People had told us that Nkhata Bay was something of a modern day Kathmandu and they weren’t wrong. Hoards of Peace Corp volunteers and many a backpack donning 20-something-year-old were suspended in hammocks, swimming in the crystal lake or eating vegetarian wraps.
Bountiful dreadlocks aside, Nkhata bay is wonderful and cheap (hence all the backpackers). We stayed in a chalet over looking the lake with our own private beach below!
Private, save for the few children who watched us swim and then swam with us, squealing with delight when we brought up metal oddities from the lake floor for them. We swam every morning and late afternoon, using swimming goggles to observe brightly coloured tropical fish. It’s surreal to swim in the lake, which is so large it looks like the sea, except without salt burning your eyes and coating your skin and hair and no waves to pummel you against the sand or dangerous riptides or anything else of danger for that matter.
But Malawi is not only the land of the lake. Here we entered an ethereal world of high altitude rolling hills coupled with pockets of evergreen forest and miombo woodland dominating the slopes. The land of the lake felt a very distant memory as we headed to Nyika National Park and zipped up our polar fleeces and huddled next to a roaring pine fire overlooking high altitude grassland where roan, bushbuck and Crawshay’s zebra roamed freely.
Nyika is Malawi’s largest park at 3134 square kilometres though we were mostly alone. The vistas are spectacular and we were ambushed by photo opportunities everywhere we looked. We felt as though we were camping out in a remote miniature Scotland and could not believe we were only a few hours from the warm shores of Nkhata Bay.
From there we moved onto Lake Kazuni in Vwaza Wildlife Reserve where herds of elephants ambled passed our chalet to munch on bushes right outside our windows! Listening to them tear branches – and even chew – was one of the most thrilling moments of my life.
They slowly made their way through our camp to the nearby lake to drink. As it’s nearing the end of the dry season all the animals in the reserve are brought to what little water there is left, which made for fantastic game viewing. We didn’t even need to go on game drives, we sat like oupa and ouma op die stoep observing warthogs, baboons, impalas, kudus, bushbuck, hippos and crocodiles. We spied leopard prints in the morning next to our stoep, but weren’t lucky enough to see one.
Next stop was Makuzi Beach Lodge, back at the lake, it’s nestled in a secluded bay with a white sand beach that looked like it was plucked from Clifton 4th and dropped in Malawi. Except without the wind, salt and overly waxed beings. One still morning, we kayaked to what was later dubbed Death Island, because we both suffered flesh wounds (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase) and bruises due to being overly confident on the island’s rocky terrain.
As we sheepishly kayaked back to the safety of our soft white beach we almost collided with a fisherman in a dug out canoe. We stopped for a chat in the middle of the secluded stretch of lake.
On our third day at Makuzi Beach ominous black smoke billowed over the hill to the right of the lodge. Suddenly everyone started running to the hill and a flurry of activity ensued as fire breaks were quickly lit in order to fight the fire roaring over the other side of the hill. It was thrilling to be so close to a controlled fire, and it was amazing to see hundreds of spiders and insects making a dash out of the bush to escape the crackling flames. The dust at our feet was literally crawling with them.
On the night after the first rains had soaked the parched and burnt Malawian soil, millions of clumsy flying ants hatched and swarmed the sky. We looked up as fast white shapes flew right over us; hundreds of bats were feasting on the flying fatty treats. We captured their flight path using a long exposure and a bank of LEDs pointing skywards to illuminate their bodies.