Chirinda Forest, Botanical Reserve

Article Tafadzwa Mgano
Shrouded in mist and steeped in rich history; having silently witnessed hunts, wars and everything in between is Africa’s southern- most tropical rainforest- Chirinda. Mt Selinda or Chirinda Forest Botanical Reserve lies 32km south of Chipinge Town in the beautiful, mountainous Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe and in close proximity to Mozambique. In the local Ndau language “kurinda” means to guard and the forest, which sits atop a hill would undoubtedly have served as a vantage point in ancient times. Chirinda was referred to as “Silinda” by our Shangani neighbors towards the Save Valley. Consequently, Selinda is the English corruption of the Shangani version of Chirinda. Call it what you may, Chirinda Forest is 950ha of sheer majesty. As you approach the forest, albeit slowly due to patches of road which leaves a lot to be desired, the temperature drops, the sun begins to fight for a spot of earth to shine on and usually, the mist wisps around in front of you. No signpost is needed to tell you that you are in a tropical rainforest! Chirinda’s foliage is evergreen, lush and very dense. Buttress roots encircle and entrap many-a-tree and thick vines are draped in tangles from the lofty tree tops. The myriad number and variety of trees and plants is awesome. The thick undergrowth is characterized by a wide variety of ferns, creepers and other shrubs. The canopy- a neck craning distance up- is thick and seemingly impenetrable allowing only a few shards of sunlight to beam through.

As you walk through the forest, sometimes grabbing at vines along the damp, moss covered path to avoid slipping, you hear birds and animals calling- their call resounding in the trees. A red mahogany giant known fondly and simply as “The Big Tree” stands somewhat secluded in a small clearing 1k from the car park in the Forest. Having reportedly measured at 64m in height in 1920, perhaps at her prime, the Big Tree is a sight to behold even today. With age and being the survivor of many storms, bearing the brunt of strong winds and even a lightning strike, the Big Tree has lost some height and is currently estimated to be 45m tall. Another remarkable feature of this beauty is her girth- she rivals only the baobabs of the Save Valley in that regard. In the valley that the Big Tree looks down on are her many sentries, it is aptly named the Land of the Giants. Gazing high up into the canopy in this valley, it is no wonder the name has stuck. For nature lovers, birdwatchers and those inclined in botany, the Forestry Commission which cares for the Forest offers in-depth information and staff are often eager to answer questions. Accommodation is offered onsite- there are basic self- catering chalets as well as a campsite. Chipinge Town also has a host of lodges catering to different tastes and pockets. But having come so far off the beaten track, “tyora” left and let’s explore the breath-taking Chimanimani Mountains and Rusitu Valley; though ravaged by Cyclone Idai- like Zimbabweans, they still stand strong and resolute.

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