The launch of the Cresta Grande Hotel in Cape Town on April 15 2021 was a spectacular event in the face of COVID19 which has come with global travel restrictions. The Cresta Brand has certainly defied all odds and has continued in its growth as a fierce African Hotel group. Cresta Grande Hotel is situated on the corner of Loop and Strand Street close to the Commercial centre of Cape Town and the V&A Waterfront as well as a range of other visitor attractions. Ms Chipo Mandela, the General Manager says “it has superb views of Signal Hill, Table Mountain and the city. It is not only conveniently sited but also uniquely placed to give both scenic enjoyment and convenience to guests.”
Whilst the Cresta Grande Hotel launch was being done in Cape Town, Cresta Jameson Hotel in Harare, Zimbabwe – where it all began for Cresta in 1958, was supporting the launch virtually. The virtual launch was attended by various captains of the tourism industry and the media.
The launch was followed by a tour of the million dollar newly refurbished Cresta Jameson Hotel which was established in 1958 and the first to receive a 4* rating in Zimbabwe. The launch of a new hotel into the Cresta Group as well as the US$2.5 million refurbishment of Cresta Jameson Hotel, all point to the fact that the Cresta Brand has truly stood the test of time. The Cresta Group boasts of 17 hotels operating in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa.
Cresta’s Boss Ladies
As a working lady, it was inspiring to see the team of female leaders that the Cresta Group has under its banner. So the appeal of the Cresta brand to a female traveller such as myself, came as no surprise at all. Some of the key addresses were made by Ms Chipo Mandela, the Managing Director of Cresta Hotels, Ms Emily Mumba, General Manager of Cresta Jameson and Ms Nobuntu Taengwa – Cresta Digital Brand Manager.
Cresta Jameson Hotel: Catering to the needs of the Female Traveller
Being a female traveller has its own share of highs and lows. As women continue to grow in the commercial world and take up corporate spaces, one of the greatest challenges for a female traveller is finding accommodation that appeals to her femininity, with soft touches, whilst also providing a space to do business and relax in a safe environment, all in fine balance. Cresta Jameson Hotel’s fine retouches give that effect. Ms Emily Mumba – General Manager of Cresta Jameson Hotel says that the refurbishment of Cresta Jameson Hotel “covers all public areas, conferences and banqueting rooms – such as the Zambezi room – as well as restaurants, bar and, very important the kitchen, which has been given a total makeover”. The refurbishments give a sense of newness and familiarity all at the same time. A true work of art.
The Calabash has cultural and spiritual significance symbolizing hospitality, good food and home. Something that every good hostess knows and nurtures. Something every good woman has in her home. And something the Cresta Group is waiting to offer its guests.
It was intriguing to hear the significance of the Cresta Calabash. Digital Brand Manager, Nobuntu Taengwa describes this as the DNA of Cresta, as a calabash is where a traveller draws from to refresh. Of greater significance was the mention that fluid is stored in a calabash which signifies the fluidity of Cresta. The ability to adapt to needs. This can be seen in how they are taking bold steps such as the launching of another hotel, in addition to the million dollar refurbishments, in such difficult times and in an age where there are numerous other non-conventional accommodation options.
Safety and Security
Every solo female traveller knows that safety and security are at the top of the checklist when travelling. From safety that concerns health or well-being to security of having the freedom and liberty to be ‘at ease’ without any taunting or judging. One of the improvements made in this regard by Cresta Jameson Hotel is that no one is able to access the elevator or stairs without an access key card. Having been flogged with negativity over the years about crowds that labelled female travellers within the hotel and made them uncomfortable, this new development ensures that every guest within the hotel is a credible guest; is safe; and will be respected.
The Cresta Jameson Hotel mainly attracts the Business Traveller and its location means that it is in one of the busiest parts of the town. This allows easy accessibility as everything is in walking distance. In addition to hotel security, Cresta Jameson Hotel also has the services of the Zimbabwe Republic Police who are seen roaming outside the premises. Their presence adds an additional sense of safety and security for the guest.
As a female guest, everything about the refurbishments of Cresta Jameson Hotel is appealing. From the soft refurbishment touches to the décor that maintain the aesthetic original appeal of the hotel to the million dollar kitchen revamp and reopening of the popular Tiffany’s fine dining restaurant.
Great use of space has been made in the 123 air conditioned bedrooms with en-suite bath and shower and black out curtains. It’s hard to believe that the hotel is in one of the busiest parts of the city. Home away from home can be experienced in the hotel’s rooms and dining spaces and this is what many female travellers love.
Who doesn’t like to have a good party? With Cresta’s outdoor catering, this no longer has to be a chore. Cresta is now able to prepare meals and deliver them to a venue or prepare them at the venue. Thus fulfilling their vision of “creating memorable hospitality experiences”. For any lady, this service makes hosting a joy, especially in these COVID times, as Cresta Jameson Hotel is able to provide the food as well as serve it leaving you to be a good hostess and giving your full attention to your guests.
As we continue to open up the Travel industry, Cresta has certainly poised itself on the brink of success. Refurbishments at Cresta Jameson Hotel are nearing completion, and it is evident that the Cresta Group is ready to welcome all travellers to it’s hotels–“Where one smile starts another”.
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.
Every year in the second week of August, the Heroes Day is celebrated in Zimbabwe. This, along with the Independence day celebrations, marks one of the most significant holidays in the Zimbabwean calendar. In this chat, I speak to Rumbi Bvira who is the Resident National Heroes Acre curator. She explains the meaning and significance of both the holiday and the Heroes Acre. Although it was recorded in 2017, the information given here is timeless…Enjoy!
