Johnie does Malawi – Part 5

By Johnie Jonker

Days 6 – 9: Mzuzu, Nyika

The road to Mzuzu is good, although somewhat boring, until you get to the plantations. This is quite a high-level processing industry, as the trees come out of the forest in planks, ready for drying.

Here, once again, petrol was available but not diesel, but a long queue had already formed along the main road in anticipation of the pending arrival of a diesel tanker. Malawi was busy preparing for their 6th July Independence Day celebrations, during which the procession was to pass through the northern part of the country, so they were busy stocking up with fuel, at the expense of the southern part of the country.

We had read a review of the Mzuzu Backpacker establishment in the Bradt guide to Malawi. I can honestly say that this guide is absolutely essential, and much more useful than the Lonely Planet guide. It has detailed maps of all the town centres – some towns only HAVE a centre – and the coastline a few kms either side of any town, listing and describing – and drawn to scale – the locations of all available accommodation, be it camping or lodges. The information is up to date (2010 issue) and accurate – except for their review of Mzoozoozoo.

The text explained that this venue was a viby place, but when we got there we were the only visitors, with the owner looking somewhat perplexed that someone actually came. How can I put it – Gerard is an extremely interesting host – also his permanent lodgers – but should you visit, know that your accommodation could only improve from there.

Except for my wife and I, everyone camped – next to the open French drain. We slept in a room with a double bed and a mattress shaped like a banana, through which our hips were very aware of the bed board below when lying on our sides. We were a bit puzzled as to why – although clean – the pillows felt somewhat damp. This all became clear the next morning at around 5am, when our breathing started to condensate against the inside of the ceiling-less corrugated iron roof, and the drops started tip-tipping around us.

Mzoozoozoo camping

We left from there for the Nyika Plateau. At Rumphi we could refuel – once again, petrol only – and did some shopping for the next two days at the Metro Cash&Carry, which was well-stocked. Diesel was available on our return.


The first stage of the road was indicated as tar on the T4A map, but was not. A fine, cement-like dust hung in the air, as we literally picked our way along this road to the Nyika Park entrance.


Other than almost zero visibility when following too closely, the dust formed hard cakes when depositing on the car, to the extent that it took a few healthy squirts of Q20 to keep the auto fold-in function of the Freelander wing mirrors going.

It was also on this road that we saw our first South African car since crossing the border – CY registration, returning from where we were heading.

The time prediction of the T4A map was very misleading, as we discovered afterwards that this was a calculated value, based on the park speed limit of 40km/h. We could maintain less than 30km/h. The road surface was reasonable, but at places had a few ruts and loose material – like doing an endless loop De Wildt trail for 3 hours.

Typical road through the park.

Progress was especially slow on the downhill sections, where Armas had to anticipate the extended braking time due to the pushing of the trailer behind the Fortuner. He reported that the ABS still kicked in a number of times in spite of his cautious approach. Ja swaer, the Echo 4 is not quite the same as a Venter.

By the time we got to the chalets however, we were gatvol, and had attained an attitude of “take no prisoners” in terms of caution over the obstacles. We were NOT in very high spirits. Ons ry die hele blerrie dag vir dít?!

The mood soon changed for the better when we were greeted with a soft drink at reception and directed to the three chalets, where a good fire was already burning in the lounge and each family was introduced to their personal cook-boy. Yep, exactly like the colonial days.

The cooking service was included in the $150/night price, which at the booking stage seemed steep, but soon turned out to be great value for money. You give him the ingredients, he cooks. We supplied flour from the local shop, he supplied his own yeast and baked us the loveliest bread. Around-the-clock super-hot water – that donkey was stoked full-time by Edward. He also did our laundry for a gratuity. And he kept that living room fire going throughout the day, with a pile of wood next to it to keep a veritable inferno going during the night.

Panoramic view – 3 stitched frames – of the lounge through the front door. Kitchen door on the left, bathroom, main bedroom, second room. Very generously sized. Out of the frame to the right, is a wooden corner seat, which with matresses should be able to accommodate two more people.

The cars were iced up in the morning – the temperature dropped to below freezing overnight – but inside it was 26°. You could open the front door – the fire would still win. Man, this was decadent living!

The facilities had seen better days. T4A indicated that fuel was available here. There were indeed four pumps – one even marked VISITOR’S FUEL – but the reality was that this service had not been available for quite some time now.

You wish. Note the handle, due to lack of electricity. Last seen one of these at Solitaire. But that one was working then.
They do however have a workshop, with generator-driven hand power tools – Makita, no less – and make and maintain all the furniture in the chalets. Really neat stuff.

Electricity was available only from 6 until 10pm, so you at least had lights and could charge the camera and laptop batteries.

While on this topic, Malawi uses the UK rectangular-pin plugs. You would do well if you took at least one of these adapters along. Better than the Jonkers, anyway.

But we managed to get the two-pin round plugs into the rectangular holes if the plug shutter was opened by putting a teaspoon handle into the earth connection.

We chatted to a delivery truck driver the next morning, who supplied the local shop with basic stuff. He had left Mzuzu earlier that day. How long did it take him to do the trip? “4 hours”. This with a loaded 3-ton truck over the same route that took us in excess of 5 hours driving time.

Game drives can also be done at extra cost – R210 p/p – and some of us made use of this service. Others drove off in their own car, dragged some chairs up a hill, and watched the sun set over the horizon, enjoying a G&T or cold beer.

We departed Nyika, truly refreshed two days later, via the same route to Rumphi. It may appear as if we could have taken a shortcut from Chelinda directly to Livingstonia – but that road does not actually exist, not even on T4A.

This time the route did not seem as long and tedious, as we knew what to except. I went on ahead to the park exit in an effort to see how fast one could do it, and although spurts up to just below 60km/h was possible in places, I still averaged only 32km/h. The other two vehicles took 10 minutes longer.

More scenery between Nyika and Rumphi. Almost Afrikaans?

From Rumphi we rejoined the M1, and headed north towards Chiwete, which is where the road starts running adjacent to the lake. Our destination was actually Livingstonia, as according to the Bradt guide, it was a worthwhile place to visit – and there was also the following statement made regarding the road leading there: “… it is often described as one of the most exciting roads in Africa, particularly if the vehicle you are in has dubious brakes!”

Along the way we stopped at the Zufurufu hanging bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge made entirely of bamboo and reeds, which the locals use daily to cross the river. It is one of those community projects, where a guide from the local village takes you to this feature for a fee.

Of course the starting price is way too high – K500 (R25) p/p. Considering we were 12 people and our guide would make the journey once only, our chief negotiator – Adriaan “Roelf Meyer” Zeeman – knocked the price down to a more reasonable K200 (R10) p/p. He had been honing this skill since his encounter with the Zimbabwe traffic officials in a previous post, and was getting very good at it. From here onwards, we let him do all the talking. Always use an expert – if you have one.

Once the deal was done we headed down the pathway. 50m later straight down the path, we reached our destination. Dang! We still paid too much!

The claim is made that this bridge was built in 1904, but there is no way that this is still the original structure – and you would not need carbon dating to prove this. But it still is quite innovative and surprisingly stable. Some of us could even walk across it like Homo Sapiens.

From here we followed the Bradt guide and T4A directions towards Sangilo lodge, around 7km north of Chiwete, and found that even though we had no prior booking, accommodation was available for all of us – exclusively – for the next two nights.

Part 6 to follow


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