or years, maybe a long time, Malawi has been generally known as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’, with the tourism business touting its individuals because the nation’s shining gentle – the raison d’être for visiting. That and the massive stretch of water that occupies 20 p.c of Malawi’s whole floor space, after all; therefore, Malawi’s different often-used moniker: the ‘Land of the Lake’.
But this (comparatively) tiny, land-locked nation, sandwiched between Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Mozambique, is a lot greater than these well-worn clichés. From enjoyable on the seaside to deep sea (or fairly lake) fishing, from canoeing to safari walks, from snorkelling to climbing throughout plateaus, from river cruising to Big 5 recreation drives, from rolling hills to golden sands, from forests to lakes and extra… Malawi, to make use of one other cliché, actually does have all of it.
Being surrounded by a few of Africa’s massive hitters, nevertheless, means Malawi not often will get a glance in so far as vacationers are involved – except its for some R&R on the lake’s seashores after a couple of days on safari in Zambia’s nationwide parks. A route I too am responsible of traipsing.
I’ve travelled far and broad throughout Africa, on a finances and in luxurious. I’ve visited most of the continent’s ‘must-sees’ – Victoria Falls, Ngorongoro Crater, Kruger National Park, to call a couple of. I’ve been fortunate sufficient to expertise indescribable wildlife encounters, and I’ve met a number of the most fascinating individuals you could possibly ever hope to satisfy. But, for some cause, Malawi retains drawing me again.
Yes, there could also be nations with extra apparent attraction. Yes, there could also be extra iconic sights or higher wildlife experiences available elsewhere. But the place else are you able to do every little thing in a single, comparatively compact, place? Perhaps it’s this that may make Malawi the perfect African vacation spot.
“Every day is sun day,” laughs Sarah Beer, supervisor at Likoma Island’s Kaya Mawa resort. She’s not fallacious: there’s not a cloud within the sky and there’s a laid-back vibe that appears like… effectively, a soothing Sunday.
Kaya Mawa exudes unpretentious luxurious. Nestled amongst boulders and timber, the resort opens up onto a secluded stretch of sand on the shore of Lake Malawi. After an extended day’s journey, an ice-cold beer hits the spot as I watch the solar slide over the horizon, turning the sky a fiery orange. I already really feel at house.
I awake the next morning to the calming lap of mild waves. I open my eyes to a luxurious view of the lake, the solar glinting off a rock island that sits simply off shore. I take a dip in my plunge pool, earlier than espresso is delivered to my door.
After a lazy breakfast, I collect a snorkel, masks and flippers from my room and head down the trail that leads from my deck to the water. I flop into the nice and cozy lake and am instantly surrounded by fish. I swim in direction of the island that I noticed from my mattress, watching a whirl of fast-moving colors flitting out and in of the jigsaw of boulders that populate this stretch of water. It’s like snorkelling on the facet of a mountain.
“There’s 1300 species of fish in the lake,” Kaya Mawa’s co-owner James Lightfoot tells me. “589 are endemic. Two are found only at a point on the left of here,” he gesticulates within the normal path, “and one only at a point on the right.”
“How can they be that accurate?” I ponder.
“Oh, they are my made-up numbers,” he chuckles.
Whatever the precise determine, there’s no getting away from the very fact there’s loads of fish right here. I’m notably enamoured by the endemic blue zebras, so known as due to their blue and black stripes.
Snorkelled out, I settle right into a kayak and leisurely paddle about. Fishermen energy previous me, their oars flinging spray behind them at a daunting price, as they head out to forged their nets.
A loud ‘quock’ grabs my consideration and I flip to see a fish eagle fly out of its nest, scanning the watery buffet under. This is the life.
To the hills
All too quickly we’re again within the air, snaking in between the hills that result in the Nyika Plateau. Below us, the Rukulu River winds via the valleys with alarmingly tight turns. There’s a contact of Hobbiton in regards to the scene, and I’m not shocked to study that JRR Tolkein resided in Malawi for some time.
As we make our solution to Chelinda Lodge, some 2500m above sea degree, I can really feel a chill within the air – a far cry from the heat of Likoma.
Lurking among the many tall grasses, we spot a unicorn. A more in-depth inspection reveals it to be a roan antelope that’s lacking a horn. Roan are endangered throughout Africa, a lot so it might in all probability be simpler to identify the legendary unicorn, however the antelope is prevalent right here.
