TUCKED AWAY IN THE SERENE HILLS OF MUCHINGA PROVINCE, MUTINONDO WILDERNESS OFFERS THE EXPLORER OVER 60KM OF TRACKS TO TRAVERSE, AND THE ADVENTURER A VARIETY OF SPECTACULAR VIEWS, WATERFALLS AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS. THE LOCATION IS SO TRANQUIL, IF YOU LISTENED CAREFULLY, YOU MIGHT HEAR GOD SIGH.
Mutinondo is the place you go to drop off the grid if the rise of the machines suddenly commenced, or if you just want to get away from the chatter of the city. If you’re lucky, your mobile might get one bar of cell phone coverage, but you’d have to stretch out your arm and stand in an awkward position to get it. The Wi-Fi here is somewhat of a myth aswell. This might be a turnoff for some, but that’s the idea—to turn off all your notifications and to get off the hamster wheel. This is the place to truly get in touch with nature, and even your soul.
From the window frames to the toilet seats, nearly everything at the lodge is made from locally sourced wood, clay bricks, granite and thatching. An interesting fact to note is that the chalets are named after the type of wood they are made from. Mutinondo takes things a step further to get its guests to bond with the wilderness: an entire section of your chalet is actually wall-less. From here you can behold the Muchinga escarpment or an eyeful of miombo woodland.
You can literally choose our own adventures at Mutinondo. Guides are on hand if requested and they know the land like you might know your scars. And if you’re more of an explorer, just grab a copy of the Wilderness map and the world is your oyster.
The easiest activity to begin with is a walk down a path near the lodge’s main campsite to find Choso Falls along the Musamfushi River. It’s the closest of three falls in the area. It’s generally tempting to compare all cascading water to the mighty Victoria Falls, but Zambia’s lesser-known waterfalls are beautiful in their own right. Choso’s dip is not very steep, but the greens, yellows and reds of the algae and smooth rocks beneath the rushing water still make it a wonderful sight to behold. The air around the grass and earth there is like petrichor; that sweet and familiar smell that nature sprays after the first rain. It’s a calming fragrance you wish you could take home with you.
If you’re not necessarily a professional rower, and you don’t fret at the possibly of getting wet, you could drag one of the canoes parked a little distance from the waterfall’s edge out onto the river. You could go with a friend or go at it alone, but just remember, one of the most important rules of canoeing is not to overly lean to one side. But then again the possibility of capsizing could be part of the thrill.
Push your boat out onto the calm waters and head upstream to find the wooden bridge a kilometre or so away from your starting point, or just enjoy the therapeutic session on the water. Mutinondo has a quietness that gives one a warm comfort. As you paddle your canoe, you can’t help but feel some sense of relief, layers of stress peel off and you are no longer so self-aware. No car horns, blaring music or ringing phones here; just the unbelievably soothing sound of nothingness.
There is very little to no ‘light pollution’ here, and this makes for some awe-inspiring stargazing when the sun tucks in. However, the nighttime can also be slightly disconcerting as you wonder what might crawl, slither or even magically materialise inside your three-walled chalet. But the mornings more than make up for it. The bird songs might have you feeling like Disney royalty and if you wake up early enough, you could catch a stunning sunrise before your tea or coffee is brought to your room by the staff.
If you’re worried about having a hot shower in the morning, solar heated water is readily available. Each chalet also has a backup boiler that can be heated with firewood. A Full English Breakfast is available in the dining area and Mutinondo even makes its own tasty marmalade, and harvests its own honey.
Mornings are cooler and are the best time to venture out into the plains. If hiking is not really your forte, you can pick out one of the green Zambikes and cycle along a trail. You need to be careful though, as the road can dip with no warning. Birding is also an interesting activity though it is largely dependant on the season. Mutinondo is renowned as one of the best sites in the world to see several bird species like the Chestnut-headed Flufftail and the Long-Toes Flufftail. You might want to carry a pair of binoculars.
Inside the forestry and miombo woodland, you might feel like you’re the first person to ever touch this part of the country; the land has virtually been uninhabited for generations. It feels like your own secret garden, a getaway that could make a great location for an epic fantasy film. Large branches criss-cross high above and provide shade from the sun. The wind blows through the tall grass and speaks in hushed tones to the leaves. Erosional activity from a time before time has left some fascinating rock formations and inselbergs in the area. These black whalebacks provide such breathtaking views from a distance and are the stuff of exotic postcards. Keep your camera close by.
About a kilometre away from Choso, Ndubaluba Falls succumbs to the whims of gravity and collapses over two large rocks. Its waters jet between outcroppings and the sound is something that stays with you. It’s tempting to hop onto boulders to get a better view, so it’s a good idea to plot out how you intend to return to your path before you leap.
Mulinso Falls is a few spider-webs and a couple of hundred footsteps away from Ndubaluba. It is the most captivating of the three waterfalls in the area and even has some rapids close by. White froth torrents down greenish-black rocks before calming and shouldering its way through the crevices of some boulders downstream.
At the end of this water walk is Paradise Pools. Though a little underwhelming in the sense that it’s not exactly a paradise, it’s certainly a water body that is more picturesque than any pool in the suburbs. The rapidly racing water pouring in from upstream induces a sort of trance that puts you at ease. The pool is constantly chilled and is an ideal spot for a picnic or even meditation.
Wildlife and large mammals are not a guaranteed sighting during a visit, so perhaps the greatest attraction of Mutinondo (and the most challenging) is Mayense Hill. The massive domes of granite are a spectacular feature of the area. Mayense is 1, 684 metres above sea level and about 240 metres above the surrounding plateau. The best time to conquer it is between mid and late afternoon, because it’s highly likely that you’ll get the opportunity to witness a beautiful sunset.
The hike to Mayense is a series of dips and climbs, and a skip over a shallow stream. As you get closer to the large hill, looking through the trees on your right you can see Kite and Kaloko Rocks. The two whalebacks are covered in a type of blonde grass that makes these monumental marvels appear like they were from a time of magic and wondrous sorcery.
Once you reach the top of the hill, you feel a sense of victory and achievement. As the sun sets, it’s hard not to stare in awe, mouth agape, wondering how anyone can doubt God’s existence and artistic hand. The hills cast massive shadows over the valley, and on the hilltops, the sun pours the last of its light onto the blonde grass. It’s a sight you’re unlikely to forget your entire life.
Mutinondo Wilderness encourages visitors to cycle, run, jog and walk through its expansive area. Its website claims to be “one of the few remaining areas of truly wild wilderness where you can pursue your chosen activity, and for days not encounter another soul.” You might find yourself daydreaming about it at your desk or when you’re stuck in traffic, wishing that you could have somehow bottled up a little of that pure petrichor, so you can take whiffs of it to remind you of the pacifying effect of the wild.