorable `pencil wood` smell. August / September is when spring shows its full bloom amidst the Msasa trees as they come into their full autumnal colours, providing a vivid contrast to the fresh evergreens of other plants. Whilst the area is not rich in its mammal species, there are sporadic sightings of sable and eland in the low-lying thicker forests. Leopard, baboon and porcupine can occasionally be sighted.  Spring is in August/September and the msasa trees come into full autumnal colours, providing a great contrast to the fresh spring greens of the other plants. The spectacular Bridal veil falls are a must visit as well as the Chirinda forest, which contains a primeval forest with the tallest tree in the country; a Red Mahogany.

The annual rainfall in this region is highly variable ranging from 741mm to 2,997mm per year. Most of the rains fall during the months November through to April and annual temperatures range from a minimum of  9°C to 12°C to a maximum of 25°C to 28°C.

The Eastern Highlands can generally be visited throughout the year but birding is best between November to April, when the migratory birds are present and many resident birds are in breeding plumage. The scenery is best during this wet season when the vegetation is lush and green, and the air is clear and crisp. The dry season tends to get more hazy as the weather drys out and the winter months are much colder than across the rest of the country.

Good tar roads lead between Harare, Mutare, Nyanga, Bvumba and the Chimanimani. However, those who wish to go off the main tar roads and explore the smaller network of roads in specific areas, it is highly recommended to travel in a 4 x 4 vehicle. A number of the roads are potholed and in need of rehabilitation and so it is best to travel at a slower pace and with caution. Certain roads become difficult to navigate during the wet season.

Wildlife

The region is best known among wildlife conservationists for the blue duiker and Samango monkeys. Neither of these species is found outside of the Eastern Highlands. Other specialties include the blue monkey, the rare tree civet, squirrels such as the sun squirrel and the red squirrel, the thick-tailed bushbaby, the East African little collared fruit bat (Myonycteris relicta), the dark-footed forest shrew and the four-toed elephant shrew (Petrodomus tetradactylus), as well as the Marshall’s pygmy chameleon.

The African clawless otter is common in the upper Kairezi River, in the north-east of the Park. The Inyangani River frog is in endangered amphibian found in rocky, fast-flowing streams. Leopards are found throughout the region and there are occasional sightings of buffalo and lion and hyena that stray in from the Mozambique lowlands.

Birdlife

The Eastern Highlands are rich in birdlife and include specialties such as the trumpeter hornbill, the Knysna turaco, the purple-crested turaco, crested guineafowl and crowned eagles. Two species, the Chirinda apalis (living in the evergreen forests) and Roberts’s warbler inhabiting the forest edges), are endemic to the Eastern Highlands. In the heathlands of the Chimanimani Mountains, Fynbos species such as Gurney’s sugarbird and the malachite sunbird can be seen.



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Highlights

Skyline

The Skyline is the most beautiful zipline in the world allowing one to fly over one of the highest waterfalls in Africa. At an estimated 500 metres flying for an estimated 400 metres at 50 to 70kms an hour – the experience is both exhilirating and uplifting.

Skywalk

The skywalk is truly unique first for Zimbabwe and the world, with two suspension bridges designed to look like vines above the Mutarazi falls, allowing for a full panoramic view of the falls and its surrounding. If you ever dreamed of what it would be like to walk in mid-air 90 metres above a waterfall – then this is the activity for you.

White-water rafting and Kayaking

Options for white-water rafting and kayaking are available with all activities being participatory and visitors having to paddle their own raft under instruction from a professional river guide.

River Bugging

The river bugging is a unique activity to this region whereby ever person gets a one man “raft” to lie down in and floats down the upper section of the pungwe river. Very similar to tubing, but offers an individualised experience of floating along whilst absorbing the sights and sounds around you.

Fly-fishing

The area offers some of the best wild brown and rainbow trout fishing in Africa in specialised spots with professional fishing guides. All fishing is done on a strictly catch and release programme ensuring that stocks of breeding wild trout are kept alive.

Mountain Bike Riding

Options for multi day mountain biking trails are available to explore the Nyanga and Mutarazi Falls National Park trails.

Horse-back Riding

Enjoy the spectacular montane views on horse-back following some of the trails through woodlands and wide rolling valleys.

Mountain and Woodland Hiking

The granite spikes and rolling valley’s offer a paradise for hikers and bird watchers alike. Explore the woodland forests and waterfalls before cooling off in the fresh streams and pools after a hard day’s hiking. Several areas have nature trail walks for visitors to follow but it is recommended not to venture off these paths during misty or cloudy conditions.  The area is also home to a large variety of flowers and plants, butterflies, reptiles  and amphibians, making this a haven for botanists and naturalists to explore.

Scenic Drives

The Eastern Highlands are renowned for their beautiful scenic drives and magnificent views and landscapes. Distances here are small but the differences in landscape are significant and so it is worth it to spend a few hours in the car traversing the winding roads.

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