Category “Johnie does Malawi”

Johnie does Malawi – Part 1: Summary

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

By Johnie Jonker

Summary for dummies

We arrived back home safely after a 23 day round trip to Malawi with a convoy of 3 vehicles – Colt 2.8 double cab, Toyota Fortuner 4l V6 with Echo 4 offroad trailer and our HSE 3.2 i6 Freelander 2.

As a brief summary of what will be a more detailed trip report, the following:

The map is courtesy Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google, and we did a clockwise circuit with a few compulsory backtracks.

Malawi tour


The route comprised border crossings at Beitbridge, Machipanda, Dedza and Zobue, and covered a distance of 5625km for ourselves, although the other convoy members travelled further – Johannesburg and Ceres, respectively.

The Freelander returning a consumption of 8.12 km/l at a fuel cost of R8359.

Generally fuel is cheaper across the border than here, but the exchange rate you get when drawing money at an ATM robs you of the advantage. E.g., at a Standard Bank ATM in Lilongwe, you will get 21.5 Kwacha for a Rand, but an exchange rate of K24 is easily achievable – just not at the bank.

Also, we entered Malawi 5 days after the latest fuel shortage was announced. We knew this before we started off, but was not going to let a triviality such as this stand in our way. This however meant that on occasion we had to buy fuel on the black market as the pumps were empty – generally because the black market dealers had bought up all the fuel.

The prices were therefore inflated, but not horribly so, ranging from 20 – 30% above pump price. I did have an emergency supply of spare fuel – 20l under the boot floor – but never had to use this.

The furthest north we went was to the Nyika Plateau.

We stayed in the three adjoining chalets, and the visitor’s book in our neigbouring unit, had an entry by Kingsley Holgate, who had also recently visited there.

This does not necessarily mean that Mr Holgate can now swop his Discovery for a more nimble Freelander 2, but I would like to think so.

More detail will follow when the journey is broken up into a number of destinations: Lilongwe, Nyika, Livingstonia, Lake Malawi west coast, Cape Mclear/Domwe Island, Zomba, Zimbabwe Ruins and of course the journey and stop-overs.

It will include info on road conditions, how to get fuel when the pumps are dry, accommodation, food, and images of the places visited.

Hopefully this will be of use to other potential overlanders.

Part 2 to follow…

Johnie does Malawi – Part 2

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011
by Johnie Jonker

Day 1 and 2: Pretoria, Polokwane, Mussina

On 23 June 2011, our convoy left Pretoria heading north, with our main destination, Malawi.

Our travel plan was detailed down to the day, with known accommodation, distances between all towns, T4A (Tracks for Africa) travel time predictions and indications where to get fuel – theoretically anyway.

Through the course of the trip we learnt – from the fuel availability point-of-view – that: “A fuel pump does not a filling station make”. Or something to that effect.

We were aiming for Mussina, intending to cross the border at Beit Bridge the next morning. Well, we had almost made it to Pietersburg (Polokwane) when the Fortuner started surging, allowing us to limp into Polokwane at a max speed of around 70km/h.

Straight to the Toyota dealership latish afternoon – and I know that we should not advertise here – but this was the biggest/bestest/friendliest dealership I had ever visited. We just dropped in, and they started helping us straight away. We could sense their sympathy for our plight, and it made us feel better.

The diagnostic evaluation indicated one of the spark plugs as faulty. This was puzzling, as the car had been serviced around 500km earlier, and the plugs had all been replaced. Would you believe it, plug number 5 had burned yellow. Replacement unfortunately did not cure the problem.

A closer look at the diagnostic results revealed that the high pressure stage of the fuel pump was not functioning. This tied in with our experience, as at slow speeds when the fuel demand was low, the car ran perfectly.

OK, could they replace the pump? Yes they can, only they don’t have one. But they’ll get one from Gauteng overnight and we can get the car the next day around 10, seeing as the fuel tank must come off as this is where the pump resides.

