Eastern Highlands

Overview

Introduction

Extending more than 200 mi/320 km from north to south along the border with Mozambique, Zimbabwe's eastern region is dominated by a series of dramatic and beautiful mountain ranges. Deep valleys, gorges, granite peaks and tropical forests make this a great area for trout fishing, hiking, cycling, climbing, bird-watching and just relaxing. It is a favorite retreat in the summer for Harare residents, as its cool climate is a welcome change from the heat of the city. The Eastern Highlands incorporates the hills and mountains of Nyanga to the north, Vumba to the east of the town of Mutare and Chimanimani to the south.

Mutare is the largest town in the Eastern Highlands, though it's hard to believe when walking through its semi-deserted streets with hardly a high-rise building in sight. Circled by a rim of granite mountains, it is perhaps one of the most beautifully located cities in Zimbabwe. The valley also forms a natural gateway between Zimbabwe and the coastal lowlands of Mozambique; the border is only 5 mi/8 km east of town. Mutare is easily accessed by road and public transport from Harare, though you'll need your own transportation to drive the scenic roads in the area.

Nyanga National Park. Mutare is an ideal base for excursions to Nyanga National Park (British magnate Cecil Rhodes' former estate), 50 mi/80 km north of Mutare, where you'll find some of Zimbabwe's most breathtaking scenery. Mount Nyanga (at 8,500 ft/2,590 m, the nation's highest) is there, as are several waterfalls (Pungwe and Mtarazi are our favorites). The vegetation is mostly moorland, with rain forest on the higher slopes and a fantastic range of wildflowers that bloom, including flame lilies (Zimbabwe's national flower), orchids and gladioli. Activities include visiting dams and angling for trout. The Rhodes Museum has exhibits on anthropology.

Vumba Mountains. Also within a short drive of Mutare are the Vumba Mountains (about 20 mi/32 km south of Mutare), an enormous ridge of granite clothed in indigenous forest. You can drive through, stopping occasionally at special lookout points—there are some breathtaking views of Mutare and neighboring Mozambique. If time permits, have tea and stroll through the beautifully landscaped Vumba Botanical Gardens, home to orchids and other native plants in an English-garden setting. The birdlife is abundant, and also found in large numbers is the Samango monkey, which is endemic to the Eastern Highlands. Close to the gardens is the excellent Leopard Rock Hotel, easily the best accommodation in the region and boasting a world-class golf course.

Chimanimani Mountains. Hikers and climbers, in particular, are drawn to the Chimanimani Mountains, about 90 mi/145 km south of Mutare, which are regarded as the southern end of the Eastern Highlands. Like the Vumba, they share the border with Mozambique. Near the village of Chimanimani is a trail that leads into the mountains and the Bridal Veil Falls. The round-trip should take around three hours. The water cascades down a 165 ft/50 m rock face into a pool, and when the wind lifts the froth up, it resembles a floating bride's train, hence the name. You can swim there, but the water is very cold.

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