What to see and do
Nyika National Park has many very scenic spots, archaeological sites, and an extensive network of roads and trails. There are many different hiking and driving options. The following synopsis of major attractions serves as a taster only:
Walks around Chilinda
Plenty of roads radiate from Chilinda Camp, and it would be quite possible to spend four or five days in the area without repeating a walk. A good short walk for visitors with limited time is to the two dams near Chilinda. The road here follows a dambo and the area offers good game viewing (reedbuck and roan antelope), as well as frequent sightings of wattled crane. The round trip covers 8km and takes two hours. The dams offer good trout fishing in season.
Another good short walk (about an hour) is from behind Chalet Four to the Kasaramba turn-off and then left along Forest Drive through the pine plantation back to Chalet Four. At dusk there is a fair chance of seeing leopards along this walk.
A longer walk is to Lake Kaulime, which lies 8km west of Chilinda. This is the only natural lake on the plateau and is traditionally said to be the home of a serpent that acts as the guardian to Nyika's animals. More certain attractions than legendary serpents are migratory waterfowl (in summer) and large mammals coming to drink. I spent a fascinating hour here once lying silent amidst the undergrowth, watching as a small group of roan antelope waded around in the deeper sections drinking their fill, and then munching the succulent waterplants under the surface.
Walks and drives further afield
Many of the more interesting points in Nyika are too far from Chilinda to be reached on a day walk, though they are accessible to visitors with vehicles.
Jalawe Rock is about 1km on foot from a car park 34km north of Chilinda. The views here are spectacular, stretching across Lake Malawi to the mountainous Tanzanian shore. With binoculars, it is often possible to see buffaloes and elephants in the miombo woodland of the Mpanda Ridge below. A variety of raptors, as well as klipspringer, are frequently seen around the rock, and the surrounding vegetation includes many proteas.
Nganda Peak is, at 2,605m, the highest peak on the plateau. It lies about 30km northeast of Chilinda, and can be reached by following the Jalawe Rock road for about 25km then turning left on to a 4km-long motorable track. It's a 1.5km walk from the end of the track to the peak.
Kasaramba Viewpoint lies 43km southeast of Chilinda. You can drive to within 1.5km of the viewpoint and then walk the final stretch. When it isn't covered in mist, the views to the lake are excellent, and you can also see remnants of the terraced slopes built by the early Livingstonia missionaries. The most extensive rainforest in Nyika lies on the slopes below Kasaramba, and visitors frequently see the localised crowned eagle and mountain buzzard in flight. From Kasaramba, a 3km road leads to the top of the pretty 30m-high Nchenachena Falls.
Further along the road to Kasaramba, also 43km from Chilinda, is a large juniper forest, the most southerly stand of Juniperus procera in Africa. There is a rustic cabin on the edge of the forest, from where a short trail offers the opportunity of sighting forest animals such as leopard, elephant shrew, red duiker, bushpig and a variety of forest birds. The forest can also be explored from the firebreaks that surround it.
Zovo Chipola Forest, near the Zambian Resthouse, is of special interest to birdwatchers, and also harbours several mammal species, the most commonly seen of which are bushbuck, blue monkey and elephant shrew. The larger Chowo Forest lies in the Zambian part of the park, nearer to the old Zambian Resthouse. A 4km trail runs through Chowo.
Fingira Rock is a large granite dome lying 22km south of Chilinda. On the eastern side of the rock, a cave 11m deep and 18m long was used as a shelter by humans around 3,000 years ago – excavations in 1965 unearthed a complete human skeleton and a large number of stone tools. Several schematic rock paintings can be seen on the walls of the cave. A reasonable track runs to the base of the rock, 500m from the cave. The miombo woodland around Thazima entrance gate is rich in birds and noted for unusual species.
A stable of around 26 horses is kept at Chilinda, with animals suitable for both novice and experienced riders. Visitors can do anything from a short morning's ride to a ten-night luxury riding trail. Shorter rides can be arranged at minimal notice, and are an excellent way of getting around, and getting closer to the game. Both eland and roan can be approached far more closely on horseback than on foot or by vehicle. Riding costs around US$20 per hour, or US$80 for a full day. Contact the Nyika Safari Company.
Longer riding safaris, using mobile tented camps, can be arranged given as much notice as possible (at least weeks and preferably months). These cost around US$300 per person per night, and include everything except park fees and drinks. Again, contact the Nyika Safari Company for more information.
There are mountain bikes for hire at US$5 per hour, or US$25 for the whole day. Again, contact the Nyika Safari Company for more information.
Six wilderness trails have been designated within Nyika National Park, ranging from one to five nights in duration. Visitors wishing to use these trails must supply their own camping equipment and food, and are required to hike in the company of a National Park guide. Porters can be arranged on request, for a small extra charge. All the trails must be booked in advance through the Nyika Safari Company.
The most popular of Nyika's wilderness trails leads from Chilinda all the way to Livingstonia on the Rift Valley escarpment east of the national park. Depending on which route you select, the hike can take between one and four days (though the one-day route is, at 42km, only a realistic option if you're exceptionally fit). Note that it is not permitted to hike this route in reverse, as a guide and park fees cannot be organised at Livingstonia.
Of particular interest for wildlife viewing is the four-night Jalawe and Chipome River Trail, which passes through the miombo woodland in the northern part of the park. It offers the opportunity to see elephant, buffalo, greater kudu and a variety of other mammals that are generally absent from the plateau.
Most of the trails cost US$30 per person for the first night and an additional US$20 per night thereafter for the first two people. Additional people are charged US$5 per person per night. The Livingstone Trail commands a one-off payment of US$50 extra, above this.
Note on guidebooks
If you have the opportunity, buy a copy of Sigrid Anna Johnson's book: A Visitor's Guide to Nyika National Park, Malawi. It is often available at the park reception at Chilinda, and is an excellent guide to the plateau. See Further Reading for more details. A small booklet containing a detailed map of the Chilinda area is also sold at the park reception for a nominal charge.
The above description of Nyika Plateau has been edited from an original section in the excellent Malawi: The Bradt Travel Guide by Philip Briggs. If you plan an extended visit to Malawi, then get hold of a copy of this before you travel – it's the standard reference on travel in Malawi.