I had an invitation to visit a project in
South Africa, I have done some pro-bono work on in the past. Now, it
should be launched commercially, and I'm asked to give my input, and
hopefully work on it, in the future. Realising how little I actually
know about South African highland and tropical plants, I figured I might do a
tour around the premises. Places like
Victoria Falls and many of the national parks are on the
short list of sights.
While studding the flora, I will try to
sell some assistance to the parks I meet on along the road. I
also hope to be able to collect
material for DNA-tests for Dr. Tanja Schuster, who is mapping
Oxygonum. I will visit the wild and
unspoiled nature scattered around this area. I plan to do a quick tour
from South Africa
through Lesotho, Swaziland,
Mozambique, Zimbabwe and
Some facts about the country.
(Jump to diary)
Republic of Zimbabwe is a rather large
country in south-eastern Africa. between the Zambezi and Limpopo
Rivers. It borders South Africa to the south, Botswana to the west,
Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east. It covers
measuring roughly 750 times 900 kilometres, but it feels
significantly bigger, driving its roads!
Most of the country is elevated in the central plateau (high veld)
stretching from the southwest to the northwest at altitudes between
1,200 and 1,600 meters. The country's east is mountainous with Mount
Nyangani as the highest point at 2,592 meters. About 20% of the
country consists of the low veld under 900 meters. Victoria
Falls, one of the world's biggest and most spectacular waterfalls,
is located in the country's northwest as part of the Zambezi river.
Despite a population of more than
13 million citizens, here are quite some
nature. 80% of the country's citizens are Christians. The followers
of ethnic religions are around 11%. Around 1% are Muslims, mainly
from Mozambique and Malawi, 0.1% are Hindus and 0.3% are Baha'is.
Approximately 7% of citizens have no religious practice or are
MONEY: The currency is Zimbabwean Dollar (ZWD). 1 DKK=55
1 €=412 ZWD. Or at least it was. Apparently, everything is in
The country has a tropical climate with a rainy season usually from
late October to March - perfect hit (if I wanted it wet...). The
climate is moderated by the altitude, and I expect temperatures from
20-26C but it could reach 34C. And quite some rain.... Here are three general biomes; the
arid savanna; lowlands receiving up to 500 millimetres of rain
annually, found in the north-west and south-eastern parts. The moist savanna on the high plateau, which can receive
1100 millimetres annually, found in the central highlands. Finally,
the forest who get even more rain. Most have been chopped down,
but some remain in the cool highlands of Chipinge-Chimanimania and in the Bvumba
Mountains, both located in the fare east.
ANIMALS and PLANTS:
A diverse altitude, huge semi-un-disturbed areas and quite some
national parks offers a wide range of animals and plants. Here are
elephants, lions, civets, baboons, hippos, rhinos, giraffes,
buffalos, pigs, antelopes, crocks , plenty of reptilians and 660
species of birds, just to name a few.
The plants in Zimbabwe I especially want to find, beside from the
Oxygonum are the numerous caudiciforms and terrestrial
orchids, found here. I will of cause try to explore each region.
From Mozambique, the
journey continues in the beautiful eastern Zimbabwe.
10/1 After a surprisingly
fast procedure in Mozambique, the entering at Forbes
Border Control turn out to be painstakingly slow. I am
bounced at the first counter: I need a visa. It turns
out, I get that at counter two. They fill out some
papers for US$30, and send me back. A whole more writing
and work at the keyboard, and I'm in.
Then the car have to be procedure. I need a VTL/TFA/NOC
or something-blanket, the officer at the counter tells
me. He is real kind, and find a civilian outside the
office. He give him my passport, and I guess I better
follow him. We enter Zimbabwe and head for a container.
Here he find a form, and we walk back. But we are not
the same way back. We have to walk along with the
traffic heading into Mozambique, and my
passport is examined. I don't have a dual-entry visa,
and can't get in. Another officer is slightly more
bright, and let me in.
Then we wait for a long time on "the man", who can fill
out the document. Then back to counter four, more stamps
and signatures, and I have the acquired GHK/FLS/FUC-document,
and can try counter five once more. More typing and
writing, and I have some new documents for the
collection - and 45UD$ less. Apparently, I have bought
some kind of insurance for the car, and the civilians
want UD$50, and tell me to go to another container to
pay UD$10 for road tax. Most of the problems seem to
originates from the fact, they are not accustom to
rental cars at this border crossing. Two hours and US$175 later, we
carefully drive into Zimbabwe.
