Chimanimani: The Corner

Catching Zimbabwe’s flora and fauna at its most splendid is achieved by being in the right place at the right time. Example: how many photographs can one take of the Msasa trees during our brief springtime, when these trees are at their most magnificent? It’s always hundreds of photos for me. Thankfully, these days we have digital cameras, and “delete” is a great option when the photograph is not quite right. As the Msasa trees’ majesty spreads before your eyes, it’s akin to an intricate tapestry of structured colour and texture. Just how does one stop getting that perfect shot when the trees’ shapes, forms and intricacies are so right and so different at each click of the camera?

Do tell, because I have thousands of photos that I just cannot bear to delete…

As we headed southeast to the Chimanimani Mountains en route to “The Corner”, our jaws dropped at the scenery. The car must have thought it had a learner driver at the controls, as we stopped and started many times, cameras out at every turn.

I’m not a camper by choice, yet I knew I had to do this trip, despite warnings by one of the Mountain Club members (he looks for snakes under rocks and dry driftwood) about no decent ablutions. As an afterthought, he warned us to watch out for prowling leopards and hyenas… good friends can tease the daylights out of one another! The Mountain Club joined The Aloe Society’s planned outing: to explore and enjoy. We went, we saw and we conquered. It was most certainly worth the effort, worth the teasing and worth all the planning!

With so many experts in their different fields of horticultural “know-how” surrounding us, we walked, talked and laughed before stopping for picnic lunches, water breaks and those camera moments in an area that kept us all in awe. Despite being winter, it was a hot day and we plunged into crystal-clear river pools with water features only God’s hand could have designed.

The rest of the crowd had decided to camp on one side of a rocky kopje near a stunning waterfall. Trekking carefully up and over the kopje many times, they made an exquisite campsite. I did wonder whether we should have taken that plunge but reminded myself that they were all seasoned campers as I observed the “katundu” being carried up and over the kopje.

Soon everyone was settled and drinking sundowners around a massive cracking log fire, surrounded by nature with the waterfall behind us. We chatted about the journey and our last bit of travel along a most horrendous in-road, only suitable for a high clearance 4X4 (not a CRV) at speeds of five kilometres an hour. With a friend who had completed her last chore for the day, we decided to return to the kopje. Saying our good nights and telling everyone we would see them all bright and early in the morning, we set off over the kopje…

… or so we thought.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived back at the very same campsite – everyone was having a braai as we emerged from the dark, guided by our tiny torch with almost totally flat batteries! We had got lost in the dark, traipsing up, over, down, around and about we (thankfully) had done a 360! Nobody had heard our calls!

We were exhausted on return to the comfy bed we had already assembled inside the four-wheel drive vehicle. My man (bless him!) had even organised a movie in the wild as we snuggled down to relax… warm and cozy, away from all those creepy crawlies and the dreaded hyenas.

The next day, as the sun rose over the mountains, we were up and out exploring. The water began to reflect the most awe-inspiring sunrise lighting. We walked to main camp around the kopje, passing a stunning yellow sheet of epiphytes in a yellow sheet.

I mentioned that we had probably already walked this route the night before, in pitch-black darkness. En route, we observed the most intricate of what can only be described as “fairy gardens”, comprising orchids, aloes, lichen, moss and wild flowers, clinging to rock formations under mountain acacia trees. It was a “stop in your tracks” moment and just fascinating.

The river takes a sharp right hand turn, wandering over boulders, tumbling and trickling off to the side of the main water flow before joining again and flowing through driftwood and ferns spilling over rocks. Often there are quiet spaces as the river flows off towards Mozambique. The force of that water hitting the flat massive rock formation at the right turn is incredible. I would like to see the area after a terrific rainy season because that mountain must surely shudder under the sheer force of all that water flow.

We were looking for a specific aloe on the trip. It proved elusive, until the last day, when we found it happy and thriving. The birds sung all day long and the bracing fragrance of crisp country fresh air was exhilarating.

In the late afternoon, we’d find a bathing pool and, like true “survivors”, would exfoliate in the clean, clear pools, nestling down to sit on the sand below, laughing as the goose bumps grew bigger and bigger. I didn’t get out; it was all too wonderful and those goose bumps… I just had to cope as we watched the sun set over the mountains, changing the sky to the most fascinating colour hues.

The ferns and even the Raphia palm were all there, comfortable around us and as content as we all felt.

The day walks were stop-start events as again and again the scenery was God-given. Put this spot-on your bucket list, with a note to remind you NOT to do a nighttime 360 of the kopje!

Roslyn Houghton is the mother of two daughters. She is a qualified horticultural judge affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), and has served on the RHS speakers’ register. She began taking photos at ten years of age and has not stopped. She is a crazy plant collector, with seven NALA (Nursery and landscaping Association) or National Gold Expo. awards for nursery and garden design. She loves laughing, travel, animals, people, photography, landscaping, plants and design… not all necessarily in that order!

The Corner derives its name from the fact that the area is like a small isolated corner of Zimbabwe, surrounded on three sides by the Mozambique border. It forms the northern end of the Chimanimani Mountain and contains the same quartzite rocks and soils of that mountain range. It has the relative advantage of being generally lower and is therefore more easily accessible. Quite a number of the near-endemic plant species, which have adapted to the mineral-rich soils, can be found here.

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