Chimanimani National Park

The Chimanimani mountains were originally known as Mawenje (rocky mountains) and were later called Chimanimani from the ideophone Tshimanimani (to be squeezed together). The range is estimated to be be 1 700 million years old.

“Only about 50km in length, it is singularly beautiful. In a granite world of grey-blue rock this range, with its jagged 2240 m high peaks made up of a sugary-white quartzite sparkling in the brilliant sunshine, is a unique remnant of the water-deposited Frontier System. It presents one of the most spectacular scenes in Africa.” T. V. Bulpin

A hike up the mountain is quite demanding but absolutely worth the effort. It is mostly steep and the views as you ascend become increasing spectacular. Starting from the National Parks Base Camp you follow a well worn path – there are frequent markers so you don’t lose your way.

There are two main routes, the less steep but longer Banana Grove or the shorter route, Bailey’s Folly. The name alone suggests that this is the harder route but its mostly easy going with occasional places where some clambering or climbing is required.

On this route, close to the Hut you pass through an area where the wind and rain has eroded the quartzite stone into a series of odd shapes that in some cases resemble figures. Walking through this area in the company of these strange figures is definitely one of the experiences of taking this route.

Shortly afterward you reach the crest of the rise and the view opens up to a vast landscape – the inner valley of the mountain. You are now 9 km from Base Camp and from here its a short distance to the Hut.

Some people will do this hike as a day trip. You need to be quite fit to do that and it is far better, having reached the Hut, to spend a night there and enjoy the sense of absolute peace and quiet. And to gather one’s strength to explore further afield or for the hike back to Base Camp.

The Hut

John Ball was born in Mutare and studied botany and forestry, first at the University of Cape Town and later at Oxford, England having been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.

He arrived in Melsetter in the 50’s. Recognising the immense importance of the Chimanimani mountains he was instrumental in having the area encompassing the mountains declared a National Park. He was also Chairman of the Melsetter District Council for some time and worked to get the Eland Sanctuary established so the eland could be moved from the forestry areas where they were causing damage to the pine trees.

Ball also helped to site the Outward Bound school and to get it operating. Then raised funds to build the mountain hut which he constructed on his weekends over a period of 18 months and which was completed in 1955. One can imagine the logistics of moving material up the mountain. While local rock was used to construct the walls most of the building material was carried up by porter and donkeys. The final building is far from a hut – solidly built of stone and concrete it has two dormitories which can accommodate up to 24 people, a central communal room to the front with a large fireplace and a kitchen to the rear. It even had some surprising luxuries for the day at such a remote location, waterborne sewerage and gas lighting throughout. You can still see the pipes that supplied gas to the light points today.

Where the Hut is situated offers a a commanding view over the valley floor below and it is an excellent base from which to explore the Chimanimani mountains.

In those early days it was know as “Balls Hotel” and was a very popular stopover for all visitors to the mountains. Herds of eland and sable could be seen from the hut on the plains below. While baboons and leopards might be seen in the heights. Sadly there is little wildlife that survives in the mountain now. Entirely due to the encroachment of humans and in particular artisanal miners who mine the river banks for gold causing immense damage to the environment.


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