We start around 1000 meters height,
and drive through huge, lush green hills with plenty of
grass, bushes and trees. Barren rock peaks out on
the peaks, but else, it is either natural vegetation or
rather huge, artificially watered fields with corn.
We still need water, and head for the nearby Mutare. It
is a modern town like the ones found in South Africa,
and despite it is Sunday, many shops are open. We start
at an ATM, but my card is bounced. Have I spend more
than 20.000 DKK within the last month? Could be. Gry get
dollars, and we go shopping. I try to pay with my card,
and it works. While walking around, looking for an
internet cafe, we see a sign showing to the City Garden
and Aloe Garden. It is a nice, well maintained park,
with many foreign plants. Gry get close to a group of
monkeys, and get some great photos.
We make a loop around town, and I got lucky at another
ATM. Then we head towards
Nyanga National Park. We drive
slowly upwards, and end at 2000 meters height. It is
significantly colder in the shadow, but the sun equals
it. The mountain peaks are drastic, and offers some
great motives. We make a single botanizing stop, and
find quite some unfamiliar plants. Huge Euphorbia trees
are iconic plants among more traditional trees.
As we reach 2000 meters, huge pine plantations dominate
I don't have a specific address of the park, and first,
we find a casino. The guard at the entrance leads us on
towards a campsite, which I hope will be nearby.
We passes a huge collection of soapstone carvings, and
have a look. Gry find a bowl, and I a living leaffrog.
Further down the road, wee pass the entrance to the
Nyanga National Park, and find the office.
We start paying for one day in the park and one night
camping. For a first in a long time, we are told what to
look for in the park, and we get a good map and folders
of, what we can expect to see. The camping site is large with
trees, green grass and old but well cleaned and
maintained toilets. This is defiantly different from
Mozambique. And here are signs at every intersection
too. We have the campsite to our selves, but the staff
pops by to fire up the waterheater - with firewood - or
It is late afternoon, and we don't
have time for the 762 meter Mtarazi Fall or the tallest
mountain in Zimbabwe; Inyngani; 2593 meters. But a drive
around a small part of the area is great.
We see a Kudu,
a Waterbok, a Duiker and some real old
The low sun add to the fantastic motives of the
surrounding mountains and lush vegetation. Proteas, and
some lovely "Acacia-shaped" trees with bright red new
leaves. The sun vanish behind mountains several times,
and the difficult surface make us drive a bit fast back
to camp. We reach it in last minute, and while Gry start on
the dinner, I start on the computer.
To judge from our first day, Zimbabwe are so much more
modern and well functional than Mozambique. And for now,
even more green.
I don't get to finish, but at midnight, I need a rest -
and a shower.
11/1 It was far from as cold during the night,
as I have feared. We give
our selves good time in the morning, enjoying the cosy
camp, which we still have to our selves. Then we set off to
the office, to pay for an additional night. We get
directions to the 762 meter Mtarazi Fall. I had hoped
for the road leading right through the park, but we are
told; it is too bad to be driven. Considering it is a
45 kilometres drive, I find the sealed road more
appealing after all.
When we turn into the park by another entrance, we see
numerous tree ferns, and lovely green valleys. We do a
few botanizing stops, and find flowering Vitaceaes,
orchids and many other charming plants.
The last kilometre to the falls is a narrow trail,
leading through bushes and herbs. We find more plants
and some insects. Then a vertical wall reveals on the
other side of the valley, and we start to hear the
Despite the 762 metres are partly over some slow
descents, the last 3-400 metres are almost vertical, and
So are the 180 degree view over a giant valley, which is
partly developed. Next to the big fall is a narrow one,
even higher in the vertical part. The sun is not where I
want it, but it is still a great experience. We can
stand on some big boulders and look straight down to the
button of the valley. Some yellow orchids sit ten
meters down, but with Gry's big camera, I get a good
On our way back, we see some baboons,
and find another vertical wall and huge valley. In
Juliasdale, we try the postal office, which apparently
have midday closed. A large group of people are selling
fruits in plastic bags
to the few passing cars, and when
Gry show an interest, the car is filled in seconds.
Back at camp, we relax with fruit and tea for a hour,
before setting out on a tour to the other end of the
park. The first sign we meet say; Deadly Hazard, and
that sounds interesting. It is just a bit rough, but lead
through some awesome landscapes.
Some areas are barren rocks with few succulents. Others
are almost swamps, and all have interesting plants. We
see a big herd of Blue Wildebeests and a small group of
Zebras. The old Cussonias and umbrella shaped trees with
red new leaves in the foreground of remote mountains and
fantastic cloud formations, make great motives.
