Places: Malawi Fam Trip

29 May 2023

By: Karen Seaman

I was given the opportunity by Emma to visit Malawi nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Africa” and of course jumped at it.  As I arrived off the transfer bus into the airport terminal at Lilongwe Airport, I was met by someone with an enormous smile holding a welcome sign with my name on it. He quickly introduced himself as Zak from Central African Wilderness Safaris.  My passport was whisked out my hand and Zak was off to get my visa.  True to his word he arrived back within minutes with my passport and visa.  Zak said his good byes in the car park and handed me over to Mike from Ulendo. We had a bit of a delay departing from the airport as the President and his 22-car convoy swept into the airport. He was heading to London for the Coronation of King Charles!

Rush hour traffic in Lilongwe like any other capital city is busy so a 30-minute trip to Heuglin’s Lodge took over an hour but Mike kept me entertained with stories about Madonna and a few facts about Lilongwe. Heuglin’s Lodge is in a quiet residential suburb of Lilongwe. It is a charming, no-frills, “home away from home” establishment.  Chris and Pam Badger who run Central African Wilderness Safaris were there to meet me along with the staff so a very lovely way to start my trip.

I have had Kaya Mawa on my personal bucket list for quite a while so excitement got the better of me and I was up early the next morning. I headed back to the airport for my charter flight to Likoma Island fully ready to make the most of the next few days in a dreamy location!  The flight to Likoma Island was done by Nyasa Air and took about an hour. On arrival into Likoma Island Aerodrome I was met by Kevin from Green Safaris and we hopped into an open vehicle for the drive to Kaya Mawa. To my surprise there were a number of baobabs and mango trees dotted around the island adding to the beauty of the surroundings enroute to the lodge. After a welcome cocktail I headed to my room. All the rooms are named after villages on the Island and mine was named after Mbungo village which is right next door to Kaya Mawa. 

The next morning, I prepared for a day of sightseeing. I set off with my guide Mike via boat to Likoma town.  From the water you could see that some houses and even the immigration office in town were partly submerged. This is partly due to Cyclone Freddy. Likoma Island is situated in the north-eastern corner of Lake Malawi set in Mozambican waters. The island is only 17km², and has one town - Likoma Town where you will find Central Africa’s third largest cathedral. I was intrigued that this small island is home to St. Peter’s cathedral which is the same size as Winchester Cathedral in England.

Once we arrived in town, we wasted no time and headed straight to St Peter’s where I was met at the door by Hallelujah - I did ask twice and yes, his name really is Hallelujah! He is super knowledgeable about the cathedral and its history which made for an interesting tour.  I was disappointed to find that the clock tower was under repair so was I was not able to head to the roof, and climb across the bells and the clockwork to take in the view. Unfortunate as I had been told was a must by one of my fellow travelers the day before on the flight to the Island.  After the tour we headed back slowly making our way through town for a look around before heading back to Kaya Mawa. When I got back, I headed to my room for a bit of down time before dinner which was set up on the beach.   I woke up early the next morning and decided not to waste any time and headed out for an early morning walk.  After my walk I had a quick breakfast and then went out for a bit of snorkeling which was great fun and the water was lovely and warm.   

Everywhere you look at Kaya Mawa they have beautiful home décor pieces and I was told that these are made on the island. I made a plan to visit the workshop to see some of these beautiful things being made for myself.  So, the following morning, I set off to Katundu Workshop to meet the local artisans and take a tour of the work shop.  I was happy to see that the empty wine bottles from Kaya Mawa were being recycled here and turned into beautiful chandeliers, wall hangings and shower curtains like the one in my room.  I left thinking WOW that bottle of wine I drank last night will one day end up as part of a chandelier hanging in someone’s home!

I have to say the food at Kaya Mawa is incredible and the people are friendly and the sunsets I witnessed here are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. On my last night there was a band playing on the beach and there was singing and dancing late into the night.  Sadly my 3 days at Kaya Mawa had quickly come to end and with a heavy heart I headed back to Lilongwe for one night at Latitude 13 before an early morning trip back to the airport for an Air Malawi flight to Blantyre and on to the next part of my Malawi adventure. 