In this season of COVID-19 travel has become very difficult. The plus side of this, however, is that it is helping us appreciate what we have within our vicinity. We are going back to basics. We are not travelling far and wide, so we can make the most of what we have on our home ground.
What’s in your backyard? In this discussion I talk to Edson Banda who is the Chairman of the Marondera Golf Club. He highlights the features of the club and all the things that you can do and services you can get at the club.
Mr Banda also highlights issues that the Environmental Management Agency and the local council need to address.
As we continue to look at community based tourism projects. This week, we explore where to go, how to go, what to do and how to do it!
Where to go?
The buzz this week has been the opening up of National Parks and Victoria Falls. Even though travel for most is still quite restrictive, the excitement is in the knowledge that life has begun elsewhere and finally the lock-down and all its restrictions may be coming to an end. Victoria Falls is the destination of choice for many and as it is one of the first places to open up in this season of COVID19, we will start with some examples from there. Knowing about Community Based Tourism is one thing, it’s also important to know where this is being practiced so that the eco-tourism initiatives can be supported.
How to go?
The how I am referring to here is not travel by rail, road or air – all of which will get you to Victoria Falls. The how referred to here is the things you should be aware of when visiting communities. How to behave, how to respond and how to participate. Respect goes without saying. To participate in community based tourism the locals are allowing you to enter into their personal space. It’s important to go prepared to learn and share experiences.
In the more organised visits a guide will be there to help with language barriers and they will inform on what should or should not be done as well as the types of tokens of appreciation that can be carried to the village. It’s important to remember that it’s a cultural exchange. Having more or less of something than the community does not make one more or less than the community.
It is also important to know what the community is like beforehand. In Victoria Falls for example, the villages are mostly Nambya villages. Going in knowing their value systems will help develop a better relationship and understanding. In certain communities, in different parts of the world, there may be certain things that are not permissible such as dress codes be it wearing trousers, wearing short dresses or skirts or not having head gears. So background information on the community will make the visit more meaningful. Most, however, are understanding and accepting as they understand how diverse and sometimes ignorant tourists can be.
What to do?
Cultural Village Tours
Victoria Falls is without a doubt the most popular destination in Zimbabwe. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world; the falls are the largest waterfalls in the world and one of the top UNESCO sites.
There are quite a number of activities one can do in Victoria Falls and one of the activities offered by a number of organisations but rarely taken up are Cultural Village Tours. Mrs Trish Mambinge General Manager Sales and Marketing of Shearwater says there has been a growing interest in village tours as they offer an authentic tourism visit. Villages are about 12km out of the main town and a full tour takes about 2 hours.
Organisations that do village tours have a number of villages that they set aside and visit with tourists on a rotational basis. When being visited, the villages are not pre-warned as the idea is to find everything in its natural state.
This adds excitement to the visit as tourists find the villagers in their daily routine be it gardening, herding their livestock or cooking and they get to participate and learn about whatever activity they would be doing. The Headman or senior person then takes them around the village and tells them about their way of life their daily routines and history of the place.
Mrs Mambinge says that these tours really help the villagers. Tourists are encouraged to bring something to give as a donation to the villages to help with their upkeep. During the school term, a visit is also made to the nearby schools and sometimes tourists sponsor educational goods as well. She also said that as an organisation, 10% of the income made from the tour is given back to the village. The villagers get the proceeds in cash which they share equally or they ask the organisation to embark on a project on their behalf. Boreholes have been dug and various projects such as poultry and other agricultural projects have been started from the money made from village tours.
The communities are taught not to rely overly on tourism but engage in these community projects. The projects not only become a source of livelihood, but also serve as an attraction for the tourists. Successful community projects end up supplying farmed products back to the organisations.
How to do it
Having this knowledge in mind helps to prepare for a visit. Money or goods can be set aside to exchange with souvenirs that would have been made by the community. Sometimes you may also be able to buy food stuffs from the community, if they are fishermen, there may be some fish or wild fruit like baobab fruit, amacimbi (Mopane worms) all depending on the area or region visited.
Currently, these activities have been popular with international visitors only. Domestic travellers have got a lot to gain from village tours and unlike international tourists, they can make time for the visits. Part of the reasons the tours have not been popular has got to do with time constraints. Domestic tourists can make the time to visit as a day excursion or weekend break. These tours are culturally enriching particularly for younger travellers who have grown up in urban environments. Try spending not just a day, but a night as well with the communities for a truly, full authentic cultural experience.
Cecil John Rhodes Ndebele Cultural Village
This is a great stopover if you are driving to Victoria Falls, particularly now as flights are not operational. The Cecil John Rhodes Cultural Village is about 4km from Matobo National Park and was founded by David Mhabinyane Ngwenya in 1992. The village is supported by CAMPFIRE through the Rural District Council of Matopos.
Some of the structures there are amaqhugwana (huts made out of grass) and when you are there, Baba Ngwenya will explain how and why he had to seek permission from the Chief to be allowed to build the village and to use the name Cecil John Rhodes for a Ndebele Village. He also explains traditional rituals that were done such as dragging a branch across the space the hut was to be built and their meanings.
When you get to the village, entry into the village and tours and site seeing are all free. One can go trekking or see the numerous rock paintings within the area. You can also spend the night at the village, the largest group hosted there was a group of 44 Europeans. When spending a night you are hosted by the villagers in their homes. The charge for spending the night is as little as $10 a night for a full traditional Ndebele experience including all meals. Once in the village you can buy traditional baskets and wood carvings and beads made by the villagers.
Baba Ngwenya is a well of wisdom and much can be learnt from him. The Cecil John Rhodes Ndebele Cultural Village is a definite must visit if your travel interests involve cultural and historical aspects.