On the way back, we make a stop at an ancient fort and
some Pit Structures.
The fort is a large group of
boulders on a hill top, offering a great view to the
surrounding valleys. The pit structures are five meter
deep holes, five metres in diameter with vertical walls,
made with boulders. It could be water cisterns, but it
is a guess.
We cross a river, and the cascades over the very smooth
rocks and the succulents next to it make me stop. Back
at camp, I prepare the tent, and Gry prepare asome brilliant
egg-noodles with three-kind-of-cheese and peanuts and
peanut butter sauce. As we go for the "camp-kitchen" to do the
dishwashers, I feel the heat from the woodenfired
waterheater. I bring my chair, and despite it is 20C, I
really enjoy the radiation heat from the
coals. Fireflies mix with the stars on a moonless
sky. Leaffrogs in frogs-numbers, crickets, bats, the
cracking form the fire and
distant waterfalls make a
nightly symphony, and I almost feel a bad conscience,
heading to bed.
12/1 While we eat breakfast,
two Waterboks are relaxing in the next booth at the
camping site. We finish up, and set the GPS for La
Rochelle Botanical Garden. Where we yesterday drown 42
kilometres to get to the tall waterfall within the park,
it claims we only have 24 to go now.
It is among bald peaks and lush valleys. One stretch has some amazing acacia-shaped trees, which can grow
to a considerable size. The few farmers we pass tend to
live either in huge mansions or tiny rondawels. Their
fields are either huge with
artificial watering or tiny
and weeded by hand. A few lakes is the result of dams,
and despite being artificial, make the landscape
The biggest "city" we drive through, is a supermarket, a
gas station and the houses of the owners. There are no
botanical garden where the GPS leads us. We study the
guidebooks and maps, and find a waterfall on the same
road, with GPS coordinates. It is just 24 kilometres
further down the road - or not. Here are nothing at all!
More study reveals we have to go 100 kilometres back,
and that actually align with the map I draw, half a year
This time, we drive right to La
which is an impressive mansion. It is from the '50-ties,
but has been neglected for some years. Now,
it is being restored to its former glory, and beside
from the main building, it has an orchid collection, a
nursery, the botanical garden and a campsite.
We spend $24 for the entrance to the park and campsite
WITH breakfast. We look around the main building, and
settle for a sandwich and a salad on the terrace. The
staff is absolutely perfect, and so is the food.
Unfortunately, we can't eat dinner here, as the hotel
if fully booked.
Then we go for a stroll through the garden. The former
owners had 55 gardeners employed, and they have been
able to create an impressive garden within the nineteen
years, the couple lived here. It has since been neglected, and
restoring it is still in progress,
but it is still a
joy for us to walk the paths. Here are staghorn-ferns in
the trees, massive Yuccas, Aloes, flowering trees, ponds
and quite some nametags on the big trees. We
find a lot of familiar families and plants - just way
bigger than we know them. Most are brought back by the
owners of La Rochelle, which travelled the world.
When we return to the castle, I remember a single word
the waiter said: "Cheesecake". We get two perfect lemon
cheesecakes and a pot of tea for eight dollars in these
fantastic surroundings! And they have internet too.
some odd reason, Google have decided to close my
account. To restore it, I either have to tell them
exactly which day I created my account (way back in 2004!), and when
I could access it last, five friends email addresses,
which folders I have made and more like that. Or they
can send a code for my phone - which is in Denmark. Or I
can lock-on from
my usual IP-address - in Denmark! In other words; I
will not be able to read emails the next month and a
half. Gry has exactly the same problem with Hotmail. It
might be Zimbabwe have been the origin for spam-mails,
but why make it this hard for normal costumers?
Dinner is on me, and it is simple;
egg-noodles with ketchup or chutney. We return to the main
house to try to access the rest of the world, but email
is a no-go for us. While Gry hits the tent, I sit and
work outside, to access the power. The night is chill,
but full of the voices of huge frogs, leaffrogs,
crickets and bats. One of the large frogs sounds like a
machinegun. Some unidentified voices mix in. I can't tell
if it is the monkeys, some birds or?
13/1 The morning offers a
light drizzle, and I lay
for quite some time, enjoying the birds sinning. We have
breakfast included, and after I have gotten access to my
mailbox, thanks to a friend in Denmark, we raid the well
assorted buffet. Plenty of cereals, müesli, nuts, fresh
fruits and much more.
