“Adventure is always hidden deep down in all our souls. Let it out and experience the sheer pleasure of nature in the Eastern Highlands”
ANOTHER game changer in the Eastern Highlands tourism package has been introduced following the launch of Eastern Highlands’ first exclusive luxury lodge, the SkyDeck, which is about two kilometres from Mutarazi Falls.
The Eastern Highlands is a mountainous area of spectacular natural beauty and a totally different side to the Zimbabwe that most visitors know of in the dry savanna regions. It is made up of three areas, the Nyanga Highlands in the north, the Vumba Mountains in the centre and the Chimanimani Mountains in the south, of which, each has its own awe-inspiring attractions.
Hanging on the edge of the Honde Valley escarpment, overlooking Mt Nyangani, the SkyDeck was created not only for luxury but for the best exclusive outdoor, relaxing experience ever says one of the directors of Far and Wide Zimbabwe, Chris Cragg. Construction of the luxury bungalow started early 2019 and it was opened for business mid-March, but they unfortunately had to shut down to comply with the covid-19 national lockdown regulations effected from 30 March.
In an interview about the project with Easterntimeszim Cragg said the inspiration behind the SkyDeck project was to blend the outdoor experience with luxury, which is something they lagged on in their 29 years of experience of promoting outdoor activities and running lodges in the Eastern Highlands.
“We offer all types of accommodation for any budget in the Eastern Highlands but had never offered a high end luxury option. We felt that the Eastern Highlands didn’t offer this anywhere either, so we decided that we would create something truly incredible in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” said Cragg.
The SkyDeck Mountain Retreat has two rooms to accommodate four people or two couples at a time. It is only sold to one group at a time for exclusivity.
“A butler, private chef and private guide are ready to make your adventure one that you will remember forever. We offer three incredible meals a day, tea and coffee, snacks, a great selection of drinks. The rooms have panoramic views (wide views) of nothing but vast mountain wilderness. With an outdoor shower, wood-fired hot-tub and views of Zimbabwe’s highest mountain caressed by a starry night sky, your evenings take romantic to a whole new level. What is even better is that we have an amazing special for the whole of July to celebrate,” said Cragg.
Cragg added that he is pleased that already the place was receiving exceptional reviews on their Far and Wide Zimbabwe social media platforms which is a positive sign that it will garner a lot of interest and lure clients from far and wide. He could not divulge the official price, which he said they are still putting together in consideration of the covid-19 lockdown economic hardships on people, but guaranteed affordable rates for domestic visitors.
Founded by Bernie Cragg in 1991 Far and Wide was started as an outdoor education school. Cragg said they remain primarily an outdoor education school, but have now also developed a keen passion to drive tourism activities in the Eastern Highlands.
“Tens of thousands of young Zimbabweans have passed through Far and Wide on its educational, outdoor retreat courses in that time and have learnt through individual and team growth. When Far and Wide began to get into tourism a few years ago, a separate company known as the Mutarazi SkyWalk and Zipline was created to separate the educational aspect of Far and Wide from the tourism aspect,” he said.
Having run successful canoeing, hiking and mountain retreat outdoor programmes in the Eastern Highlands for years, the Skywalk and Zipline opened in 2018 at Mutarazi Falls, the highest waterfall in Zimbabwe, second highest in Africa and seventeenth highest in the world, upped their game bringing a new competitive edge to their tour packages for tourists.
With hotels and lodges now opened under Level 2 lockdown measures, Cragg said bookings are now open for all their lodging facilities including their new offering, and they have put in place covid-19 protocols to ensure the safety of guests. Speaking on their future plans Cragg said at the moment they have a long way to go to get through and recover from Covid-19, but they remain passionate about the Eastern Highlands and its people and hope to continue to develop tourism in the region in whatever way they can.
He said the Eastern Highlands tourism is unique and has potential to take the lead but the biggest challenge has been direct air connectivity.
“Since the creation of the Mutarazi Skywalk and Zipline in 2018 tourism in the Eastern Highlands has drastically increased and we are sure that it will continue to do so. The Eastern Highlands is an incredibly special part of the world with so many incredible natural wonders and a very rich cultural heritage and it deserves to prosper through getting people to see it. The biggest challenge for the area despite Covid-19 is people, especially foreign tourists, being able to access it. The Falls (Victoria Falls) has seen a huge increase in tourists as a result of its international airport. Kariba has many airstrips that service it in light aircraft as too does the Zambezi area. The Eastern Highlands needs an international airport or lots of strategically placed well-built airstrips for light aircraft,” said Cragg.
The call for direct air connectivity to Mutare has been a loud call for many years, being defined as a key enabler to not only boost tourism but business in general in the natural resource rich province of Manicaland. This has remained a pipe-dream with unfulfilled promises and Government bureaucracy at play. However, tourism operators in the region through the Eastern Highlands Experience and the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) remain adamant on the issue, continuing to lobby Government on the need of direct air connectivity.
Local real estate businessman Joseph Sanhanga was the last to make headway on the matter last year, after he received the greenlight for a public and private partnership (PPP) build, operate and transfer arrangement for the refurbishment of Grand Reef Aerodrome situated 20 kilometres west of Mutare. Government authorised the rehabilitation and expansion of the area to be used commercially, but made a U-turn on getting the project on track after Sanhanga was abruptly instructed to stop and reapply for the project by the then newly appointed Transport and Infrastructural Development permanent secretary Engineer Amos Marawa, who was appointed in September 2018. In the PPP, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) was expected to partner a consortium of Manicaland businesspeople led by Sanhanga, to refurbish the aerodrome which has a runway of 1 234-metres. The Grand Reef Aerodrome would be demiliterised and commercially utilised as a stop-gap measure while Government works on its future plans to build an airport for Manicaland on a piece of land already identified in Mutasa district, near Osborne Dam. Sanhanga had started working on the project since 2017 doing back and forth engagements with CAAZ until the breakthrough in 2018, only to stopped again in 2019.