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Sunungukai Camp — secret paradise

Many wildlife and outdoors enthusiasts are well aware of Umfurudzi Wilderness Area, the National Park less than three hours’ drive from Harare, and within it, Hippo Pools, a private camp set up and run for over three decades by well-known environmentalist Iain Jarvis, under a lease agreement.

Out Door with Rosie Mitchell

Umfurudzi itself is now being managed through a joint venture between a private company and National Parks and has been re-stocked with a wide range of wildlife species. Camping and various activities are offered.

At Hippo Pools, Jarvis, under Wilderness Africa Trust, offers accommodation in self-catering lodges, camping, and various guided activities, and has marked a network of colour-coded hiking trails through the beautifully scenic, mountainous landscape which together encompass routes comprising distances of over 200km.

Hippo Pools has long been a popular destination for weekends and holidays for Harare dwellers in particular since it is so relatively close to the city, yet takes you into a vast, wild area of untamed beauty.

What you may not know however, is that Jarvis, with support from Ambuya Foundation, a UK based charity, has over the past few years pioneered projects in communal areas adjacent to Umfurudzi Wilderness Area.

These are uplifting the lives of local people, have created much employment in the area, and offer further ways to enjoy this astonishingly wild and lovely landscape and the wildlife which lives here.

Jarvis began the first of these projects over the river from Hippo Pools in the Garura area, working with the local people to create eco-tourism opportunities.

Meeting Ambuya Foundation Founder Sally Plummer, visiting one of her rural projects at the time, Jarvis shared his vision with her.

Inspired, she began to assist Wilderness Africa Trust, and the level of support from the Foundation has grown rapidly, as she has watched the focus and dedication of the Wilderness Africa team.

The Ambuya Foundation is now helping to make Jarvis’ long-term vision a reality. Garura offers a beautiful A frame lodge with an amazing view over the Mazowe River and mountains.

Riverside areas previously degraded are being re-afforested, and dams are currently being built to help support and sustain the wildlife that has been re-introduced; giraffe, wildebeest, kudu, zebra and impala.

I recently spent a day with the friendly Wilderness Africa team, visiting this and their other projects, and was well-impressed. While I had visited Garura early last year, I had not yet seen Sunungukai Camp in the Nyagande area, or the newest of their eco-tourism initiatives, Good Gold Camp, currently being developed.

The drive to Sunungukai is an absolute delight, taking you through a wonderfully scenic part of our country, with characteristic granite whale back mountains, kopjes and miombo woodland. You drive out of Harare on Enterprise Road, then turn off onto Mutoko Road and drive through Murewa.

The turn off to Sunungukai is 57km after Murewa, and signposted. After Murewa, the scenery grows progressively wilder and wilder, with thickly forested, rolling hills, leaving the whalebacks behind. This is pristine wilderness, just waiting to be explored!

Sunungukai Camp, well-placed by the river, is delightful; rondavel-style lodges, fully equipped with solar power, gas stoves and fridges, hot showers, crockery, cutlery and kitchenware. All you need bring is your food and drinks.

This area, like Gurura, has recently been re-stocked with game — giraffe, eland, impala, zebra and wildebeest. I loved it, and am now itching to go and spend some days there, hiking through these magnificent hills!

Next, we visited, Good Gold Camp. A closed mining operation, Good Gold comprises a cottage and other out-buildings, which have been donated by the mine to Wilderness Africa Trust.

Once refurbished and converted, this camp will also open to the public, and like Sunungukai, is well-placed, adjacent to the Mazowe River and Umfurudzi Wilderness Area, and is scenically beautiful. The structures already there do not need much work to turn into another lovely bush camp.

Iain Jarvis and his team are doing a magnificent job with these projects, which are uplifting local communities as well as helping conserve these beautiful wilderness areas into the future. Sunungukai Camp accommodation, like Hippo Pools, is inexpensive, and can be booked through Wilderness Africa Trust — easy to find online.

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