When we are pretty stuffed, the waiter asks what kind of
fried breakfast we want: Eggs, bacon, potatoes,
sausages, toast and a few other options. We spend quite
some time at that table. The other guests arrive from
their early morning walk, and are a bit fascinated by
our truck. It is a group of farmers. I don't think they
look that way, and we get the explanation; they are tea
plantation owners. Nice bunch, and when they head on, we
pay the nursery and orchid collection a visit.
While the rest of the botanical garden is under
reconstruction, this section is pristine. We do the
entire collection, and the day is getting old. The
upper-class life suits us, but we have so much more of
Africa to see.
We fill the car in the nearby city,
and find our way out in the countryside once again. We
drive through some huge, green hills with barren granite
boulders on the peaks. A short stretch have huge baobab
trees, but else it is big bushes and small trees.
We make a small detour to the village of Cashel, which
give name to the valley we are exploring today. A dusty
road leads through two lines of small shops, but it is
clean and most shops nicely painted. The
difference between Mozambique
Zimbabwe are huge! In Mozambique, most people are
carrying firewood or water. Here, a briefcase or
suitcase are way more normal.
Houses have paint on here, busses are efficient and
smiles are significantly faster and wider.
A bit after noon, we find the gravelroad which should
offer a fantastic scenic route towards the western end
National Park. And it does! Steep mountain sides are
partly covered in trees and valley after valley open
under us. We make numerous stops to try to capture the
Unfortunately the start of the trail is a maze of equal
sized and used trails. We do many of them, and are lucky
to find locals able to direct us.
Then the trail leaves the settled part, and lead close
along the Mozambique border. We drive high over the
valleys, but still under the high peaks. The further in
we go, the more narrow and badly maintained the trail
gets. The branches of the pinetrees are almost closing
the road, and crossing rivers causes some quite
difficult passings from time to time. In other parts,
the trail is completely covered in grass with no signs
of wheel tracks at all. But the fantastic surroundings
make up for it. We find several interesting plants in
this highland. We are in 1700-2000 meters height most of
At one of the passes, epiphytic orchids are in every
tree. Half past three, we see the first sign, telling us
we have driven 22 kilometres from Cashel, and have 43 to
go. Some scattered settlements start
to be seen in the valleys below, and the road finally
improve. The smiling people we pass like to have their
photos taken, and we don't want to disappoint them.
Black clouds gather in front of us, and I fear we might
be caught up here. The clay-rich surface will be a real
challenge if wet. A sign show off to Chimanimani Gap,
and we go for it. After a long time, the trail get
suspiciously narrow, and then it almost vanish. It turns
out "Gap" is something else. Back to the main road, we
drive as fast as possible, and we reach the village of
Chimanimani at dusk. We ask for a campsite, and
strangely enough, we find the Frog & Fern, which I
actually listed half a year ago. They have a single
campsite, and we get it.
A blind dog, a black cat, two friendly women, a hut with
electricity, toilet and hot shower for $20.
Gry prepare dinner in the hut while I desperately
struggle to fix the holder for the big table in the car,
before it destroy more of the essential parts of the car.
Without tools and material, it is a bit up-hill. The
cooking turns out way better. I work way too late,
as the pictures of the day turned out good. We have
only driven 180 kilometres in nine hours, both due to
the quality of the road, but also due to the quality and
amount of motives along it.
14/1 We leave the
eight to set out towards Chirinda Forest
Reserve. A sign showing to a waterfall lure us into Chimanimani
National Park once again, but the 3x$10 is a bit too
steep for a waterfall at this stage of our journey. Back
at trail, the road soon turn into a nice, sealed road.
We enjoy the lush, green hills and small rondawel farms.
Then the fields get bigger, and corn, cane, avocado and
peaches are the main crop for some kilometres.
The small town of Chipinge seems to offer a lot, and we
go for a stroll. Strangely enough, the two ATMs only
accept local cards, but it is not a problem - yet. I
find a pair of flip-flops and while looking for spare
parts for the car, I stumble upon a cheep
tire-fixing-kit. Here are not much fresh fruit, and we
must continue without.
The road is now a one lane sealed with wide shoulders.
The few cars we meet are real polite - like all
Zimbabweans. We make a stop at a bridge where numerous
butterflies are sucking up minerals. We constantly see
these white butterflies cross the road in large numbers,
but this is the first time we see them sitting still.
At a police control post, we are stopped. The other ten
or so, have let us by, but this guy ask into where we
been, and where we are going. Then he wants a present
from Denmark. He get a wide smile.
After three hours of relaxed and
enjoyable driving, we reach Chirinda. We pass the
campsite sign, but it is only eleven, and we want to
explore the tropical rainforest now. A sign show off to
Big Tree, and as it is on the list, we start with it. A
long and narrow road leads into the dense forest, and we
end at a parking area.
