Sunday, 2 December 2012


Situated in the breezy Akapwem hills, Aburi is a popular day trip from Accra – an increasingly easy trip as the road-building project at Madina reaches its conclusion. And the usual target is the botanical gardens.

The gardens were created by the British in 1890, who decided the best thing to do was chop down all the native plants and put in foreign ones. I travelled there with Guy, a colleague visiting from the UK. Our first encounter with nature was a little unexpected. A luminous green spider scurried across the path where it was soon chased down by some ants. The battle was swift and ruthless; the ants quickly ripped a leg off, then overpowered the unfortunate arachnid and dragged him away to meet his fate. It was a gruesome sight so early on a Sunday morning; I loved it.

Strangler Fig
The garden’s star aboreal attraction is the Strangler Fig tree. This is a parasite that, over a period of 30 years, fed off its host tree and eventually killed it. The dead tree rotted away, leaving the Ficus standing with a hollow trunk where the host once was. For botanists, it’s a fascinating specimen that demonstrates parasitism. For everyone else, it’s a chance to stand inside a tree and stick your head out of the little holes.

A butterfly (somewhere)
But Guy was here for the butterflies, not trees. And the botanical gardens are full of them, so he spent an hour chasing them about, trying to get good photos with which to identify them later. This quickly wore us out and we headed to the restaurant for a drink and a snack. We enjoyed kelewele (spicy fried plantain) and yam chips (yams cut into chips). A bee-eater and a pied hornbill flew past as we ate; I was proud that my new birdwatching skills enabled quick identification without flapping through the field guide.

A flower (a red one)
A student from Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew founded these gardens, but they bear little resemblance to their neatly organised UK cousin. From the restaurant, a steep path led into what was nominally the citrus section, but essentially an overgrown jungle. An army of soldier ants paraded in line along the path. I gave them a wide berth, having already seen what they were capable of.

Guy enjoyed the multitude of butterflies in the forest, while I simply appreciated being out of Accra – one of Aburi’s key selling points. Eventually the mosquitoes drove us back to the main gardens and as it was approaching midday, the gardens were filling with picnicking families and noisy church groups. Another key tip to enjoying Aburi – arrive early.

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