MUKUVISI Woodlands really is a delightful little treasure in Harare, enjoyed regularly by hundreds of folk, but perhaps roundly ignored by thousands more!
Well that’s their loss!
Eating out with Dusty Miller
It wasn’t yet due for another visit by this column, but as I’m currently researching breakfasts and almost automatically associate Mukuvisi Woodland Coffee Shop off Hillside Road with my favourite meal of the day it went out of turn.
Not the least of Mukuvisi’s major attractions is that the gate to the 265 hectare prolific, rolling nature reserve –– lying between Hillside, Eastlea, Msasa and Queensdale –– is less than 2km from my cottage. Mind you our complex, set in perhaps three well-treed hectares enjoys totally stunning birdlife.
Among scores of varieties, we have several Red-Faced Mousebirds, Pin-Tailed Whydahs, Black-Collared and Crested Barbets and Grey Go-Away Birds (formerly Grey Louries) which seem to pose for the camera lens! Babblers are commonly heard and seen as is a flock of five or six Guinea Fowl, which may have escaped someone’s fowl run. We observe several varieties of Sunbirds, Waxbills, Mannikins, Weaver Birds and countless Doves.
A friend who lives nearby reckons the ever burgeoning birdlife in Harare’s leafy suburbs may be down to our little feathered friends no longer having much to eat on once well husbanded farmlands surrounding the capital, which seem to produce squat, since the land reform “programme”.
You can ramble around Mukuvisi from 8am to 5:30pm; it’s ideal for picnics, braais, nature walks, game- and bird-watching; people even get married there!
Plains game to look out for includes eland, wildebeest, impala, zebra, giraffe and warthog. There are crocodiles on site, aviary and children’s zoo. (I once abandoned a coffee tray at the restaurant, creeping through the bush to investigate strange high-pitched baby bird-like sounds, only to peer around a shrub, 250mm lens at the ready, to find … scores of guinea-pigs “wheeking” for scoff!)
It costs adults US$4 to enter, but season tickets, annual membership etc, reduce per diem charges.
For those admitting to being of pensionable age (60+), entrance is free, even if the dubious activities of Dr Gono a few years ago mean you must work until you drop!
If using the coffee shop –– even for a U$$1 cup of tea or US$2 cappuccino, entrance fees are waived.
Mukuvisi publishes a well-illustrated tree booklet (US$5) to help identify clearly numbered indigenous and exotic specimens.
Dendrology’s not my strong point, but even I was aware that the venerable shade tree under which I often sip morning rooibos or coffee is a mango (Mangifera indica), which I assume is at least a century old.
Native to India and Sri Lanka, the Portuguese introduced them to Africa in the 15th century…but they’re still not “indigenous”.
With rugged, gnarled bark, lichen coating and scary tortured dark boles, it’s like something out of a Gothic scene in a Walt Disney cartoon … but geckoes seem to love it.
You see them basking in dappled sunspots just above head height.
The booklet lists and cross references 141 different trees and shrubs found in the miomba woodlands giving scientific, common English and Shona names and myriad uses for their timber, bark, pods, leaves, seeds and roots etc.
The Long Crested Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Gabar Goshawk and Purple-Crested Turacao are among rarer bird specimens seen at Makuvisi, as is the Tawny-Flanked Prinia, again spotted fairly often in our garden.
I have heard an African Fish Eagle there (Cleveland Dam is close by and there’s a stretch of water in the woodlands in front of the viewing deck) and saw a wonderfully aerodynamic raptor slowly working thermals quartering for prey.
Even with powerful field glasses, I couldn’t positively ID it. I’ve since seen Steppe Buzzards, Martial and Bateleur Eagles and Black-shouldered Kites in the same area.
On Sunday, after breakfast, “twitching” in the shady hide overlooking the water pan, I was delighted to see the Woodlands’ string of horses, used for mounted safaris, galloping down through dusty bushveldt –– a herd of zebra initially joining in the fun –– to the banks of the pan and several of them bounding into cooling waters on a cloudless, humid day with the temperature hovering around 34C.
Most of the horses wore comical pale blue “gauzes” (face masks to prevent flies and other insects biting) and it was lovely to see them splashing in the pan often up to their shoulders, plainly thoroughly enjoying themselves, as startled water-loving birds: Herons, Cattle Egrets, Plovers, Oystercatchers, Terns and Hamerkops squawked and rose into the air as one, mainly doing a panicked 360 of the area and soon re-settling close to the horses.
One Sunday at breakfast, I was nearly focused on a splendid Purple-Crested Lourie when noisy neighbours at the next table bellowed, scaring it off.
As I enjoyed a very filling no nonsense US$5 “mini-breakfast” (egg, bacon, sausage, tomato, baked beans, toast and butter, with a pot of tea (US$1)… a Yellow-Bellied Sunbird sipped his own nectar breakfast within photographing range, a gecko caught a bluebottle with his long darting tongue and small fish (bream?) plopped up out of one of several ornamental lily ponds.
I’ve known hungrier members of the community order two mini-breakfasts, which, logically, cost US$10 and even a fillet steak with fried egg and tomatoes US$10 breakfast, plus US$5 “mini”. Other breakfast items, such as omelettes, scrambled eggs and French toast are priced from US$5. Breakfast is served until 10:30am.
They serve excellent home-made pies with salads at US$4, toasted sandwiches at the same price; main course salads for lovely ladies who lunch languidly are US$6 or US$7 a pop and burgers US$8.
On Sundays, the amiable Tsitsi Munemo, who manages the place, serves English-style lunch (roast chicken or lamb with all the trimmings and pudding is typical) at US$15. They aren’t licensed to serve alcohol and don’t charge corkage if you BYOB.