The Zomba Plateau
Rising nearly 1800m behind Zomba town, and carpeted in thick pine forests, Zomba Plateau is beguilingly pretty. As you ascend the snaking road past wildflowers, stoic locals heaving huge burdens of timber, and roadside strawberry vendors, the place feels like Alpine France; then a vervet monkey jumps out, a pocket of blue mist envelops your car, and you realise you’re in Africa. This gorgeous highland paradise, crisscrossed by streams, lakes and tumbling waterfalls, is home to leopards, bushbucks and birds such as mountain wagtails and Bertram’s weavers.
The plateau has a myriad of winding trails that ring and cross the mountain which can be covered on foot or by car (back roads possible only by 4WD) The Domasi Valley is divided into two halves and the southern half has a road to the top where you’ll find several picnic spots and a network of driveable tracks and hiking paths.
Accessed by a rough road, Malawi’s oldest reserve is easily one of the most magical experiences in any trip to the country. Towering at over 2500m above sea level, 3200 sq km Nyika National Park is enigmatic; one moment its rolling grasslands remind of the Yorkshire Dales, but then an antelope leaps across your line of vision, you note the nearby mound of steaming elephant dung and you remember you’re in Africa (Nyika is also home to a very large population of leopards!).
There are plenty of zebras, bushbucks, reedbucks, roan antelopes and elephants and you may also spot elands, warthogs, klipspringers, jackals, duikers and possibly hyenas. Twitchers should note that more than 400 species of bird have been recorded. After the wet season, the landscape bursts into life in a blaze of wildflowers and there are around 200 species of orchid alone growing on the plateau. Rather than just driving around in a safari vehicle, you can explore on a mountain bike or ramble through the hills on foot. It can get surprisingly cold on the Nyika Plateau, especially at night from June to August when frost is not uncommon.
Likoma is on the Mozambican side of Lake Malawi, but it is part of Malawi. Blissful Likoma measures 17 sq km and is home to around 6000 people. Likoma’s flat and sandy south is littered with baobabs, and offers panoramic views of Mozambique’s wild coast only 40km away. The island’s main draw card is an abundance of pristine beaches, crystal clear waters and friendly locals. There’s a multitude of land and water activities on offer. A few days spent relaxing here is the perfect way to end a trip to Malawi.
Liwonde National Park
Liwonde National Park spills over with more than 545 elephants, 1900 hippos, 500 water buffaloes and 1800 crocs. It’s a comparatively small reserve set in dry savannah and forest over 584 sq km, and you can walk or drive along the serene Shire River whilst tracking animals. Lions were reintroduced in 2013, so there is now an established pride; cheetah and hyena will follow suit.
The Shire River dominates the park – a wide, meandering stretch lined by palms and surrounding flood plains, woodland and parched scrub. Unsurprising then, that the park is prime hippo- and croc-spotting territory. Waterbucks are also common, whilst beautiful sable and roan antelope, zebra and eland populate the flood plains in the east. Night drives can reveal spotted genets, bush babies, scrub hares and side-striped jackals. The combination of rich riverine, Mopani and grassland habitats means that birdlife here is prolific and hugely varied.