Barefoot bliss in Mozambique

Catching the Ilala ferry across the lake of stars was not as romantic as it sounds but landing on the white sandy shores of Manda Wilderness on the Mozambican side of Lake Malawi was like discovering a lost piece of paradise.

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The wild shores on the Mozambican side of Lake Niassa (Lake Malawi) are almost completely undeveloped. Photo © Marcus Westberg

We caught the ferry from Nkhotakota at 3 o’clock in the morning, perched precariously on the side of a leaky wooden boat. It was pitch black and the boatman dropped some of our luggage in the water, but we managed to get on board without falling in ourselves.

The windblown ride didn’t do any good for Kate, who had come down with what we thought was malaria but turned out to be a bad case of the flu. She spent the 12-hour journey tossing and turning on the deck while Marcus swapped stories with the other passengers. We slept on a mattress under the open sky, huddled together to keep warm and waking to a brilliant, glowing sunrise.

By the time we arrived at Likoma Island, the worst of the fever had passed and Kate was feeling more like herself again. We made our way across the beautiful, baobab-scattered island to Mango Drift, a cluster of simple beach huts with stunning views across the shimmering blue lake. Dinner under the mango tree and a good night’s rest had us refreshed and ready to cross the wind-whipped water to the wild shores of Mozambique.

Mchenga Nkwichi Lodge means ‘squeaky sand’ in Nyanja and the fine, white beach is picture-perfect. Photo © Marcus Westberg

We stepped off the small jetty at Nkwichi Lodge onto a stunning sweep of beach, a secret cove enclosed by rocks and towering trees. The chalets were lost in the tree line and all we could see beyond the lake was Mozambican bush. Stretched out behind us was Manda Wilderness, a community-owned conservation area that encompasses rivers, mountains, wildlife-filled savannah and the lakeshore. Nkwichi works hand-in-hand with the local communities to protect this pristine environment, conserving the area through eco-tourism.

Staff members support their villages through employment at the lodge, looking after over 1,000 family members, from the smallest child to village elders. Schools are being built in partnership with the 16 villages in the area, bringing fresh paint, new desks and a renewed enthusiasm for learning. The well-tended demonstration farm helps improve nutrition and farming practices, with all of the fruit and vegetables sold back to the lodge, along with fresh catches from local fishermen. The eco-lodge itself goes beyond being green, building from local materials, relying on solar power, composting and cooking on sun stoves, caring deeply about the environment and the Nyanja, ‘People of the Lake’.

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Fun at the beach with Ferdie, a volunteer guide instructor. Photo © Marcus Westberg

The days passed in a dreamy haze of sunbathing and leisurely walks through the surrounding bush to spectacular viewpoints. We made use of the box of beach toys, playing beach tennis and snorkelling among the many multi-coloured fish. Marcus went kayaking on the smooth surface of the lake, while Kate did some body boarding when the waves picked up. We lazed the day away between mouth-watering meals served in a variety of scenic spots. Breakfast at a grass-thatched gazebo on the beach, lunch under the shade of a 2,000 year-old baobab tree and a romantic candle-lit dinner for two outside our chalet.

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The swirly Milky Way gleams above our star bed on the beach as waves lap gently on the lakeshore. Photo © Marcus Westberg

Melting into the Mozambican bush, Niassa chalet was like nothing we had ever seen before with dugout canoe tables, a massive four-poster bed made of old tree trunks and the most amazing open-air bathroom we had ever set eyes on. After washing the sand off, we spent the sunset hours wallowing in the stone-carved bathtub below the forest canopy, a cool breeze blowing softly through the trees and the haunting call of a fish eagle swooping above us.
Just when we thought our stay couldn’t possibly get any better, we walked along the shoreline to a small private beach that was set up with a four-poster bed romantically draped in netting and sitting directly on the sand, where we spent the night star-gazing at the impossibly bright African sky.

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For more information about Nkwichi Lodge go to:

Marcus & Kate

Marcus and Kate are a freelance writer/photographer team, contributing stories on travel, conservation and human interest from across east and southern Africa. They just completed a year in Kenya's Masai Mara where they conducted a research project on wildlife tourism and community-based conservation, including working on projects such as Elephant Voices and Living with Lions. They are a Swedish-Australian couple with itchy feet and a love for Africa, adventure and discovery. To see more photos from Marcus and Kate, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Africa Geographic