At the lodge we’re greeted with scorching towels and heat drinks, a definite distinction to the chilly towels and chilled cocktails that welcome us elsewhere. Inside there’s a roaring hearth emanating much-needed heat.
We’re quickly out on a night drive with our information Whyte Mhone. We, or fairly Whyte, spy a pack of hyena circling close to their den.“They’re preparing to hunt,” he grins. “They’re warming up, warming up.”
Sightings of jackal, scrub hare and bushbuck observe, earlier than fog descends, swirling within the spotter’s gentle and killing our visibility.
Retiring for the evening I get the shock of my life as I get into mattress – there’s one thing in there with me. Panicked, I swap the sunshine again on, solely to find it’s a scorching water bottle warming the sheets.
We take an early morning stroll throughout the plains, the terrain paying homage to the Scottish Highlands, as is the temperature. “Nyika means ‘grassland with scattered bushes’,” Whyte tells us. How very apt.
Wandering at shut quarters with the park’s ungulates, we close to two dazzles of Crawshay’s zebra grazing. As we pause to look at, a feminine trots from one group to the opposite and stops for a chat, earlier than returning to her mates to cross on the gossip. “To tell a male from a female,” the ever-knowledgeable Whyte informs us, “look at the stripe from the tail to between the legs. It is wider for the male.”
Back within the autos, we absorb Lake Kaulime and the 360-degree panorama that’s Chosi View, a smorgasbord of antelope dotting the rolling hills. Nyika’s flora spreads out in entrance of us: the yellow albuca, the blue lobelia, the placing red-hot poker. Reedbucks chase Denham’s bustards into the air; a red-winged francolin holds a worm in its beak; a Rufous-napped lark skips alongside the observe in entrance of us, earlier than taking off, banking sharply and away. “These are very clever birds,” says Whyte. “They lead cars away from their nest by running in the road.”
After a fruitless however entertaining afternoon fly-fishing, we’re again out for an evening drive. Following an early serval sighting, the drive climaxes with two hyenas trotting alongside the highway in entrance of us, certainly one of whose fur is extra bouffant than is common. Indeed, I might go so far as to say it was a handsome hyena – an oxymoron if ever I heard one.
Out within the wild
“If you hear the drum,” says Lucas Samson, pointing to a big instrument within the bar space at Tongole Wilderness Lodge, “that’s the fire alarm.” He continues the tour, main me to my room, which opens out onto the Bua River, past which lies dense forest. A rope stretches throughout the room’s entrance to maintain the elephants at bay. I really feel really distant. There’s a soothing soundtrack, courtesy of the gurgling river, grunting baboons, singing nightjars, ribbiting frogs and crickets doing no matter it’s crickets do.
This is a park getting back from adversity. Its wildlife poached almost to extinction, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve has lately been the recipient of 500-plus elephants and a few 2000 different animals as a part of African Parks’ relocation programme. There are plans afoot to reintroduce lion.
“In ten years, the park will be beautiful, with plenty of animals and more lodges,” says a beaming Lucas.
Head information Emmanuel Kandiero takes us out on the water. Although crocs lurk under the floor, out within the canoes it’s all in regards to the birds. “There’s a water thick-knee,” he says, pointing to an odd-looking yellow-eyed chook. “It used to be called the thick-head, but this was thought to be too rude.”
There are 5 sorts of kingfisher right here and we shortly tick 4 off our listing. The malachite could win on the color entrance, however the pied kingfisher is my favorite. “The female has two dots on its chest, like a lady’s bra,” chuckles Emmanuel. I’m simply happy.
After breakfast, we enterprise on foot via the miombo forest with Emmanuel’s brother Aaron. The youthful Kandiero proves equally likeable and leads us on an information-packed meander.
Superstition is rife right here. The kuduberry tree performs host to type spirits, he tells us. “You can’t cut them down or even nail a sign into the trunk because this could hurt [the spirits].”
The ironwood tree can be thought of luck appeal. “[When building a house] people put an ironwood branch in the roof to keep the evil spirits away,” Aaron says.
