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Outdoor:Racing preps and a trip to Umfurudzi

I wrapped up my Europcar-Dendairy 20 miler training by tackling some hills, heading back into one of my former regular running areas which I confess I’ve been avoiding as the sight of the suburban wetland through which my runs took me being annihilated by houses and mansions has been too heart-breaking to bear on too regular a basis. As recently as 18 months ago, there was at least one caracal resident in this particular vlei, sighted by both myself and other runners and cyclists through the area, and I regularly saw duikers, slender mongooses and spotted eagle owls too. It was a beautiful swathe of green, and helped feed our water supply, like all the city wetlands, now under siege by developers. The foray back to this route confirmed my fears.

Column by Rosie Mitchell

The wetland is now scarred by a wide road right through its middle, and there are half built houses everywhere. The wildlife is, I’m sure, long gone, and the extension of the same wetland on the other side of a fairly major road, where I’d scheduled my hill training, is beginning to see the same fate, though mercifully, plenty of greenbelt currently remains here — so far! Remarkably, as I trotted off up a dirt road, I spotted a reedbuck dancing off up the hill, close to where yet another house was going up! I have occasionally seen these in the area, hanging on in what’s left of their habitat, which is just 2km from a major suburb. I’ve also seen jackals both here and on various other regular routes I run — long may both these adaptable species and others who still survive on the edge of human settlement and environmental ravage, hang in there!

Having trained hard on tar for today’s 32km road race, I forayed onto trail for the first time in two months. My sureness of foot and watchful eye had evidently taken a dive, lulled into complacency by all the tar training, as I soon took a tumble, tripping on a rock, bashing and skinning my knee. How is it I so often get injured less than two weeks before race day? A pre race trip to the physio was in order — apparently, common practice among many runners! She laughed at our deja vu moment and confirmed that, like last time, it was indeed merely a bad bruise — and treated it to speed healing. Final hill training was on tar in a notorious part of Glen Lorne with sessions on a 3,5km steep uphill ascent — great views, however, including, all the way to Ngoma Kurira!

We visited Hippo Pools Wilderness Camp which is in Umfurudzi Park under a lease arrangement, and was set up and for over 30 years has been run by notable environmentalist Iain Jarvis, where renovations have been taking place.

This lovely camp on the Mazowe River is perfect for weekend breaks and longer, offering comfy self-catering chalets, various activities such as guided walks, canoeing, guided game drives day and night, and there is an extensive 250km network of marked colour-coded hiking trails starting from camp, which take you through some magnificent terrain with the chance of spotting a vast diversity of birds and other wildlife too. There is even a natural rock swimming pool, relatively recently built, and near it, a hide, with a good view over a pan. If you require to be catered for, this can also be arranged in advance, or if you don’t feel like cooking, take your ingredients and for a very small fee, you can hire catering staff there.

Hippo Pools falls under the umbrella of the Wilderness Africa Trust, which has set up and is busy stocking the Mazowe River Game Reserve on the other side of the river from Hippo Pools, working with the local community so that they benefit from the wildlife and from ecotourism generally, and where it has recently built the beautiful Sunungukai Lodge, next on our list to sample!

They also offer a stay in a magnificently placed self-catering A Frame structure with a fabulous view in the Garura area.
We visited a favourite old haunt, referred to as Potholes, on the edge of the park, after its fascinating geological phenomena, which now requires collecting a Parks Ranger and paying a fee.

With all the restocking that’s taking place, Umfurudzi Park has been divided into fenced segments and Potholes is currently not accessible by road from within, one has to go back out and come in through a different gate. This place is as magnificent as ever. We used to spend happy weekends relaxing by the river, swimming in the rock pools and exploring the hills nearby, before the generalised lawlessness that dominated till recently, making these trips not so safe. It was pleasing to see it now properly fenced and protected from poachers and panners and we were pleased to meet some of the enthusiastic parks people working at Umfurudzi and chat about the new developments.

Umfurudzi is restocking game
We headed with a family party out to Umfurudzi Safari Area last Sunday, a long overdue return to this wonderful park for day trips, weekends or longer. There are some very exciting and encouraging developments taking place in this huge, very beautiful national park, just a couple of hours’ drive from Harare, which suffered horrendous poaching and environmental damage from illegal gold panning during the “dark decade”.

In an innovative approach to sustaining a national park and encouraging tourism, when the country continues to face many economic challenges, there is a very interesting partnership with a private organisation that rolled out in April this year, whereby Umfurudzi Park is being managed by a company under a lease agreement, in partnership with Parks.

The company is investing in new game fencing, and the restocking of game, which was all but wiped out by the poaching, and already, 1 600 animals have been moved here, including most recently, a whole herd of buffalo — whom we met, and seem to be settling very well!

  • Feedback: rosie@wildimaginings.net

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