It is the last instalment of the “Indexpedition”. The Safari Index undertook a monumental journey through South and East Africa, exploring its great and lesser-known parks in a quest to bring you the best of what’s out there when it comes to safari experiences. The team traversed Malawi from north to south, and then went on to Zambia and the incredible South Luangwa…
Once you escape border control, the energy as you cross into Malawi is completely different to Tanzania, and it definitely deserves the mantle “The warm heart of Africa”. Although as affected by poverty and lack of development as most other African countries, the people are happy and you get waves and smiles from everyone you pass, bar a few teenage boys… We spent the first night on the shores of Lake Malawi at Chitimba Camp, before heading inland to Nyika National Park.
The Nyika Plateau is a most unique park. We have never seen scenery like this in Africa. Situated at the top of the escarpment among green-clad rolling hills, the park is home to a surprising number of species. The leopards in the area are seen regularly, as are the caracal, roan antelope and some amazing birdlife. The temperature also changes dramatically as you leave the lake’s edge and head up to higher altitudes. This was a pleasant change from the heat we had been experiencing.
Chelinda Lodge would not be out of place in the Swiss Alps. The cosy wood cabins are the perfect place to relax and unwind in, as you catch up with a great read next to the wood fire. For those looking to get out and about, there are a number of walks and cycling trails. The dams are stocked with trout, and are great for fly-fishing. Aside from game drives, Nyika National Park can also be explored in your own vehicle- a great spot for self-drivers.
After 3 fantastic days in Nyika, the Indexpedition headed back down to Lake Malawi. We camped for two nights on lush green lawns that spilt straight onto a magnificent private beach at Makuzi Beach. We hired kayaks and paddles, and headed out to a nearby island. Here we snorkelled and lay in the sun on huge granite boulders, listening to fish eagles calling almost continuously.
The road hugs the lakeshore as you drive south along the lake, and goes through numerous villages where kids wave frantically at you as you go by. If happy smiling faces are the indicator, Malawi definitely is the friendliest country in Africa. We bought most of our food from the rural markets, which had a surprisingly great offering, from fresh fish to various locally grown vegetables and fruit. As is noticeable in Africa, traffic police pop up all over the place. The glorious thing about Malawi’s fining system is that once you have been fined on a particular day, you can’t get fined again that day, so theoretically you could drive around all day at 150 km/h without a worry…
The Indexpedition then took a leisurely boat ride to a piece of heaven – Blue Zebra Island Lodge. The lodge is situated on a private island in the heart of the lake, and is popular with both families and honeymooners. It offers amazing snorkelling, diving, kayaking, swimming and hiking opportunities, right on your doorstep. The diving was fabulous, with thousands of different cichlid species of all imaginable colours to keep us enthralled. The best bit is that you aren’t ‘salty’ after a dive or swim, and feel fresh, as though you had just got out of the shower. Delicious food and friendly staff made this a highlight of our Malawi exploration. There is even a 3km trail around the island for keen hikers and trail runners. Blue Zebra is a rustic yet luxurious tropical island, and offers an authentic waterside holiday.
It was then on to Zambia. Malawi and Zambia are a great combination, with Zambia offering superb safari opportunities in the world-famous South Luangwa National Park. It’s a long drive from the Lake to South Luangwa– it takes most of the day, but the roads are in good condition. Opportunistic border staff are like flies, and will do whatever they can do make a back hand. It is best to leave the border movements to a tour guide, as it can become rather frustrating with local officials all trying to make a quick buck on any discrepancies in your passports or documents.
We arrived in South Luangwa in the late afternoon, and spent the first night in the luxurious Mfuwe Lodge. Here a number of animals, including elephants, walk straight through reception on their way for a drink. The lodge is a great base from which to explore the central parts of the park. With all the modern must-haves, including air-conditioning and hot water, it’s great for those looking for some home comforts. The dinner and breakfast buffet spread is something to behold.
The highlight of the South Luangwa trip was definitely doing the Bush Camp circuit. The luxury bush camps are intimate, private establishments, with low carbon footprints. They offer the perfect base from which to explore the South Luangwa wilderness, either on foot or in an open-air game drive vehicle. The game viewing in South Luangwa is top-drawer, and exceptional lion and leopard sightings were had. South Luangwa is definitely one of the best places in Africa to see these big cats, as well as elephant, buffalo, hippo, giraffe and a host of other antelope and predators. The birding is fantastic too, and watching tens of thousands of carmine bee-eaters flying in and out of their nests on the river banks is an amazing spectacle.
After South Luangwa, the Indexpedition team made their way back to South Africa, travelling east through Lusaka and Livingstone and south through Botswana via Chobe. For the first time on the trip, our faithful Toyota Prado experienced mechanical issues. We were touched at how willingly we were assisted by random strangers: truckers, local farmers and mechanics. It was all part of the adventure, something which ends up being a great story afterwards.
Having explored the continent over several months, Jake Hoddinott summed it up by saying:
“Africa is truly remarkable and it needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated.”