Malawi: Nyika National Park, Livingstonia
In the far north of Malawi lies a hilly plateau with vast rolling grasslands, clear streams and more zebra than people. This is the Nyika Plateau.
Refreshingly cool compared to the humid shores of Lake Malawi, this was a perfect last detour before crossing into Tanzania. A fork in the road at Rumphi quickly deteriorates into a rocky track, while gradually climbing higher and higher up to the plateau. After about three hours, the inevitable destination of *Chelinda Camp* is reached (there is no other accommodation available here.) This remote route is spectacular in its own right, although not in the jaw dropping way of many of the other landscapes we have passed through. The gently rounded hilltops covered in coarse grass and punctuated by patches of evergreen woodland have been compared to the Yorkshire dales. A fair comparison up to a point, but the illusion suddenly evaporates when a huge eland or herd of zebra stroll into view.
This plateau sits at almost 2,000m and our campsite, perched on a hillside, had a wonderfully unobstructed view of the sunset. Antelope, warthogs and herds of zebra looked lost in the vastness, specks on the distant hillside, until they were engulfed in the darkness.
That evening, sitting next to our campfire under a starry sky, we chatted to an American-English couple (or, depending on who you asked, English-American.) They had recently taken over a backpackers lodge (*The Mushroom Farm*) close to the historic town of Livingstonia. We said we would visit on route to Tanzania if we had the chance.
The next day was pure relaxation. John tried his hand at fly fishing in one of the small lakes and successfully caught two trout. They were too small to be worth keeping though, and were put back. We then drove a very remote trail over the hilltops to enjoy the vast horizons and to spot game. Although leopards have been seen here, they are a rare occurrence and the large herbivores have few natural enemies. As a result the many varieties of antelope seemed very relaxed and generally unperturbed by our presence.
The next day we headed back down the bone shaking trail to the main road, before heading north along the western shore of Lake Malawi to Chitemba beach. Arriving ahead of schedule, we decided to take the very steep switchback dirt road up the mountainside towards Livingstonia. It is near the top of this road, clinging almost impossibly to the mountainside, that *Mushroom Farm* is located. It seems that the gravitational pull of this place on all travellers who pass by is too great to resist – we were immediately won over by the charm of its setting and staff and decided to stay for the night. We had an incredible bird’s eye view of the sun sinking behind the mountain, and then the full moon casting its ethereal glow over the lake.
A touch of drama was added to this scene by a number of bush fires that had been burning on the hillside all day. In the darkness threads of flame snaked like lava through the tinder dry undergrowth, accompanied by alarmingly loud crackling. These caused some concern all evening, with glowing cinders sometimes floating precariously close to the thatched roofs of the building. We were shown great hospitality here, and the food was delicious – most dishes making use of fresh peanuts in one form or another. It was definitely a place we could have lingered for days.
We spent a few hours exploring the old misson town of Livingstonia where we made the giddy climb to the top of the belfry of the Victorian church and visited the museum which, amongst other artefacts, had a poem written by the first converted Malawian in the 1890s – this poem is written below.
I was a wandering sheep,
I did not love the fold;
I did not love my Shepherd’s voice.
I would not be controlled.
I was a wayward child,
I did not love my home;
I did not love my Father’s voice.
I loved afar to roam.
The Shepherd sought His sheep.
The Father sought His child;
They followed me o’er vale and hill,
Over desert, waste and wild.
They found me nigh to death.
Famished and faint and lone;
They bound me with the bands of love,
They saved the wandering one.
They washed my filth away,
They made me clean and fair;
They brought me to my home in peace
The long sought wanderer.
Jesus my Shepherd is,
‘Twas He that loved my soul
‘Twas He that washed me in His blood,
‘Twas He that made me whole.
‘Twas He that sought the lost,
That found the wandering sheep
‘Twas He that brought me to the field
‘Tis He that still doth keep.
I was a wandering sheep,
I would not be controlled;
But now I love the Shepherd’s voice,
I love, I love the fold!
I was a wayward child,
I once preferred to roam,
But now I love my Father’s voice,
I love, I love His home.
We then descended back to the lakeshore and the short drive to the Tanzanian border.
Days in Africa: 68
Km driven: 595km
Km total: 8,981km