Tubing, white water inflatable kayaking and watercourse trout fishing are all life-time firsts thanks to the Gairezi River. It’s also responsible for introducing me to some amazing new people, cementing fantastic friendships, showing me awe inspiring Zimbabwe scenery, stunning walks, waterfalls, rapids and pools.
The Gairezi River starts on the slopes of Zimbabwe’s highest mountain, the 2593 meter Mount Nyangani, and consequently can boast the highest river source in the country. As it winds it’s way north it forms the border with Mozambique and after approximately 160km joins the Luenya, Mazoe and Zambezi Rivers. It is full of waterfalls – the first major one, in Nyanga National Park, is just five kms from the source – rapids, pools and flat water.
Depending on the time of year the river can be crystal clear and potable, or as is the case after the rains, bright orange (think top soil and everything that has accumulated on it during the dry season washing away) and definitely not potable, as a group of us learnt after a particularly adventurous five-day white water Christmas kayaking trip.
Regardless of the season the Gairezi River and it’s environs are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. There are formidable hikes amongst the mountains around Nyangani and the treacherous cliff faces further downstream. There are however long stretches of flat water, which are perfect for more sedate walks. On the eastern side of the river above the bridge at the bottom of Church Road are beautifully sculptured eastern highland quartzite rocks to wander around.
The area is perfect for mountain biking, that’s if you like hills! It is a 700 meter, 17km climb from the River at the bottom of Church road to Troutbeck hotel. If you travel in the opposite direction, sensibly going downhill, you can ride out the valley and on to Aberfoyle on a 50km, extremely undulating dirt road. There are limitless options of Mountain biking tracks in and around Nyanga National Park but be sure to have your hill climbing legs ready, there are not many flat sections of single track or road in the area.
The river is a fisherman and kayakers hotspot. It is home to a variety of fish species including yellow fish as well as sizeable eels. The 18km stretch of river around and upstream from the bottom of Church road is maintained by the Nyanga Downs Fly Fishing Club. The hundred member club is an eco-tourism project, which was originally funded by US Aid. It operates in a similar way to Zimbabwe’s Campfire projects but is non-wildlife. Revenue generated from memberships and accommodation directly benefits 306 families within the two communities that border the river and rates second amongst the Campfire projects for financial return per household. The Club has two eco-friendly cottages near the office at the bottom of Church road for use by members and guests. Think solar heated water, LED lights, gas cookers and removal of all non-compostable rubbish.
Their section of river has been stocked with trout. Even though they are non-indigenous they are surviving very well in their new environment. Fishing is allowed on a catch and release basis for club members, their guests and day visitors. This section of river has four major ‘reaches’ or ‘stretches of river’. In trout fishing terms a reach is an upstream cast. The fisherman’s ‘fly’ (bait) then flows downstream with the current so that unsuspecting fish will grab it. The number of fisher-people per ‘reach’ is monitored. The ‘reaches’ are also fantastically fun places to tube down, as I discovered for the first time last year. Their is a natural swimming pool slightly upstream of the office, which is a perfect place to do 30 meter lengths. The small sandy beach is great for those with a more sedate agenda. The Club is hoping to introduce horses to the area and want to encourage birders, mountain climbers and 4x4ers to the project.
White water kayaking and rafting, post rains, is not for the faint hearted as the lazy meandering pre-rainy season river changes character dramatically and the rapids can become virtually unnavigable. If, like me, you can’t read a river and don’t have a lot of experience I’d highly recommend taking someone with you that can, that’s if you want to return with all limbs intact. Eddys, keeper-holes (think unseen, unforgiving, non-releasing hidden holes under water or foam) and wave-holes are extremely dangerous, if not deadly for novices during high water. We viewed a section of river 40kms downstream of Nyamaropa town in September and paddled it at the end of December. The change in the river over this time was astonishing.
Whatever your reason for getting out and about in the outdoors the Gairezi and it’s environs has got it all. With limited visitors and a huge variety of activities you’ll never be short of things to do in this quiet forgotten corner of Zimbabwe.