Johnie does Malawi – Part 6

By Johnie Jonker

Day 10 – 12: Chiwete, Livingstonia, Chintcheche

What a place! Sangilo Lodge – with an exclusive Malawi lake-front beach for just our group. The adults stayed in chalets – of which there were 2 x ensuite and 4 x communal ablution – with the kids sleeping on the beach.  Completely secluded, as the rocks either side of the beach goes right down into the water.

Sunrise, with the chalets in the background.

The perfect place to chill, with a pub/restaurant/kitchen built right on the beach. We did not bother to make food, but rather paid for a choice between two dinner items each night. The owner – Mark is a Pom from Newcastle – and his two small daughters were also on the premises. His wife – a medical doctor in a neighbouring town – arrived back from a UK visit the day we left.

But a good host, who took the time to come chat with us and tell us more about the area.

We learnt that almost all the lodges/backpackers owned by expats, are known to each other. So Mark could tell you about Jim (a South African hailing from Stellenbosch), and what to expect at Nkhwazi, and recommend we visit Auke (a French Belgian) at Lukwe on the way to Livingstonia and asked us how we experienced Gerard (Swiss) at Mzoozoozoo, etc. So this was a good networking opportunity. We followed his leads on our further travels, and they were all good.

The next day we finally made our way to Livingstonia. This is the start of the Rift Valley (origin of the Nile), and from the top of the escarpment you could almost see forever, were it not for the haze prevalent during this time of the year. Apparently December it is all clear.

But first we had to negotiate those 20 hairpin bends. Quite a few of the steeper bends had been provided with a ribbed concrete slab which made them easier, but the surface was mostly very loose with a few deepish ruts, so not overly difficult. To give you an idea, down, it took 55 mins to cover the 17km. Up, quite a bit longer. It is not overly steep, but the hairpins are tight.

We did not see any sign – like the one at the top of Sani Pass requesting that down traffic give way to up traffic – and was wondering whether this was a general rule. We had to manoevre a few times to let oncoming traffic pass – 3 ton trucks and busses – but generally there is allways a passing spot close-by. One of the vehicles may just have to reverse a short distance.

Here’s what it looks like on the GPS. My wife says I make it sound easier than what it was.

And in real life.

Adriaan gave a hitchhiker a lift up the pass, but he had to stand on the rear step of the bakkie and hang on to the roof rack, due to there being no space inside.

A beautiful mission church had been constructed at Livingstonia, and this was opened up for us by a young boy who was so keen to show us everything, including up the clock tower.

There is also a school with a rather peculiar mission statement. Good luck to all pupils graduating from here.

We then returned to Lukwe where Auke ran his Eco-friendly restaurant and accommodation. The food was good, the beer cold, the view incredible. Definitely a worthwhile stop.  He directed us to a nearby waterfall behind which the locals used to hide when the slave-traders came recruiting.

On the way there we passed some abandoned buildings which appeared to have once been a restaurant, and enquired about this upon our return.
Auke explained that this had been his initiative. Due to the fact that the waterfall was a popular destination for backpackers, he helped the locals to establish the restaurant – in competition with his own – at the viewing point, trained them how to prepare the food and when it had been successfully running for a year, he handed complete control over to them.

Unfortunately, by that time they were spoiled by the fees they were getting from the visitors for guiding them to the waterfall – which anyone could easily find by themselves, as it is just straight down a pathway. The restaurant was just too much effort compared to sitting by the side of the road (in the shade) waiting to collect a guidance fee from the tourists. So it died. Sad, really.

We were highly impressed with his vegetable garden and also his coffee grove. He planted the trees, harvests the beans, roasts them, packages and sells it – the complete process. You can’t help but admire such individuals. We also got some new insights – a different perspective if you like – on the same people that Mark had told us about. It really is a small world.

I must comment here about the sunsets. We had heard previously that they were magnificent, and this was no lie. You end up with so many good images of this daily event, it gets hard to discard any. And the sunrises are sometimes even better.
The following day we made our way back via Mzuzu via Nkhata Bay towards Chintcheche.

Outside Nkotha Bay – don’t bother to go there – we passed a huge commercial rubber plantation, where the whole harvesting process was demonstrated to us. A large expansion of this industry is presently taking place towards Nkotha Bay, with terraces being prepared to plant more trees.