Back on the lodge, he urgently calls us exterior. Thrashing via the bushes is a lone elephant. “It’s Short Trunk,” he says. The unlucky male had his truck caught in a snare when he was a teenager. “He is a loner. He will turn up in camp and stay for about a week,” provides Emmanuel. We observe the elephant as he makes his rounds. At one level we get a bit too shut and he turns, flapping his ears menacingly, earlier than disappearing into the undergrowth. I’ve seen tons of of elephants through the years, however monitoring this single instance is exhilarating – a positive signal that Nkhotakota is preventing again.
Big 5 nation
Everlasting drives us from Lilongwe to Liwonde National Park. “Great name,” I say. “Ach, it is just a name,” he replies. Yes, but it surely’s one that can go on eternally, I needed I’d stated.
On arriving at Mvuu Camp, we dump our luggage and head straight onto the Shire River for a sundown boat safari. I’ve by no means seen so many crocodiles in such shut proximity. We come throughout a hippo carcass, floating close to the riverbank. A couple of crocs stand, or fairly lie, guard.
“They wait for a couple of days for it to decompose, before feasting,” says our information Thom Chilangwe. That will probably be some banquet.
Four elephants lumber to the river’s edge to drink. Here, too, there’s one with a truncated trunk – this time courtesy of a crocodile assault.
The Shire delivers an everlasting picture: fish eagles hovering, kingfishers lurking, storks strutting, yellow baboons scampering, vervet monkeys climbing, warthogs snuffling, waterbuck grazing, crocs basking, hippos waddling and elephants feeding.
There’s additionally buffalo, rhino and leopard within the park. And with the latest reintroduction of lion, Liwonde is now Big 5 territory.
While the sport will not be as prolific as different African parks, Liwonde has a magical attraction. The fantastic thing about its twisting tracks via thick vegetation is that you just by no means know what’s across the nook. Suddenly we’re up near an elephant, watching as he stamps down on a bush to interrupt it up, making it simpler to eat.
Baobabs abound. Some ripped aside by tusks, their gaping wounds left open to the weather. We cross one that’s bent at proper angles. “It took one elephant over a week to break it,” says Thom; the pachyderm returning day after day till he had knocked it down.
We head to a sanctuary designed to guard the park’s rhino, which have been reintroduced right here in 1993 after they’d been poached out. The bush is thick and the roads tough. This is correct off-roading. We spot zebra, kudu and sable, and at one waterhole an elephant indulges in a mud tub.
The rhino show elusive, however Malawi’s attraction definitely doesn’t.
Due to its compact dimension, there are not any arduous journeys to get from A to B. Travel between locations is mostly fast and straightforward – be it a brief hop by air or a couple of hours in a automobile, whereas there’s a daily ferry to ship you across the lake.
Off the principle routes, the roads are typically not so good and you will have 4WD to succeed in some lakeshore lodges and people in wildlife reserves.
With a status as Africa’s friendliest nation, Malawi can be one of many most secure – and is taken into account a super vacation spot for first-time travellers to the continent. Having stated that, take the identical care would elsewhere on this planet. Malaria prophylactics are advisable, explicit across the lake.
You can eat effectively for lower than US$10 in an upmarket restaurant, whereas a beer shouldn’t set you again greater than a few bucks (significantly much less in a neighborhood bar). Transport is reasonable; even flying internally is nice worth. Park charges are among the many lowest on the continent at US$10 per day. Work on round US$100 a day in case you are on a mid-range finances.
Food in eating places and lodges is mostly of a excessive customary, various from native to European and Asian-influenced fare. Local specialities embody chambo (contemporary fish from Lake Malawi).
Curio markets abound, whether or not within the cities or across the lake. Bargaining here’s a pleasure – there may be normally no onerous promote and the vendor typically turns into your pal. As effectively as the same old wooden carvings, tables and conventional Chief’s chairs are prevalent. Small supermarkets might be in present in cities and bigger villages, whereas extra European-style outlets might be present in the principle cities.
Game drives, strolling safaris, boat safaris, climbing, mountaineering, fishing and fly-fishing, canoeing, snorkelling, diving, crusing, waterskiing, windsurfing, birdwatching, horse using, quad-biking and mountain-biking – you title it, Malawi has it.
Whatever your finances, Malawi has it lined: US$5 an evening campsites and backpackers, self-catering chalets, mid-range motels and lodges (US$50-100), top-end luxurious lodges (as much as US$250), unique seaside resorts and safari lodges (upwards of $350 per evening, actions included).
For extra from Phil Clisby, discover www.travelafricamag.com