In the meantime, the dealership went out of their way to arrange excellent accommodation for us for the night, as this was our only option. I actually think we got a dealer discount, as it was hard to believe the ensuite accommodation – including full breakfast – at Country Blue being available for only R200 p/p. I mean, at these rates, how do these people make a living?

The next morning the car was ready when we arrived, pulling like a train. We were presented with the replaced fuel pump and the problem pointed out to us.

Debris from the tank had become lodged inside the high pressure relief valve mechanism, jamming it open permanently. This meant that the fuel just kept recirculating back into the tank instead of being delivered to the engine.

At closer inspection, the debris looked very much like a burr from a twist drill, and the theory is that when the long-range tank was installed – specially for the trip – the week earlier, this burr dropped into the tank when the hole was drilled to link the 42l tank.

Well, Armas now had the evidence with which to confront the installer upon his return, and attempt to get his R3000 back for the pump replacement, and we were off.

But instead of having crossed into Mozambique by day two, we were now still in the good old RSA, staying over at Musina for the night.

The kind lady at 22 Limpopo Avenue (Debbie Mitchell, 083 391 1386) had simply transferred our missed booking to the next day as if nothing happened, and at R1200 for 12 people – OK, the kids did sleep on mattresses in the gym – this was excellent accommodation, with the three adult couples all having ensuite rooms.

One thing I must say about Mussina – it has the worst roads we encountered over the complete trip. Other than the potholes, this is the first time I had ever driven on a corrugated tar road.

So endeth day two with a lesson:

If you want to go anywhere far with your car, have that repair/service/modification/wheel alignment/balancing done WAY before you leave.

A month prior, should just about do it.

Part 3 to follow

Johnie does Malawi – Part 3

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

by Johnie Jonker

Day 3:  Mussina to Manica

Musina to Chimoio

[Source: Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

At 6am sharp , we were on the RSA side of Beit Bridge. 20 minutes later, we were at the other side, just in time to start queuing up behind the few 100 passengers of the 6 busses that beat us to it.

This looked like it could take a long time, so I went to ask the security guard at the entrance whether I could in the meantime do the car-related items – Carbon Tax, Insurance and Road Toll. He asked me how old I was. Upon my response, he declared me a “Madala”, and I went straight in.

This is the only border crossing we did that required you to pay for your gate pass. I must admit though, it did look nice, with a holographic emblem and all. Pity I had to hand it in same day.

Next came the queuing for the rest of the car items. One can of course take out your insurance prior to crossing the border – at Outdoor Warehouse and the AA – which I did, but for some reason I can’t remember now – left at home. So I had to buy it again.

The wasted money was not really an issue, but the queuing was. Not that the wait would have been shorter if I had remembered to bring the papers, as the same counter also administrated the rest of the documentation.

But we made a lot of new friends with the (only) 20 people ahead of us. This helped while away the time, which thankfully was reduced to only 2 hours and 30 minutes after a second counter opened. There are of course THREE counters, but apparently the officials were on a go-slow, in sympathy with a teacher’s strike which started that week. Mmmm, I wonder.

It actually turned out to be quite an education. Contrary to my prior belief that it was only white people who got annoyed when others pushed into a queue in front of them, some of the locals got VERY vocal with the potential pusher-inners and pointed out to them that the end of the line was actually “over theeeere”.

The offenders were mostly accompanied by “runners” who reasoned, argued and lost and then maar HAD to go “over theeeeere”. We were also approached by Knowledge, offering his expediting services for a fee, but declined the offer.

Cost breakdown – payable in Rand or USD – as follows: Gate Pass: R70, Road Access Fee: R70, Carbon Tax: R210 and Insurance: R210. If you tow a trailer, you are going to pay additional insurance.

So eventually, 3.5 hours after arriving at the border, we were through. We stopped at the Lion and Elephant Lodge on the Bubu river 60kms along the A4, for our own picnic breakfast in the parking lot and also a whistle stop, as we had heard that it was not safe to stop next to the road between Beit Bridge and Masvingo.

