Mt Nyangani is the highest peak in Zimbabwe, but it is a gentle and friendlier slope by far as compared to the Chimanimani Mountains (Chimz). Anyone without prior hiking experience can take on Mt Nyangani. The uphill climb and the tough terrain of Chimanimani Mountains, however, are almost like the tax you pay to see the beauty that lies within. Chimz is tough, challenging, unpredictable, and humbling. And yet, remarkably magnificent.
Chimanimani Mountain ranges cannot be fully explored in one trip. My trip was a 5-day trip and even that length of time did not begin to scratch the surface of the beauty of the mountain range. There are so many trails that can be done and countless mountain peaks to be conquered.
Hiking is not the only activity though. For the least active and those that are not keen on doing a full hike that involves camping but still want to see the beauty of Chimanimani, a day trip can be made to Tessa’s pools. It’s a steep descent from the Outward Bound Base camp, which means it will be a steep climb back up. But it is so worth it.
There are three main pools one can enjoy which are Tessa’s pools, the Middle pools and Upper pools. These are just the first of the many beautiful pools that you will come across in the mountains.
Bridal Veil Falls, one of the iconic waterfalls in Zimbabwe is also very easy to access and no hike is required. It’s a simple drive from Chimanimani Hotel and makes a great day trip and picnic site.
As the mountains are under National Parks, naturally, the first pit stop when going up the mountains is the Parks office. A small fee is paid for park fees and a record is made as with any other National Parks office.
Preparation for the Hike
Like any hike, preparation is imperative. Physical, mental and emotional preparation and for some of us spiritual as well. Physically, fitness cannot be compromised. Blisters and aching muscles are inevitable however, adequate preparation helps in easing the pain. Note…easing…not eliminating.
I did some form of intense fitness daily ranging from doing stairs for 15 minutes or jogging 5km, walking 10 km with a weighted backpack, first with 2kg, and gradually increasing the weight to 10kgs. Squats and mountain climbers also came in very handy. But even after all the training, I knew it was still not enough. And it wasn’t. Mental well-being plays a vital role when hiking especially when fitness and endurance runs out. Spiritual alertness just kicks in unawares as the going gets tough.
For the more adventurous and the happy hikers and campers, there are so many incredible campsites and peaks to be conquered. On my first night, we camped just below Mt Nyangoma. It was a lovely flat piece of land surrounded by trees. Because it was also a gap in the mountain, that night, harrowing winds kept me up all night. They were so loud and frightening, I was almost certain that the tent would be blown away.
The second night was perhaps my favourite campsite by Paradise pools. Getting there was a nightmare because it was raining and so after walking through the beautiful Bundu Plains, I literally slid down a slippery, rocky hill to the river at the bottom with my backpack on. Psalm 91 automatically came to mind, that ‘He will not let your foot slip’. At this point, it was a plea and not really a confession. This was the safest way down as it was quite steep and it was wet. There was so much rain and tears as I slid down the hill but despite it all, I couldn’t get over the beauty of the countless pools I had walked past and the pools I could see below ahead of me. This was perhaps the day I realised hiking is not a walk in the park. You are at the mercy of nature – all its forces and elements.
My Chimanimani hike was at the beginning of the rainy season. This was unpleasant when it rained but it was lovely to walk in cool weather. The best time to hike in Chimanimani would perhaps be May, August and October which are dryer months. They are obviously hotter months so there is direct sun and heat, but, hiking can be done in the morning and then more time can be spent swimming in one of the many lovely pools in the afternoons.
To get to Paradise Pools you pass through the Bundu Plains. The Bundu Plains are really scenic as you are surrounded by several Mountain Peaks, Mt Peza behind you and on your left side you can see Mt Dombi with Mt Mawenje just to the south of Dombi. On the right on top of another peak is a farmhouse which gave some solace that if there is too much thunder and lightning then that was an option for shelter.
Paradise Pools is absolutely stunning. Even the ‘damage’ done by Cyclone Idai added beauty. You can see massive boulders that rolled down from mountain tops into the waterfall. My greatest regret is not having spent more time at this campsite. The campsite was a flood plain with very tall, but soft grass. The sort of scenes you see out of the movies. Setting up camp was the worst as it was still raining and there’s nothing like setting up camp on wet grass and when it is raining. So just a tip when camping…make sure your tent is water proof, otherwise you sleep and wake up in a pool of water! If this happens you will hate camping forever.
Water is something you never worry about up in the Chimz mountains. There are several places where you can remove your backpack and take a lovely swim. You can drink all water straight from the streams. Just make sure it’s flowing – which is a general rule for any outdoor water sources. The water is probably the purest you will ever taste. Real spring water. This is quite reassuring as a hiker, as you can easily plan where to take breaks and refill water jars instead of carrying excess water weight.
Like I said, there are countless pools that are really inviting. Hiking after the wet season is amazing as almost everywhere you look up, you see a waterfall flowing.
Sadly, the Southern Lakes, which are some of the most scenic pools when you view them from the top of ridges are being torn apart by ‘makorokoza’ – illegal miners. They have dug up the mountains and some of the damage looks like it has been done by sophisticated machinery.
As a National Park that is conserved and protected, a World Heritage Site; and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty this was very depressing to see. Efforts from the National Parks can be seen as you constantly run into patrol groups whilst hiking. And, as a rule, hiking cannot be done without a National Parks ranger. These efforts, however, are not enough. The mountain ranges are too vast and it is impossible to monitor the entire area adequately. Appeals have been made to the relevant authorities on so many different occasions by so many different groups of people and organisations such as the Chimanimani Tourist Association.