Our first attempt at finding accommodation for the night was at Chintcheche Inn. Being government owned, it was pristine. Huge camping space, lovely trees, manicured lawns, magnificent white beach, even a swimming pool. Exactly as per the Bradt Guide description, who also mentioned that is was upmarket. What the guide did not convey, was that it was so perfect, it was completely STERILE.

So we moved further down to Jim’s place at Nkhwazi – and here is where the Bradt guide is essential in terms of the location of these places relative to each other. The sample below will explain what I mean.

If you do not like it at your present location, you simply consult your guide map, and move on to the next.

Down a bumpy road – past a soccer match in progress – deteriorating to a track, until you end up in this indigenous forest with rustic buildings, beautiful campsite with no-one else there but Jim and his personnel. Exactly what we wanted – a COSY place, oozing atmosphere – with the best sunrise to date.

This time we self-catered – although there was a restaurant. Accommodation was cheap at K7000 for an ensuite chalet and K650 p/p camping. The campsites did not have installed electricity, but no problem, an extension lead was rolled out from the main house, and we were set. There is some problem with the earthing of the house, as when you were barefoot, the trailer “bit” you if you touched it.

Seeing as there were three engineers/students present, this problem was remedied in no time – we had two multimeters between us, just in case – by instructing everyone that wanted to enter into a personal relationship with the trailer, to first put on shoes.

About alcoholic drinks in Malawi: Beer is cheap – R12.50 for a Carlsberg – but (South African) wine very expensive. A bottle of Chateau Libertas would cost around R100 in the Spar, and a 5l box of Overmeer in a Metro, around R250. So if you want to take drinks and space is lacking, rather take wine.

If you prefer the hard stuff, according to one of the families with us, the local Malawi Gin is up to standard. Tonic (Schweppes) you’ll find in every fridge.

Here I also had to fix the Freelander, as the Livingstonia road had elicited a front suspension knock over large left/right body roll excitations. I had a good idea of what it could be, as I had experienced this symptom previously on my Tiguan, following some suspension modification performed by one of the local tyre/exhaust/suspension shops.

When tightening the drop links – the rods coupling the anti-rollbar to the suspension struts or body – at the rollbar end, it is crucial that the head of the bolt is held securely when the nut is tightened. These shops do not have the (European/German 12-sided socket head spline) 3-square tool to hold the bolt head with, so therefore cannot torque the nut properly.

After a while – or immediately, in the case of the Tiguan – the bolt starts moving up and down taking up the free play in the hole in the flat-forged end of the anti-rollbar. This is the clunking noise you hear.

My suspicion turned out to be correct – also caused by a different “same type of shop as above” when they installed the spacers I made for the front of the car, using as their main instrument, a 4-pound hammer. After tightening it up, the knocking was gone, and we could proceed again with confidence.

The next morning, we headed for Cape Maclear.


We stopped at the Nkhotakhota Pottery Lodge where very artistic pottery, painted tile murals and quilting is available. You can actually stay there and take lessons in these arts as part of your holiday. We ordered lunch – which was OK – but if you are in a hurry, don’t do so. You may have the schedule, but they have the time.

So it was in a bit of a rush that we left, finding no fuel along the way, eventually turning off on the M10 gravel shortcut to the Monkey Bay road.

This road used to be tar, but all that is left of it now are small “tufts” of the stuff. Deep holes force slow going. Fortunately it is only about 15km long, saving 20km. The sun set behind us as we progressed along this road, trying to miss the literally hundreds of bicycles and pedestrians at either end of the road.

 We eventually arrived at Chembe Eagle’s Nest at Cape Maclear around 7 that evening. It turns out that if you make a (confirmed) booking for a campsite, they only consider the number of people and not the vehicles/trailers. We ended up with the tents and the Freelander on the beach, as all the space was taken up by our own vehicles plus that (and the rubber duck) of our neighbours, whom we have the suspicion of actually encroaching on our site.

But we were happy to be there, as for the first time we had actually almost run the petrol tanks dry. I was down to the last 5l, and Armas had to add 80l to the Fortuner tanks the next day.



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