Not long afterwards we got our only speeding fine. Doing 68 km/h out in the sticks in a 60 zone, with nobody there, except the traffic officials. Our GPS indicated we were not going quite that fast, but we WERE speeding (65 km/h). Adriaan (Colt), who was driving in front at the time, was of course not pleased, but the officials were extremely happy to see us, as we were probably one of very few customers that day. The fine was reasonable, though.

Bear in mind that there is no leeway or discretion in terms of exceeding the speed limits here. If you are going 1 km/h too fast, you are going to pay.

Road toll stations are encountered every now and then – 3 for this leg of the journey – where you pay $1 and is given a receipt.

We fuelled up at Masvingo, where you could either pay in Rand or Dollar, and headed east towards Birchenough Bridge. Petrol cost $1.47/l.

The countryside is absolutely stunning, with granite outcrops scattered all along the route. The bridge itself is magnificent. I’ve of course seen and crossed bigger/smarter bridges, but I think it is the contrast of such a structure being in the middle of nowhere which makes it stand out like this.

Our convoy, entering the bridge.

After crossing the bridge, the road turns north, following the Mozambican border and police roadblocks are encountered with annoying regularity. Nine in all, to Mutare. Mostly only the lead car was stopped and asked for the destination. Rarely were licences/passports asked for. The lead driver then explained that the two cars behind him were also part of the group, and we were then all waved through. Apparently this is the Zimbabwe diamond mining area, hence the concentrated police presence in order to discourage/apprehend prospective smugglers.

Due to the delay during the morning border crossing, we only got to the Machipanda border post after 6pm, when it was already completely dark. This however was quick, and we drove as far as Manica along the E6, finding suitable accommodation at the Manica Lodge, by searching the T4A GPS database.

6 ensuite rondawels were available – VERY basic – but bug free, with mosquito nets and off-cold water. After more than 15 hours travelling, we were finished, and did not care one bit. The accompanying restaurant kitchen was already closed, but upon request, the owner provided us with a microwave oven in which we could heat our own frozen lasagne, brought along from home. They also provided a nice salad. In return, we supported the owner by buying some local beer.

So, day 3 was a premonition of what was to come, and that was that – with rare exception – you could go on a Southern African holiday without booking accommodation in advance, simply by winging it and ALWAYS finding a place to sleep when you got to your destination.

Also, some border crossings are indeed more equal than others.

Part 4 to follow…

Johnie does Malawi – Part 4

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

by Johnie Jonker

Day 4-5: Manica to Ulungue via Tete, Lilongwe


Next morning we fuelled up in Manica at 50 Metical/l. The Exchange rate was roughly M4 = R1. We could also draw local currency from an ATM.

Initially heading east on the E6 towards Beira, this road had at some stage been resurfaced by covering with hot bitumen and then rolling a layer of agregate along the top. Well, the glue had gone, and large parts of the top layer is missing, making for a very noisy drive, although the underlying road structure is still sound.

We turned North along the E1 towards Tete. Although there are only 3 “towns” indicated on the map between Manica and Tete – Catandica, Comacha and Changara – there are a large number of villages. This tends to affect your average speed significantly due to the frequent slowing down to 60km/h, so you would be hard-pressed to maintain 80km/h over the distance, taking moving time only.

The route is quite undulating, but a lot flatter than the Zimbabwe part, with only the odd rocky outcrop. One very scenic river crossing is done via a new bridge – but watch out for those speed bumps both sides of the bridge. They are really sharp. You’ll know after the first one. Overall this road is in excellent condition.

By the time you get here, you would have traversed the 3 vicious speed bumps. Hopefully your car is still OK. Watch out for the next three (or was it now 4?) on the bridge exit.


Crossing the Zambezi at Tete is quite something, with an even more spectacular bridge than the one at Birchenough, but the town itself is something to soon forget.

