The Aberfoyle Lodge was the destination of my first day on safari in Zimbabwe, and when I arrived over 7 hours after leaving the capital Harare, the long journey was thankfully over good roads and swiftly forgotten and forgiven.
After getting into my room, it was a quick dash, even before turning my attention to the waiting lunch, to take some photographs as the sun threatened to disappear behind the surrounding mountains.
Sitting pretty in the middle of an extensive tea estate is Aberfoyle the successor to a social club for plantation managers, built in the early 1960’s and then eventually turned into a tourist lodge, without however altering the fabric of the property too much. That was a smart move as the first impression was one of entering a colonial homestead, or as was explained a club with all the right ingredients, home away from home and inviting to put the feet up, both proverbially and literally.
After some more recent upgrades to the rooms does the lodge offer all creature comforts – fireplaces in the rooms included – and the homely atmosphere of the lounge, which adjoins the bar invites to sit down in an armchair, take out a book and begin to read, warmed by a crackling wood fire and an unending supply of freshly brewed tea from the local estate.
The nights are cold at this elevation and solo travellers may be well advised to ask for some hot water bottles to find the bed warm when retiring after dinner or else have the fire lit.
In fact was dinner a highlight, well presented and of a quality one may not easily expect in such a remote corner of Zimbabwe. From the starters to the deserts, I predictably opted for the Chocolate Mousse of which a second helping was served without anyone blinking an eye, was the meal as good as they come and all compliments to the chef who already at lunch showed his skills.
The night was quiet, literally none of the regular wilderness sounds audible apart from the waters of the Nyamkombe river which kept gushing over rocks.
A range of activities are available on the property, from a 9 hole golf course to a tennis and squash court. Zip lining along the river through the canopy of tall tropical trees – overall are 20 lines good for some exciting moments – or a guided walk to spot some of the many bird species found in the surrounding forests and across the tea estate can be done in close vicinity to the lodge.
A little further away is fishing an option, including fly fishing while hiking and biking trails invite the more active visitors to enjoy the great outdoors. Add white water rafting and kayaking , a high rope ‘giant swing’ mounted between two rather high eucalyptus trees and it is quickly obvious that Aberfoyle is a property which ticks many boxes, for those seeking solitude and rest as well as for those who want to live their outdoor dream.
In fact, Chris, the manager, let me in on a secret about plans to establish a skywalk and one of the world’s most thrilling zip line courses at the nearby Mutarazi Falls, which, when ready will no doubt put this part of Zimbabwe on the world map for adventure seekers and thrill riders.
Now managed by ‘Far and Wide’ (www.farandwide.co.zw) and working hand in hand with ‘Wild Nyanga’ which operates self-catering cottages nearby – Chris did say that catering however can be arranged on request at an added cost – is the combination of accommodation at the lodge, the more gentle sports and the adrenaline pumping activities a sure winner.
The nearby Nyanga National Park, some 260 kilometres from the capital Harare, in fact provides the stage for many of the activities available out of Aberfoyle Lodge. Home to the highest mountain in Zimbabwe, Mt. Nyangani (2593 mtrs) and the country’s highest waterfall, Mutarazi Falls does the park also offer visitors a glimpse into history, with a Rhodes Museum as well as through the ancient ruins of Nyangwe and Chawomera Forts.
Easier to access, just 15 minutes walk from the main car park at the gate, is the Nyangombe Fall, a must do activity for visitors.
What has become clear over the past two days in the Eastern Highlands is that this is a part of Zimbabwe which is little explored and in fact little known, as none of our group of invited foreign based tour and travel agents, nor the other travel writers on the bus, had heard much of. Small but very appealing lodges, but also larger hotels like Troutbeck – with its own fishing lake beyond the front lawn – or the Inn on Rupurara – with its own golf course, one of several in the wider Nyanga / Mutare / Vumba area – offer accommodation for every budget and taste. Given some serious promotion and making in particular the adventure travel community aware of the offerings available, this could become a major destination of its own right, perhaps not rivalling the Victoria Falls but certainly holding its own ground.
Travel to Zimbabwe is easy with several daily connections from Johannesburg by Fastjet, Air Zimbabwe and South African Airways, by Emirates daily from Dubai, Fastjet and Air Zimbabwe from Dar es Salaam and of course Kenya Airways with up to three flights a day out of Nairobi, arguably the best way to reach Harare.