HomeOpinionMotoring: When the beast from the East conquers Eastern Highlands

Motoring: When the beast from the East conquers Eastern Highlands

By Andrew Muzamhindo

Birthdays are special days especially for the women folk, more so if they are turning a special number. But again, it is always a special number with the ladies. My wife was turning some special number last week. She is a special someone in my life and so I had to deliver something special. One place in Zimbabwe that she loves to bits is Nyanga. It’s a place that gives her peace and tranquility, combined with its fresh air, the place is special to her.

Add our son who is based in South Africa to the equation as a special surprise and mash it up with our effervescent and caring daughter on the trip it meant she could have someone to talk to non-stop to all the time. As always, the two of them can talk non-stop even on trip around the world, whilst my son and l will be quiet, looking and listening.

Nyanga is a popular tourist destination with its fishing, golf courses, mountain hikes and holiday resorts. It is well known for Nyangani Mountain, a sacred place where the spirits of the ancestors guard the territory. There is a long-held belief by the Manyika people living here that the mountain is a sacred highland area and that a vindictive spiritual presence on the mountain has been responsible for the disappearances.

I had to make everything about our stay in Nyanga special. I looked for special accommodation. Thanks to Mildred Matebwe the General Manager of Sun Vacations and her boss Ignatius Katsidzira, I got a good deal at the breathtaking Blue Swallow Lodges by Troutbeck Inn.

Troutbeck is high in the mountains and the land slopes downwards to the north with views of the Nyangui mountain range. Because of its height the western edge of Troutbeck’ s plateau is dubbed ‘World’s View’ where the edge of the escarpment allows visitors to behold a wide vista and, with the help of small engraved granite plaques around the edge of the tower, see the direction of certain towns in Zimbabwe and South Africa and their distance from World’s View.

Whenever in Nyanga I make it a point to go to the World’s View. It give you a sense of conquering the world with its spectacular vista on the escarpment of the Nyanga Downs plateau in the Eastern Highlands mountain range, just north of Nyanga. It is situated at an altitude of 2,248 metres with a 600 metres drop to the plain below on the western side

We had to visit the Mutarazi Falls, a waterfall in Mutasa District in Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe for skywalking and skylining. It is located in the 2,495-hectare Mutarazi National Park adjacent to the southern border of the Nyanga National Park. At 772 meters, it is the highest in Zimbabwe, second highest in Africa and 17th highest in the World.

We intended to do horse riding in the Nyanga National Park but when we got there we were told that the horses were devoured by the lions. Yes, many years ago lions roamed the park. So, someone out there did not protect the horses and the lions helped themselves.

My wife and daughter love flowers, probably more than ducks love water. The trip would have been incomplete without taking the two to The La Rochelle Gardens which is a valley in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe close to the border with Mozambique and approximately 20 km from the city of Mutare

The house at La Rochelle was built by Sir Stephen Courtauld and his wife Virginia (Lady Courtauld), who settled in Southern Rhodesia in 1951. The Courtaulds had a fine collection of furniture, paintings and other form of art. A large botanical garden incorporating an arboretum and pinetum was established with the professional help of the British horticulturist John Henry Mitchell. The indigenous wild bush lands in the grounds were also carefully preserved. Orchid houses containing exotic, rare and indigenous orchids were also established.

Hang on to conquer this 600 metre ascend in altitude (Harare to Nyanga) we needed a special car for a special occasion. Something luxurious blessed with performance aptitude. We got the Beast from the East to conquer the Eastern Highlands. Thanks to Zimoco I had the Haval H9 for close to a week. It passed the test hands down.

It competes against the likes of the Ford Everest and the popular Toyota Fortuner, but many still have their doubts about the Chinese firm and their offerings. Mine were dispelled. This is a beast with beauty and brains. It has presence and can perform.

When we parked the H9 by La Rochelle Gardens, people literally came to see the vehicle as word spread that there was an awesome looking car in the car park. Regis Muchenje who works at La Rochelle asked beaming with excitement if this was the Haval that he heard about on radio and saw on Facebook

The H9, aims to steal some of the market share from the perennially popular Toyota Land Cruiser Prado with the promise of greater value for money. It doesn’t disappoint. It is muscling into the segment dominated by the venerable Prado.

One of the H9’s biggest strengths is its generous equipment levels, especially when considering its price.

It rides on a number of luxurious features including 18-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated seats with ventilation and massage function for the front seats, an upgraded sound system, tri-zone climate control, adaptive front lighting, electrically folding third row seats, faux-leather interior, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment display and a colour digital instrument cluster display — the only Haval model to score this feature.

This is in addition to standard safety equipment including six airbags, blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, tyre pressure monitor, hill descent control, hill-hold assist and a driver status monitoring system. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is one notably absent technology.

Overall, the H9 is packed chock-full of specification, and one would be hard-pressed to find a vehicle with a more generous level of comfort and convenience features for the price.

From an equipment standpoint, it represents one of best value-for-money propositions on the market and can comfortably best most of its rivals in that department.

Most touchpoints are covered either in faux-leather or a wood-like trim which give it a feel of luxury. The three-colour adjustable ambient interior lighting is also an impressive inclusion. With heating, cooling, massage function and lumbar support, the faux-leather seats are comfortable, and add to the generally comfortable ride quality of the H9. Few vehicles will come with such a full suite of comfort features for the price.

Glovebox, door bin and centre console storage are all generous, with the latter also featuring a phone charger.

A large panoramic sunroof adds ambience to the interior, and can be fully covered or partially opened. It is another example of standard kit that would be a costly option with its competitors.

Second-row passengers are well looked after with a separate adjustable air-conditioning cluster and roof-mounted vents, 12V and USB charging ports, and a centre armrest with cupholders.

Two third-row seats can be electrically folded up or down with buttons both in the boot or behind the second-row seats.

Headroom is suitable for adults but legroom will only be comfortable for children or the vertically challenged, which is fairly standard for third-row seats in a large car.

Boot space is very generous. Like the Prado, the H9 features a side-opening tailgate, which is useful for loading items but can be impractical in tight spaces.

Powering the H9 is a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, driving all four wheels through a part-time four-wheel-drive system.

In a 2018 update, the ZF unit replaced the existing six-speed auto, while power output was increased from 160kW/324Nm to 180kW/350Nm. Power has been increased due to customer feedback, while the eight-speed is designed to improve fuel economy.

For the 2230kg H9, engine performance can be described as more than adequate. Power is suitable for normal, everyday driving, however if brisk acceleration is required, the large SUV struggles a bit.

It changes cogs intuitively and does a good job of keeping the little turbo-petrol mill from getting too stressed. It also helps keep the engine noise fairly low, especially when cruising at highway speeds. I used this to save on fuel by making sure I got to gear 8 quickly and smoothly. As a result, my fuel consumption was 11 litres per 100km across a range of driving conditions. Which was a perfect score

The H9 sports a relatively large 80L fuel tank.

The H9 has a comfortable suspension calibration. Steering is on the heavier side and made the H9 an easy car to pilot.

Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are noticeably good, with a quiet and comfortable in-cabin experience.

Our excursion into the Eastern Highlands left us impressed with the H9’s capabilities, aided by features such as low-range gearing, a locking rear differential, hill-descent control and a terrain response system with sand, snow and mud driving modes.

The H9 feels composed off-road, avoiding wheel slippage on steep surfaces and generally offering a feeling of composure.

Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, tyre pressure monitor, hill descent control, hill-hold assist and a driver status monitoring system.

The H9 drives well, performs strongly off-road and is comfortable inside.

Everything about the trip was special.

andrew@muzamhindo.com.

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