We fuelled up at the next town – Moatize – and lunched at a Portuguese restaurant adjacent to the filling station. Something went lost in the order translation, because what we got looked like no stir-fry any of us had ever seen before. But it was good.

What is very noticeable here, is the flood of 4-stroke 50cc Chinese motorcycles – LIFO – which is a Honda clone, with just the name plates changed. In fact, they must have poached the original designer from Honda, as the off-road orientated models look EXACTLY like the 185cc XLs at the time when I bought my XL500S in 1981. Same tank design, same colour, same indicators.

This section of road towards Massano – where we turned north towards Ulungue – is however very badly potholed in places. Usually you can avoid them, but sometimes, e.g. when overtaking, you are a sitting duck, and have to drive through them. A few times I thought that the alignment surely MUST be out, but no, everything remained intact.
It was the lead vehicle’s – the Freelander both ways – responsibility to warn the other two by radio about bad potholes and oncoming traffic for overtaking purposes – we had Kirisun and Zartek units, which were compatible on the 466MHz band, operating on Channel 8 – simply because no one else was there.

Turning north at Massano to Ulungue, the road was once again all new, with shoulders both sides. We arrived at Vila Ulungue just before sunset, where we stayed the night.

This is a Christian mission station run by South Africans, which has accommodation available for travellers. The intention is to put up decks with tents in the near future specifically for overlanders, but presently there is a lovely grassed area for camping and also the guest house. Contact Charl Cilliers at 082 894 7965 (local) or +258 82 293 0878 (Moz) for more details or a booking.

The guest house consists of a number of two-bed rooms along one side of a passage – bedding and towels provided – with the communal bathroom with donkey-driven hot water showers and kitchen across the way. You also have access to a lapa with a hearth. The campers have their own his/hers ablution with separate donkey, so if the hot water runs out one end, you have a second option.

Upon our departure the next day, we wanted to fill up with fuel – last done at Tete – but being in such close proximity – 40km – to the Malawi border, the pumps had been bought dry from across the border. So we bought diesel (Colt) and petrol off the side of the road.


Let me explain about so-called “black market” fuel. “BLACK MARKET” is an adjective describing fuel, similar to “GREEN” in describing the colour of a door. It has no cloak and dagger/illegal connotation in these parts of the world. It is not as if the police are going to come rushing out of the bushes, pour out all the fuel on the ground and confiscate the vehicles. After all, they also have to buy fuel somewhere when the pumps run dry.

So, in the same way that “fôkol” is not regarded as a swear-word in Lesotho, “black market” has no clandestine meaning. It is a merely a market where black people sell stuff, amongst others, fuel.

Sorry for that digression, let’s continue.

The diesel was reasonably priced at M40/l, but the petrol a bit more expensive at M65/l, compared to the pump price of M50/l. This may have something to do with the fact that there was plenty of diesel available, but we actually bought the last two containers of petrol. I say “containers” rather than “20l”, because you can be sure there is not 20l in there. Closer to 18l, but you of course pay “as if” the container is full.

Adriaan bought 40l of diesel. The first 20l was of a light Cream Soda colour, and the second 20l more like British Racing Green. We commented on this as even a colour-blind person would have been able to spot the difference. “Different fuel companies” was the response. More or less kerosene blended, we thought.

You do need to filter this fuel. A Pool-Gobbler stocking works well, obtainable in packets of four at any shop which sells pool-maintenance equipment at home. This is pulled over a funnel (if you don’t bring it along yourself, it won’t be there). A length of large diameter water feature hose which will fit over the spout of the funnel

Johnie does Malawi – Part 5

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

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, …

Johnie does Malawi – Part 6

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

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

Johnie does Malawi – Part 7

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

By Johnie Jonker

Day 13: Cape Maclear, aka Ask Harry

The next morning we could see for the first time where we were – right up against the northern shore of Cape Maclear, with the bay stretching out in front of us, with Thumbi Island on the right.