I arrived into Blantyre where Con from Dream Tours was waiting to take me to Mkulumadzi Lodge.   The drive takes you down the steep Thyolo Escarpment which gives you glorious views into the valley, we stopped at one of the viewing spots to stretch our legs and to take in the views. Majete Wildlife Reserve lies in the Lower Shire Valley in the South West of Malawi.  Mkulumadzi Lodge is located on the banks of the Shire River, in the heart of the reserve.  There is a footbridge that you cross over to get to the camp and once over this the views from the main area and the rooms are stunning. On our game drives we saw lions, elephants, buffalo, wild dogs (relaxing on the runway), hippos, and antelope and numerous birds.  The cheetah and rhino managed to stay hidden this time but that only gives me a reason to return.  With only one full day here it seemed like in no time at all we were in the car heading back to Blantyre and on to Kuthengo Camp in Liwonde National Park.  Noline at Mkulumadzi Lodge said we should break our trip for coffee and cake at Kefi Hotel and Café in Zomba.  I have to say it is a hidden gem and would be a great place to spend a few days, especially if you wanted to hike on the plateau but sadly, I did not have time for any hiking this trip and after our coffee and cake we got back in the car and continued on our way to Kuthengo.

We arrived into Liwonde National Park and were met by Matheus who would be our guide for the duration of our stay. He ushered us into a waiting boat for the final leg of our trip into camp. At the jetty we were met by Mike and Jenn and after a short safety briefing, I settled into my room. You can really notice here that the water levels are exceptionally high. A walkway of sandbags had been laid to my front door, and with water all around my tent it reminded me a bit of the Okavango. My sleep was disturbed by a very noisy hippo who was grazing by my tent and when I managed to get rid of him, I had two elephants come to say hello so plenty of wildlife around my tent. Unfortunately, we were not so successful when out on game drives and most animals stayed hidden from us.  Matheus was very knowledgeable so even though the big game did elude us his knowledge kept us going and made for a great experience.

Another early morning and were on the road again, this time heading to Pumulani Lodge, which is situated in the Lake Malawi National Park - a UNESCO world heritage site.  After 4 days of safari, with very early mornings I was looking forward to getting back to the lake and a bit of down time before heading back to the office in Lusaka. We had a quick stop at Makakola Retreat for a site inspection. It is much bigger than the places I had been staying at with tennis courts, beach volleyball courts and a nine-hole golf course on the property. It was a great place to stop and stretch our legs and have a drink. 

Pumulani is set into the hillside overlooking the lake and the view from the main balcony is amazing.  My chalet was enormous and sat on the hillside with floor to ceiling glass doors with views over the lake. I could have spent all my time there just sitting on one of the two verandas admiring the view of the lake below but I decided to be a bit more adventurous.  I was going to make the most of my time and I have to say even the 173 steps to the beach did not dampen my enthusiasm. I headed down to the Lake to catch the boat for our sundowner cruise and on our return that evening we spent time with Godfrey and his Stargazer telescope.  My knowledge of the stars was non-existent but after time with Godfrey I was able to spot Venus, Mars, Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt and the Milky Way. I also learnt how to work out which way was south without too much trouble. It was a great way to spend the evening. 

The next day we were up early and heading off by boat to do a site inspection at Mumbo Island. The whole camp is built of timber, thatch and canvas and is entirely off grid so a great place for all those looking for a Robin’s Crusoe Experience.  After leaving Mumbo Island it was back in the boat and we were off to do some snorkeling. We anchored off a small island and jumped into the water. The small brightly colored fish which are known locally as Mbuna were everywhere.  We spent a great morning snorkeling; it was such an indescribable feeling to see all those fish right in front of me. I felt like I was in a fish tank! Once done I was happy to see that a picnic was waiting for us on the boat.  We took the scenic route home passing a lot of the fishing villages along the shore.  Black our captain stopped and bought some fish which we thought might be for dinner but that was not the case.  Once we got close to a small Island, he pointed out the fish eagles sitting in the trees he then called out and threw one of the small fish into the water. We waited for a moment and sure enough the fish eagle came swooping down to get the fish - it was a magical thing to watch. That afternoon I took the opportunity to sit by the pool taking in the view and enjoying my last day in the warm heart of Africa before heading back to the city to spend my final night at Kumbali Country Lodge where Madonna likes to stay when she is in town, what more can I say!  All too soon my trip was over. I have brought some magical memories back to Lusaka with me along with a better understanding of what Malawi has to offer those looking to visit.

Kaya Mawa Beach Likoma Island Lunch at Kaya Mawa Katundu Workshop Likoma Island Kaya Mawa Mkulumadzi Mkulumadzi swing bridge View over the Shire River Majete Kefi Hotel - Zomba Tent at Kuthengo Camp Liwonde Liwonde National Park Liwonde National Park Sunset from Liwonde National Park Fish Eagle Fishing on Lake Malawi View from the pool at Pumalani Lodge Sunset over Lake Malawi from Pumalani Lodge

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