Locals refer to the Kitulo Plateau as Bustani ya Mungu – The Garden of God – whereas botanists have dubbed it the Serengeti of Flowers, host to ‘one of the great floral spectacles of the world’.
Kitulo is indeed a rare botanical marvel, home to a full 350 species of vascular plants, including 45 varieties of terrestrial orchids, which erupt into a riotous wildflower display of breathtaking scale and diversity during the main rainy season of late November to April.
Perched at around 2,600 metres (8,500 ft) between the rugged peaks of the Kipengere, Poroto and Livingstone Mountains, the well-watered volcanic soils of Kitulo support the largest and the most important montane grassland community in Tanzania.
Having its unique flower species remained wild, with birds singing and migrating to the highland forests, Kitulo Plateau National Park is the latest and newcomer to Tanzania’s tourist attraction sites.
Bustani ya Mungu (God’s Garden) is the visitor’s name given to this new park, the only of its kind in Africa where wildflowers, birds and harmonious grass-eating mammals are dominating.
Kitulo Plateau is perched between the rugged peaks of the Kipengere, Livingstone and Poroto Mountains in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. It is the site of one of the world’s great floral spectacles.
The eminently hike-able park is carpeted in wildflowers for six months of the year, from November to April. There is a documented 350 species of wildflowers including lilies and fields of daisies.
Although sparse in the big game, this natural botanical garden is highly alluring to bird watchers who thrill to sightings of rare Denham’s bustard, the endangered blue swallow, mountain marsh widow, Njombe cisticola and Kipengere seedeater.
Endemic species of butterfly, chameleon, lizard and frog further enhance the biological wealth of God’s Garden. Unique and the only of its kind in Africa for natural orchids and birds, this park has been gazetted last year set for tourists.
Kitulo National Park stands alone, boasting of being the only tourist attractive site in the continent offering floristic visits than the traditional wildlife photographic holidays which most tourists to Tanzania are used to experience. Tourists from all corners of the world are now exposed to this park and are expected to book their itineraries to this new park.
There are about 400 plant species, most of them are wildflowers and other such attractive, natural plants, which no doubt at all, will attract visitors to go there. Recorded 45 endemic orchid species are found only in the park than any other part of the world.
The park covers 413 kilometres of forest-land, dominated by plants and few wild animals which together form a natural habitat that is tourist attractive by itself. The park’s scenery is comparable to the Biblical Garden of Eden, as most visitors there say.
Added to its natural attractions and uniqueness, Kitulo Plateau is the natural resting site for intercontinental migrating birds during periods of the year on their way to Europe.
It is only in this park where migrating Storks rest while flying from Cape Town in South Africa to Northern Europe.
European White Storks and other species of Storks from Scandinavian countries via West Africa migrate to brood inside Kitulo Plateau on their way, flying across the European and African continents every year. These big, attractive birds stop in this park for some months and later continue with their long journey across the continent.
Kitulo National Park is the only natural habitat area in Africa perched on the sky at a higher altitude than any known park in the continent.
It is located 3,000 meters above sea level on the East African massif, much influenced by the eastern Rim of the Great Rift Valley which stretches from the Red Sea in the Middle East across North and East Africa to Mozambique in Southern Africa.
To reach the park, one has to drive from Chimala town along with the Dar es Salaam to Mbeya highway, then climb the scenic plateau through 57 pin-corners through the spectacular rough road known as “Hamsini na Saba” or Fifty-Seven by the number of its pin, sharp corners.
After few hours of slow driving on the 4 x 4 car, one reaches Matamba the temporary park headquarters, about 50 km south of Chimala.
Open walking safaris through the grasslands watching birds and wildflowers, hill hiking on the neighbouring ranges during the day gives a visitor fantastic views of Lake Nyasa and its beautiful Matema Beach down the mountains.
Wildflowers blossom between December and April, and the summer months from September to November are best to visit the park. From June to August the entire park is foggy with no visibility during the daytime, and it is hardly possible to view its beauties.
Accommodation is available at Matamba and Chimala, but for a more comfortable stay, Mbeya municipality, some 100 km away is an option.
Before its transformation into a tourist park, the area was a livestock ranch set for breeding Merino sheep from Australia and European cattle breeds. British officers mapped the area in 1920 for ranching purposes.
Because of its cool and moderate weather similar to Mediterranean or European conditions, the area has since then attracted a number of British and American settlers who reared livestock and practised small scale tourist projects.
The beautiful scenery of the land below makes the park an ideal place to pay a visit. This unique scenery brings it closer to the northern Tanzania nature parks of Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Kilimanjaro.
When full flocked, Kitulo National Park will be the leading nature conservation park in Africa, specializing in orchid holidays with fewer wildlife itineraries. It will add a new product to Tanzania’s wildlife-based tourism, which so far, has been competing with other destinations like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
What to do
– Good hiking trails exist and soon will be developed into a formal trail system.
– Open walking across the grasslands to watch birds and wildflowers.
– Hill climbing on the neighbouring ranges. A half-day hike from the park across the Livingstone Mountains leads to the sumptuous Matema Beach on Lake Nyasa.