Finally, this is what we had actually come to do in Malawi – sit beside the lake and watch the days go by.

Our first mission was to find out where one could buy fresh fish from the lake, so the adult men – one still in his pajamas – sauntered across the beach to the reed fence separating the campsite from the village. There we met Harry, who was absolutely instrumental to the enjoyment of our brief – 1 day – stay on the mainland.

Harry had taken part in the Edinburgh Festival and toured the South African circuit as a stand-up comedian, before he decided that here is the best place. After a few days back at work, I’m thinking he may have a valid point.

So he now acts as guide to tourists, being able to organize and advise on just about anything local.

The thing about Cape Maclear was that we had read a report (WEG magazine, Feb 2011 Issue) stating that there was between 52% and 74% probability that you would contract Bilharzia if you swam there. All the tell-tale signs were there – lots of people from the village washing their clothing and themselves in the water. We could see that not all the visitors had read this report as they were splashing around in the shallows in a rather carefree manner.

We were still prepared to shower and brush our teeth with this water, but definitely no swimming…. Our concern was probably fuelled by the fact that three of the adults present were medical doctors, with a fourth one having a nursing background.

One should not get careless or cocky about this, as aptly illustrated by Wim Bosman in his 1981 Louis die Laeveldleeu, below:

So call us chicken if you like, but this swimming thing was going to have to wait until we got to the island, which was far enough away from the mainland to be free of this gogga.

But we were in Cape Maclear NOW, so what could we do to while away the time? Well for one we needed fuel. Harry knew where to get this and took us to the “depot”, but a fresh supply was only due later that afternoon.

As we had been parked in by the campers behind us, we got permission from Listen to drive across the beach from the campsite to the boat launch area. This was quite heavy going, with the tyres pumped to 2.5 bar due to the increased load the cars were carrying. This procedure turned out to be the norm for all our exits/entries during our stay here.

Our campsite – on the beach.

So what to do if you don’t want to swim here? Well, Harry could organize a motorboat to take us out to Thumbi Island – 1km across the bay – which was also Bilharzia-free.

Why Thumbi Island is Bilharzia free. I do not know what the blacked out part in the local language means, but I assume it to be a reasonable facscimile of the illustration.

This would cost us – after some discussions by our chief negotiator – $100, of which half was payable in advance so Harry could get fuel for the outboard motor. Typical South African, we were wondering whether we would ever see Harry again after handing over the money, but at the agreed time, the motor boat beached right at our camp site, and we hopped on board.

Our transport. Yes, I know. You’ll never be able to ski behind it.

After first traversing along the beach to a point directly across the closest point of the island, we cut across. Harry is well known by the townsfolk, as all along the way waves were exchanged and greetings shouted across the water as we progressed up the shoreline.

Arriving at the island with all our snorkelling gear, a cooler box and some snacks, we were left there by the boat with an agreed time in which to return. Harry stayed behind with us.

Harry supervising.

He came prepared with some bread, which he threw into the water in small pieces. As if by magic it was engulfed by schools of colourful fish – blue, grey, yellow – an absolute delight to watch through our masks.

The boat returned on schedule, and the tour continued around the tip of the island. Here we discovered why the alternate name for this piece of land was Fish Eagle Island. Once again, Harry delivered, with a bag of fish which he had also brought along.

At any one time we could see 4 Fish Eagles, swooping down one by one and retrieving the fish Harry threw into the water, giving their familiar call as they flew off with it, almost as if to say: “Look at me now!”

It may appear as if this “orchestrated” fish-feeding activity would make it easy to photograph these birds in action, but of the more than 20 retrievals and probably 4 cameras on board, very few of us were actually able to capture the bird at the right moment.

Close enough.

From there we proceeded to Otter Point, an island just off the southern tip of Cape Maclear beach, with a running commentary by our guide. Then back up to Chembe Eagle’s Nest with some more shouting and waving ship-to-shore by Harry.

