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Exploring Southern Africa’s Great Mountains

This article is going to focus on these three countries because of their close proximity to one another, as a trip to one country in Southern Africa really would not be complete without adding on another country or even two. By Kwakye Donkor.

Southern Africa is comprised of mountains, valleys, lakes, ocean shores, and everything in between. Of the fifteen countries that make up Southern Africa – Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – there are three of them that are clustered around Lake Malawi – Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi.

In the words of John Muir (1838-1914), author and an early advocate of preservation of the wilderness, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

Tanzania: Mount Kilimanjaro

Destinations-Tanzania-Mount-Kilimanjaro  Exploring Southern Africa’s Great Mountains Destinations Tanzania Mount Kilimanjaro

Lying a mere three degrees south of the equator, Mount Kilimanjaro straddles Tanzania’s border with Kenya. It is composed of three extinct volcanoes – Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira – and supports five major eco-zones: rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert, and glaciers. After reaching its maximum height during its last major eruption 360,000 years ago, Kibo has been eroded by glaciers, rivers, and landslides to its present height.

The first people to climb Kilimanjaro were German geographer Hans Meyer and Austrian climber Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. Today, around 25,000 people attempt to reach the summit of Africa every year.

Before or after an attempt to reach the summit, visitors may wish to explore other parts of Tanzania as well. Rich in cultural heritage, the cities and towns of this diverse country present an enlightening view of African society, while the grassy plains are teeming with animal and bird life. Just off the coast, Zanzibar is an interesting and exotic blend of Africa and Asia – the ideal holiday destination for historians and marine enthusiasts alike.

But whatever you do, do not miss an encounter with the Mountain of Greatness. Indeed, the valley below Kilimanjaro is believed by many to be the birthplace of humankind. So perhaps for some, it is a matter of coming home.

Mozambique: Mount Gorongosa

Destinations-Mozambique-Mount-Gorongosa  Exploring Southern Africa’s Great Mountains Destinations Mozambique Mount Gorongosa

Stretched along the southern edge of the Great Rift Valley 80 kilometers from Beira, the Mount Gorongosa park covers 3,770 square kilometers of savannah, woodlands, and rainforest. Game drives are run twice daily, and hikes are led to the impressive 1,800-mile-high Mount Gorongosa. Visitors are treated to sightings of lion, leopard, and other large cats, as well as buffalo, elephant, warthog, zebra, hippo, crocodile, and a variety of antelope. The bird life is prolific, with over 200 species having been identified, including the rare green-headed oriole.

This great isolated mountain of granite captures moisture floating in off the Indian Ocean and from it conjures up the magic and power of four major rivers: Nhandare, Chitunga, Muera and, most importantly, Vunduzi. These rivers provide water to Gorongosa and all communities surrounding the mountain, and without them, life in this part of Africa would have never been able to flourish the way it does now. The rivers flow from the mountain in deep, forested ravines. Some form spectacular waterfalls on the slopes of the mountain, the largest being Murombodzi Falls, over 100 meters high, and a series of smaller waterfalls are formed by the waters of the Vunduzi River as it flows eastwards towards Lake Urema.

The slopes of Mount Gorongosa are generally gentle and easy to climb. The only sharp, nearly vertical cliffs on the mountain are on its northwest corner, creating the perfect setting for nesting birds of prey and vultures.

Gorongosa National Park is on its way to becoming one of the best African parks. Every visitor who chooses Gorongosa as the destination for their Mozambique safari is directly supporting important conservation work and providing jobs to local Mozambicans. Revenue from tourism is the key to making Gorongosa a self-sustaining African park long into the future.

Malawi: Mount Mulanje

Destinations-Malawi-Mount-Mulanje  Exploring Southern Africa’s Great Mountains Destinations Malawi Mount Mulanje

The bare rock flanks Mount Mulanje tower to almost 3,000 meters. Lying east of Blantyre, it is easily accessible. Visitors could drive around the entire foot of the mountain in a day, or experience it more intimately by climbing and camping on the slopes, taking comparatively gentle walks, or attempting some more demanding climbs.

The scale of this truly magnificent mountain has to be seen to be appreciated. Once on the mountain, the vegetation changes with altitude, and there’s plenty of wildlife from small mammals to a variety of birds, including buzzard, the black eagle, and countless white-necked ravens. Fishing for trout is possible in the River Lichenya which drains the southwestern slopes.

The Mount Mulanje Conservation Trust has set up InfoMulanje, a one-stop information and booking office for Mulanje, covering such things as accommodation and guides. Trips to Mulanje of various durations are also offered by Malawi’s tour and safari companies. Just a half hour’s journey from Mulanje is Huntingdon House, a small, beautifully refurbished 1928 house which provides accommodation for up to 12 guests. Camping equipment and the services of a guide can also be hired.

How to get there

If you start your trip in Tanzania, there are three international airports – Dar-es-Salaam, now known as Julias Nyerere International Airport – JKIA; Kilimanjaro International Airport – KIA; and Zanzibar International Airport. See flights coming to Tanzania and Zanzibar – see flights coming to Tanzania
International airlines such as Air Tanzania, KLM Royal Dutch with daily flights out of Amsterdam into Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam, Gulf Air, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Emirates, along with other airlines, make flying into the country quite easy.

Once you are ready to move onto one of the other lake-bordering countries, there are boats and ferries that can transport visitors as an alternative to flying.

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RETOSA-Kwakye-Donkor  Exploring Southern Africa’s Great Mountains RETOSA Kwakye DonkorAbout RETOSA: RETOSA is the regional institution responsible for tourism development and growth. The organization aims to increase tourism arrivals to the region through sustainable development initiatives, improved regional competitiveness, and effective destination marketing with strategic partners. For more information about RETOSA, go to www.retosa.co.za
About the Author: Kwakye Donkor is the Marketing and Communications Director at the Regional Tourism Organisation Of Southern Africa (RETOSA).