For the patriotic Zimbabwean and lover of landscapes, Juliasdale will trump Nyanga every time. Forget the rows of exotic spy pines and misty streams filled with foreign-sponsored, regime-change agent trout. Juliasdale is what much of Nyanga used to look like, before it became lumber forests and golf courses. The bush is indigenous, and unlike amidst the pines, there are birds and insects aplenty.
Renowned artist Mike White has spent many years painting and photographing the Juliasdale landscape. “It’s the most beautiful place in the country,” he says. “In particular, the msasa trees are astonishing when they change colour in August. They range from a deep burgundy to delicate pinks, oranges, and all shades of yellow.” The msasas are rooted in shallow rocky soil, and though many are very old, they are stunted in size. Some have long lichens growing from their branches, giving them the appearance of old men, stooped and hunched up against the giant granite rocks and kopjes that rise from their midst. “The rock formations are also astonishing, and wonderful to explore on foot or on a canvas or with a camera,” says White. Juliasdale is a hiker’s delight, with plenty of easy routes for the casual walker, but for the more adventurous, there are steep climbs to be made, rock cracks to explore, and thickets to scramble through on a search for a long forgotten cave.
As a child I recall being led on five to ten hour walks that took us through the landscape. It is the closest I’ve felt to being immersed in one of Tolkien’s novels. Along the way, we would plunge into rock pools and splash under waterfalls. We knew several spots where ancient clay grain bins were wedged into cave corners, and could bhundu-bash our way to some impressive instances of stone walling that, in the dappled light under the trees, was mysterious and haunting. Almost every cave has pottery chards, but there are no paintings. And in the valleys, there are pit structures, now the centre of a controversial theory that debunks the official narrative taught in Zimbabwean schools.
Historian Ann Kritzinger is the chief proponent of the gold-mining theory of the pit structures, which have previously been noted as agricultural constructions for containing miniature cattle and goats, for collecting manure, and for domestic gardens. Kritzinger fiercely protests this however, and has compiled a long list of evidence, including several design features and promising amounts of gold in tested soil samples, that shows the pit structures to be the equivalent of giant gold pans. According to Kritzinger, the countless lines of stone terracing on nearby hills and rock faces were used to channel water into the pans, which had cleverly engineered drainage outlets. The best place to read about this is from one of the antique sofas in the Pine Tree Inn, where a large tome compiled by Kritzinger sits on the coffee table. It’s also the best place to view the beautiful towering Susurumba Mountain, and to enjoy some tea and scones after the steep but fairly quick climb to the top. You can see straight to the horizon for 360 degrees from up there, and contemplate the landscape where Kritzinger’s gold miners would have lived. Could this beautiful and haunting area be the fabled King Solomon’s Mines?
When to travel: August, when the msasas are changing colour – but any time of year is beautiful.
What to take: Something warm, and good walking shoes.
Where to stay:
Pine Tree Inn: Telephone: (29) 2388/3133, 0776 835 481 Email: email@example.com
Inn on the Rupurara: Telephone (29) 3021/4 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Montclair Hotel and Casino: Telephone: (29) 3001, 0778 066 869 Email: email@example.com
To view and buy Mike White’s art visit www.facebook.com/mikewhiteart.
What to read:
For more information including the history of the area, get a copy of the newly released book Nyanga’s Rich Heritage for just $5. Find out more at ntoz.org/new-posts or call 0772 328 193 or 0772 572 966.
Image credit : Mike White
Image: Iconic Juliasdale landscapes such as this one are beautiful and interesting places to explore.