This was probably the best spent money during the whole trip, if you divide the $100 by the 11 people that went along – just over R60 p/p for a solid 4 hours of entertainment, along with an expert host.

By this time the fuel had arrived – as promised – and we went off to fill the vehicle tanks. K400/l compared to a pump price of K290.

So we would whole-heartedly recommend – nay, INSIST – that you contact Harry should you ever visit these parts, at: 0992230285.

Part 8 to follow…

Johnie does Malawi – Part 8

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

By Johnie Jonker

Day 14 – 16: Domwe Island

Prior to setting off on our Fish Eagle Island trip the previous day, we also visited the premises of Kayak Africa to confirm that our prepaid departure for Domwe was still as arranged. We decided to visit that island based on idyllic pictures and articles in SA outdoor magazines, and also because the water was safe. It gets tested regularly, and it was reported to us that earlier in the same month the results were still negative for Bilharzia.

Kayak Africa runs the Mumbo and Domwe island accommodation. The main difference between the two islands other than the size and distance from the mainland, is that Mumbo – the smaller, further one – is fully catered with 3 meals, where Domwe is accommodation only.

There is therefore a distinct price difference between the two, e.g. as special offer at Mumbo: R1200 per adult per night, R600 per child per night (no matter the age of the child). This is fully inclusive (all meals) with kayaks & snorkelling gear.

At Domwe, you can camp on a wooden deck for R150 p/p,

or stay in a safari tent for R400 p/p. But then you have to rent a kayak, rent/take your own tent, bedding, mattress, snorkel gear etc, and provide your own food. For our group of 12 people who wanted to rough it a bit and had all the camping and diving gear, this was preferable.

All bookings for island accommodation are done via KA’s Cape Town office, with a very helpful Bee keeping you up to date with all the options available – .

Initially we would have had to split our group into children/adults on two consecutive nights, as not all of us could be accommodated at the same time, due to other people also being on the island. But after a discussion with Clive, a concession was made that all of us could go simultaneously. So now we all had two nights on the island.

So the next morning at 10, we parked our vehicles in the safe parking area of Kayak Africa and started transferring our luggage to the jetty. The mind boggled to see how much stuff was going, but fortunately there was space for it all on the boat.

We handed in our laundry to be done in our absence, and also arranged for our by now very dirty cars to be washed.

Many willing hands transferred our stuff to the boat – which was named FEERSUM ENDJINN – while we were living it up in the lounge on the jetty, being served free tea.

Departure Lounge

After a 5km boat ride we arrived at our destination – the ONLY piece of sand along the entire Domwe island coastline.


6 Double kayaks had been arranged, transported to the island on the roof of the ferry, and Armas and myself rowed around the island later that afternoon. This is a distance of just over 11kms, and was completed in just under 2 hours – although I must add, it was a perfect day with no wind.

An ice box was provided on the dining deck stocked with cooldrink – coke, fanta, tonic – and beer, but we could take our own and substitute our warm ones for cold ones. When our own ran out, each family opened a tab, which was settled back on the mainland.

On the second day we already started suffering from advanced withdrawal symptoms at the thought of having to leave the next day, so we requested per radio to the mainland whether we could stay a 3rd night, by shortening one of our onward destinations by a day. Permission was granted.

The nice thing about Kayak Africa – and as far as our trip was concerned, unique throughout the whole of Malawi – is that you could pay by credit card. So upon our return to the mainland, all the extras were added up and we simply settled the difference.

Some of the boys decided they were going to fish, even though we could buy off the local fishermen’s boats that rowed past the island – Capenta, Tigerfish and Chambo. After 3 ½ hours on the water they returned with one smallish catfish. This was duly prepared by the local personnel of three, and everyone had a small piece to taste. Not unlike fish fingers.

Returning  just after sunset

We had access to the gas-driven kitchen, so could make our own food, but decided to rather use the personnel to do this. Each family decided that this was worth a gratuity of R100/family/day.