A long walk on a narrow trail leads us further out in
the forest. It is green to the floor, and one of the
most common species are
fragrans. Crab-spiders, small, bright red
millipedes and huge snails make up most of the animal sights. More impressive are the huge mahogany and Strychnos trees along with massive strangler figs and
other massive trees.
The Big Tree is truly a huge mahogany. Sixteen meters at
the ground and 66 metres tall. It is estimated to be
600-1000 years old. We sit at the foot of it for a long
time, absorbing the presence and watching the insects
and monkeys. I try desperately and rather fruitless to
capture the big tree.
From here, a path leads through the Valley of Giants.
Lianas and trees are huge,
but here are still a lot of
green in the bottom of the forest.
As we watch a big strangler fig, a Hornbill land in it.
It has no hurry at all, and we get a lot of pictures.
Gry's are significantly better than mine. A stretch of
the trail is infested with huge and real fast ticks. We
must be crossing a wildlife trail in this area.
A huge tree has fallen, and the hollow stem draws me. I
make a few photos with zoom and flash, and later, they
reveal some small bats. When we get back to the car, we
sit in it for quite some time, and enjoy the many birds
and passing monkeys.
Then we head on to the point I
thought was the entrance to the park. It turns out to be
a the plantation, and the workers are heading home under
the huge trees. We drive back to the campsite sign, and
find a road, leading right through the tropical
rainforest. The campsite is just a small clearing with
toilets, showers and a few braais. The real eager ranger
sells us tickets for the camp, including the national
park and a book with all the plant and animals names. We
did see the numbers on many of the trees on the Big Tree
trail, and now we get their names. As we get ready for a
late afternoon walk, another car drives in. The ranger
talks about "the January disease" (low season), but now he got more
customers than anybody else we have stayed at.
The tiny road heading deeper into the rainforest passes
many big and now named trees. Gry is eager to learn
their names, and I do my best to follow - rather
The other guests catch up, and as no real surprise, they
are Danes too. We chat, then we head on. Here are huge
strangler figs, mahogany and so many other hard-wood
trees. Many birds can be heard, but the sighting causes
problems. At a memorial plate from the former owner and
naturalist; Charles Francis Massy Swynnerton, we sit
down and reflect over the great life we are living. As
no surprise, Swynnerton has described quite a lot of
the plants and animals in the area, and more are named
in his honour.
Back at camp, we enjoy a hot shower in the rondawel and
start cooking. I write diary - twice. Somehow, the
program freezes after the first half. Then, when I have
written the second half, the computer turns off, and
forget all. Somehow, I feel the first editions had way
15/1 The area have so much to
offer, and we decide to spend yet another
day here. I
catch up with slideshows of
the Mozambique photos while Gry do her yoga. The air
is full of the sound of birds. Especially the rude voice
of the hornbills, which remains around the camp. A bit
later, other birds and insects take over the watch.
The early morning offers a cool walk down to Swynnerton's
old house, but this area is mainly plantations. The
timber is cut to boards on site, minimising the
transport. Despite the gum- and pine trees, we see some interesting plants and insects.
Soon, the force of the sun can be felt, and we head
to camp. Gry study the local flora and fauna while I try
to get the car to stay in one piece. The washing-board
gravel roads have a way of loosening everything.
We spend the midday heat in an open rondawel, being
watched by lizards on the half-wall. I catch up on the
diaries and laundry, while Gry study on.
The afternoon is spend walking the
long driveway to the entrance. The dense forest is
filled with huge strangler figs, lianas and strange
plants. We see insects, birds and monkeys. One of the
strangler figs forms a tube with perfect grit walls,
after its host have died and rotten away.
After several hours we return to camp, where we have
company by some locals in a car with big
local African music. Not exactly what is on top of our
wishing list! To add to the insult, they use the braai,
over the most delicious smells of fried meat. I'm
"looking forward" to a vegetarian noodles with little
else. Cruel beyond any humanity!
We sit in the dark and chat for hours, watching the
stars and fire-flies. Then a light drizzle start. We get
to pack the car and retire to the tent, before the sky
opens. Within minutes, we have massive rain and thunder
right over our heads. We talk on, until I feel my but
being wet. I have missed to close a zipper-window in the
foot end, and we have around fifteen litres of water
under the madras - and all in my side. I have to fall
asleep with a cold and wet but, listening to the giggling of my
co-driver and the continuing thunder. Not exactly an
evening to remember, if you ask me - but hard to forget
The adventure continues in