Perhaps the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality and the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management senior officials need to get in and see the damage themselves so they know how urgent the issue is before the beautiful mountain ranges turn to a mass of rubble. Camping by the Southern Pools would have been a camper’s dream but it was just too dangerous to do so and also just an eye sore which is very sad.
On the last two nights, I camped at the Secret Valley and Banana Grove campsites. There was also the choice of camping at Mermaids pools but fatigue had set in. Mermaids Pools is definitely on the list for the next visit.
Each campsite provided such a bewildering, unique, magical experience. At Secret Valley you can hear Ragon Falls which can only be viewed by helicopter. You also have a perfect view of Dragon’s Tooth Mountain which is right across the Secret Valley campsite. Chimanimani is truly a campers dream.
There are a number of caves and overhangs to find shelter in especially on the very stormy nights or the nights you just want to gaze at the stars. One of the most impressive caves is Terry’s Cave. You can make an actual home in Terry’s cave and bring through all amenities! That is how big, cool and cosy the cave is. It can easily sleep up to 15 people. For the adventurous and daring, there is a trail that can be followed into the cave. Unfortunately my bravado ended at the entrance of the dark cave – I know what curiosity did to the cat! I know my limits and this was one of them!
The Mountain peak to take on in Chimanimani is Mt Kweza. This is the 2nd highest peak in Zimbabwe and the highest peak in Mozambique where they call it Mt Binga. This is a tough climb that literally brings you to your knees and all fours. (All puns intended). But so incredibly worth it.
For beginners, Mt Nyangoma is ideal. You get the thrill of a hike, the sweat and the heart racing from the climb. And ofcourse magnificent views from the top. Mt Peza is perhaps the most scenic of them all. A difficult climb but breath-taking views.
Everyone always says ‘don’t look back’ when going up a high peak…In Chimanimani, always look back! The views are spectacular and simply indescribable. Nature’s beauty at its very best.
Another characteristic of The Chimanimani Mountains peaks is they seem endless when hiking. Every time you think you are reaching a peak and you’ve reached the top, when you look up, you see another peak right in front of you. And this goes on and on countless times. When you have been hiking for hours and want to stop, this is not fun. But thinking about it in retrospect, you clearly see God’s creative hand.
Don’ts when hiking:
Litter – Always make sure you have a bin bag. Mountain trails often have litter trails. Not just Chimanimani but the Kilimanjaro’s and Everest’s. We must do our part to protect and preserve. “Take nothing but photos. Leave nothing but footprints”. Cans can be squashed and carried until such a time they can be disposed of.
Fire – Carry camping gas stoves and be careful of fires during the dry season. If you need firewood you need to buy and carry your own as it is illegal to use the wood in national parks as firewood. Carrying wood is just an extra burden to the rucksack weight especially if you are moving from camp to camp. It is not practical. So the best is to carry a small gas or paraffin/ gel stove for cooking. It’s easy to maintain, store and carry.
Gadgets – If possible, leave all gadgets at home especially speakers and sound systems. The idea is to enjoy nature and be away from all the technology. Phones too if you can help it although I understand the need if there is an emergency.
Excess weight – Do not carry more than 10kgs. Pack thin, light but warm clothing for the night and the very basic changing requirements. Just one set of clothes to change will work. Otherwise you will feel every unnecessary extra load on your back.
Bad shoes – The best is to get hiking boots that you should break into before the hike otherwise you will get horrible blisters. If not, a good strong pair of takkies is needed. Very strong. And not your favourite pair. You will come back with tattered shoes and you will cry.
What to look out for:
Blister bushes: These make grown men cry. This is the first bush you should identify when going up the mountains and stay far from it. Contact with the liquid from a blister bush burns your skin and makes it form multiple number of blisters that look like burns.
Cyclone Idai Effects – The cyclone really devastated certain areas and moved massive boulders. So be prepared to change the route and go the long way round. Seeing the destroyed houses and environment and the force of nature was astounding.
None of the previous reports or conversations could have prepared me for what I saw.
What to pack:
Canned food is ideal. Dried fruit is excellent for energy. Peanuts are great because they are filling. A bin liner is essential for litter and another is needed to pack clothes and sleeping bags in the event that it rains – (a lesson no one should learn themselves!) There’s nothing as frustrating as carrying a wet sleeping bag and adding an extra 2 to 3kgs to your backpack load. A hat and sunscreen are absolute essentials.
Chimanimani is without a doubt the best hike I have ever been on. It made me cry…several times, from pain, blisters on my feet, muscle cramps at night or just fear. And yet it was the most fulfilling quest I have ever been on. It gave me a sense of accomplishment after completing each day. It was so nice splashing in the waterfalls carelessly like a little girl and just being able to breathe in clean, fresh air and not have to think about anything else.
The beauty of the mountains and the perfect stillness of the area is nothing short of majestic. This is a must-visit for any adventurer out there. Tough as the hike may have been for me, this easily ranks as the best I have seen of Zimbabwe. It’s a hike I will do over, and over again just to experience true Zimbabwean beauty.
My father doing his first Chimanimani hike in 1975.
proudlyzimbabwean #visitzimbabwe #zimbho #hiking #itchyfeet #happytravelling!