Nyanga National Park: Low hanging fruit on high grounds

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Mutarazi Falls

Chris Chenga
‘‘Low hanging fruit” is how Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa described the tourism sector back in 2015. He implored players in the sector to target contributing nearly 30 percent of national revenues. Zimbabwe possesses many wonders that tourists are willing to pay for, among these is the Nyanga National Park.

A history and its attractions
In 1949 the National Parks Act was promulgated and an area of 29 000ha was designated for the establishment of the Rhodes Inyanga National Park. The land lies mainly between 2 000m and 2 300m above sea level, rising to 2 592m at the summit of Mount Nyangani.

The Park consists of some of the farms originally purchased by Cecil John Rhodes at the close of the Nineteenth Century. To these have been added several adjacent farms, including the Mutarazi National Park that was proclaimed in 1975.

Covering 47 000 hectares, the park exists for the protection of wilderness areas, its unique grassland and forest ecosystems, and the archaeological and historical heritage. In addition, there is an expectation of scientific research, agricultural experimentation and recreational tourism. To achieve these objectives, the park is zoned into sections where different degrees of human impact are allowed. Some areas, especially where there are unique or vulnerable ecosystems, are off bounds to most visitors.

Most of its terrain consists of rolling downland, sometimes lightly wooded, lying at altitudes between 1 800-2 593 metres (6 560-7 544 feet). Mount Nyangani, the highest point in Zimbabwe, lies in the centre of the park and Mutarazi Falls, Zimbabwe’s highest waterfall, is in the south of the park.

It is home to a variety of animals including waterbuck, wildebeest, kudu, zebra, impala, sables, and eland. The animals roam the vast tracts of land without disturbance, left freely in natural habitat.

True to nature, the animals are mostly spotted in areas that best suit their instinctive movements, this is what distinguishes national parks from zoos or captive settings. Zebras track dry grasslands and are visible from dust roads on high ground. Wildebeests are often within grassy plains and open woodlands. More discrete animals like kudu rely on thickets for protection, rarely seen exposed in the open, so tourists have to make an effort to spot these gentle creatures. Nyanga National Park offers wildlife as nature intended.

There is an acceptance that the landscape today is exactly identical imagery to centuries before, times when civilizations under Makoni settled on the plains. The management at Nyanga National Park has been shrewd to keep modernity undisturbing of the rich history. Chawomera Fort, an ancient ruin built on stone stands high at 1834 meters above sea level.

A fresh gushing wind circles the fort interior, the solemn breeze sounds like whispers of ancient mystic. This is what captures a tourist’s imagination and makes the Nyanga National Park not only visually appealing but an intrinsically fulfilling experience.

Natural swimming pools have clear fresh waters. They are from the distributaries that diverge from the main Nyangombe and Mutarazi River. The swimming pools are surrounded by manmade sandy beaches with flush toilets and parking area. This is safe and healthy recreational infrastructure that is child friendly and suitable for family braais and entertainment.

For the more active and adventurous tourists, there are foot trails that go along river streams leading to Mutarazi and Nyangombe Falls. Mutarazi Falls at 762 meters, is the highest vertical waterfall in Zimbabwe, second highest in Africa.

Further south the highlands, towards Honde Valley, a newly constructed Mutarazi skywalk is a spectacle for back packers. Not only does it offer magnificent views but yet another feature of Nyanga National Park’s opportunity for tourists to engage in self-introspection.

A personal and intrinsic experience
The tour guide tourist manager Nyasha Maguzha, proclaims to a group of tourists, “The National Park is an opportunity for tourists to engage in self-discovery, expand their consciousness, and refresh their souls. It is a highly personal experience”. Maguzha says this while glaring into the distant mountain views, as if to capture a moment for his own intrinsic realization. He has been with the National Park for almost a decade, yet him and his fellow tour guides describe every new tour as a totally new experience.

A well-managed organisation
The Nyanga National Park currently boasts three rest camps (Rhodes, Mare and Udu Dams) each markedly different in their setting, as well as two Campsites.

The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) leases out the Pungwe Drift cottages, the Mutarazi cottages and camp site,  the Rhodes Nyanga Hotel and the Old Stables to other operators. The last is operated by the National Trust of Zimbabwe. It houses the excellent Rhodes Nyanga Historical Exhibition which covers the full history of the area. It is packed with interesting photographs and memorabilia and is well worth a visit (closed on Tuesdays).

The park is administered by the Area Manager whose offices are close to Rhodes Dam. Details of waterfalls, forts and other places of interest in the park are included in previous chapters.

47 000 hectares of vast wilderness presents challenges of managing poaching and conservation. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority does its best to fend off poachers with vigilant game rangers. Similar diligence is taken in conserving the land from wild fires that disturb the natural balance.

Rangers are taught wildfire suppression techniques, particularly indirect attacks, where rangers make fire lines that suppress oncoming bush fires. Besides these technical competences, rangers as well as tour guides are pleasant companions who carry out their jobs with professionalism and selfless customer service.  All these responsibilities demand sound financial support.

The business potential of Nyanga
The National Park has a variety of revenue generating initiatives. For instance, it manages a trout fisheries with average market prices of $9 a kilogram for fresh trout.

Commercial activities also cater to a joint venture model with private investors and proprietors. Opportunities for game lodge remain a sound investment opportunity. More recently, greater focus on expanding corporate resorts. Organizations such as the Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers host annual conferences there.

Private sector investors have taken the opportunity to look into developing accommodation and conference halls for these corporate tourists. Timber harvesting remains a vibrant activity across Nyanga National Park. It is an activity that balances the commercial interests of timber demand with conservatory practices that are as precise as replanting trees that retain balance within the forestry.

A ZimParks business development team runs these commercial activities and is available for stakeholder engagement. The commercial infrastructure around Nyanga National Park comes across as adequate. Dust roads enable tourist navigation across the highlands through the forestry and scenic views.

They are accommodative of many kinds of vehicles from Sports Utility Vehicles, tour vans, and even smaller family cars. Power lines are available across the National Park, particular in areas where there are campsites and commercial activities. There is capacity to connect more power lines and stations for whatever expansionary endeavours that may be attracted by the game reserve.

Mobile networks have reliable signal, thus connectivity is hardly an issue with tourists and commercial agents alike. All this infrastructure outlook makes Nyanga National Park a viable tourist destination than attracts complimentary commercial interest.

Low hanging fruit
In terms of its economic potential, Nyanga National Park is indeed low hanging fruit located on high ground in the Eastern Highlands. It is ready for both domestic and foreign tourists. According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, the country received 2,1 million tourists in 2016, up from 2.06 million in the previous year.

This earned $890 million and the ZTA expects higher revenues this year. Notwithstanding this relative success, Zimbabwe can attract greater numbers to surpass the recorded high of 2,5 million tourists. Nyanga National Park can be a competitive attraction to lure in these extra numbers.

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