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Central Tanzania – The Southern Highlands – Morogoro

February 23, 2013

Central Tanzania – The Southern Highlands – Morogoro

Filed under: The Southern Highlands — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:31 pm

Morogoro town is a small but green and industrious agricultural market town in the lea of the Ulguru mountains, with a freshness of mountain air and abundance of fresh fruit and veg., and a relaxing, laid-back atmosphere. Its situation between north and south, coast and interior, mid-way between Dar es Salaam and Dodoma or on route to any westerly destination, makes it a bustling transit point and welcome break for travellers passing through. While there is little of specific interest to merit a special journey, anyone exploring this route at an unhurried pace will find invigorating rural scenery to explore and a decent choice of accommodation alternatives. Others may wish to make the most of an opportunity to play a round of golf on the old colonial 9 hole course.

Economically, Morogoro struggled to find its feet until the middle of the twentieth century, after suffering the devastating effects of nationalisation on its factories during the 1970s. Although a familiar sense of dog-eared disintegration still clings around many of the old colonial stone buildings and crossroads, today its tree-lined streets are shady and cool, and the dusty roads are known to probably every transit lorry in the land. The town now thrives on its popular reputation as a central agricultural market, (the largest and most well-favoured market for fresh produce in the country), and the old soap, oil and canvas factories that closed in the ‘70s have recently re-opened under new schemes for privatisation. Now this small town supplies the greatest proportion of its wares to vendors in Dar es Salaam.

Beyond the town, the Morogoro region is a wild, rural expanse, with local cash crops of mainly coffee and sisal. The sisal is exported to Europe, the United States and China, and is used throughout Tanzania to make items such as rope, string, stuffing for mattresses and bags for coffee export. The Kilombero Valley, just south of the Udzungwa Mountains and Udzungwa National Park, is especially rich in natural wildlife, and grows an abundance of staples such as rice, maize, millet, fruit and vegetables, and sugar cane, which supplies two sugar factories in the valley. The local town of Ifakara is home to a number of extremely talented women who weave fabulous thick and colourful lengths of cloth on their looms, and give visitors a far better price than they would get otherwise in Dar es Salaam.

History

Its central situation and accessibility from the coast made Morogoro a colonial focus. Typical indications of their residence remain evident in an old boma and numerous old churches, as well as wide streets lined with avenues of trees and second storey balconies – and a rather smart golf course in the scenic foothills of the mountains. The town was the site of yet another magnificently exasperating evasion by German commander Paul von Lettow Vorbeck when he was pursued by (General??) Jan Christiaan Smuts in 1916, then commander of the British East African army, during the East African events of WW1. Smuts, still entirely unaware of the distances over which von Lettow would elude him, was firmly smug in the opinion that his adversary would find himself trapped in Morogoro, because the Uluguru Mountains would inhibit their southerly progress. The British troops were therefore mildly dumbfounded to discover the music that they had heard on approach was a mechanical piano playing in the Barnhof Hotel, (now the rather dishevelled, government run Savoy Hotel, near the railway station), and they inside they found the Schutztruppe barracks horrendously defecated on throughout, and abandoned.

What to do and See

One of the main joys of Morogoro is its proximity to the Uluguru Mountains, which rise up around the southern reaches of this little town and provide excellent ground for easy forays into unspoilt countryside.

There is also the very unusual and worthwhile botanical garden called ‘Rock Garden Resort’, which although small and largely untended, remains an impressively lasting gift from thoughtful Japanese benefactors. A minimal entrance fee allows you to follow the few paved stone paths through this strangely both natural and nurtured botanical ‘rock’ garden at leisure. The paths lead to a bubbling river that dances through vast rock boulders, and parties of mothers and children wash and play beneath the pleasant shade of the palms and natural woodlands. It is a good place to relax if you have time on your hands, and must be the best option for anyone with their own tent to pitch up in one of their clean and picturesque camping sites. There is a café just inside the entrance gate, providing drinks, snacks and taped music in a friendly atmosphere. To get there, follow Kingalu Road southwards past the post office, just over 1 km beyond the Morogoro Hotel, (the old golf course on your right creating a nostalgic sense of the colonial parklands of yore), and the Rock Garden Resort is signed on the right. (Admn. Tsh 500/ 75c)

Guides for further excursions into the Uluguru Mountains can be arranged through the Rock Garden Resort, and through Morogoro or Oasis Hotels. Anyone visiting the rock gardens may then find themselves inspired to climb higher and discover the even finer waterfalls and beauty that lies beyond. Guides can be arranged for walks and hikes to popular destinations such as the old German villa called ‘Morningside’ in a scenic forest clearing just a couple of hours walk from the town. To get there is a good and interesting route from the town centre, following Boma Road southwards for about 10km, passing the old German Boma on the way, and then meandering along the hill path past trees and streams.

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