A shower was provided on request, which consisted of a bucket with shower rose and tap attached at the bottom, hoisted into a tree by our attendant after filling it up with water boiled in the kitchen and suitably quenched with lake-water-on-tap. This all inside a reed labyrinth, so you could admire the hill while showering.

The rest of the time we lazed about, playing the Malawian game of BAO, draughts – provided – and a number of card games – always from our viewpoint of the dining deck, with a view over the lake.

Uhm… have I mentioned the Malawian sunsets?

We returned the morning of the 4th day

to clean laundry and cars, crammed the lot in and were off, popping into Monkey Bay just for a look-see. It is quite a cosy harbour, but other than that, nothing special.

Due to being pressed for time, we did not go down to Mufasa Backpackers’ private beach, but hopefully some time in the future we will experience that privilege.

From here we headed for Zomba, where we were to overnight that evening, hopefully on top of the plateau.

In summary, other than the cost of the drinks we took along and the extras like the voluntary gratuity for cooking, laundry and car wash, the total bill was R11000 for 3 nights. For 12 adults – even though they are referred to as children in this text, they are all students – this comes to just over R300 p/p per day. This includes the boat transfer, kayak rental and safe parking of our vehicles while on the island.

Considering the experience, you can’t steal it for …

Johnie does Malawi – Part 9

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

By Johnie Jonker

Day 17-18: Zomba – Tete


Zomba tot Tete

[Source: Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

The first leg of the route to Liwonde is very boring. Although it follows the lake shore closely, it is too low to be able to see it. As soon as the Shire river is crossed, things change for the better.

The landscape starts undulating and the road winds along various hills. Very scenic.

Upon our arrival at Zomba we went straight up to the plateau. This is a great road – reminiscent of Chapman’s Peak with sweeping bends and provides great views of the valley below, until entering the cloud base. The cloud base would normally not be this low, but it had started raining that morning, and was sporadically to continue so for the next 4 days, until we crossed back into South Africa.

We intended staying at the Trout Farm Chalets, but these were not available. The Sunbird Hotel franchise has accommodation all over Malawi – also here at the Ku Chawe Inn – but these are decidedly upmarket establishments, which is why we always avoided staying here.

So down the pass we went again, in the meantime telephonically getting hold of Annie of Annie’s Lodge fame in Zomba. She could not accommodate us all in town, and agreed to meet us a few kms out of town at an establishment called Black Diamond.

This turned out to be a disco-type clubbing establishment with loud music playing – but likeable Reggae. Mmmmm.

A short while later, the Black Diamond herself arrived in a top-of-the-line Range Rover. One notices these things as it contrasts wildly with any other transport we have seen to date, including that of tourists from better-off places.

Annie showed us the available accommodation – 3 chalets off to one side of the dancing hall and a house separated only by a farm road from the hall. As we could securely park our cars and all fit into the house – which was still in the process of being renovated – we took this option.

After our resident negotiator argued her price down to what she had originally quoted over the phone – it had crept up a bracket or two since then – we started unpacking and moving in.

The accommodation was OK, The fridge was on and the stove worked – the plates could not be switched off other than at the mains switch on the wall, though. The rooms were strangely – almost randomly – scattered throughout the house. Three of them were ensuite, although not everyone had hot water, or for that matter even a hot tap – ours was broken off the sink.

So we could cook, get cleaned up and sleep, which was all we needed. But we could not shake off this nagging feeling that somehow this house is one of those that the Animals sang about in a song with words that start like this: “There is – a house – in New Orleans, they call….” etc. Especially after the children found some used evidence to this effect in one of the rooms.

So the next day we were off early via Blantyre – which has a well-stocked Shoprite-anchored mall. Then onwards towards the border post at Zobue.

Other than getting flustered by the annoying swamping of the money changers offering Meticals for Kwachas, this was the only place where we were subjected to an incident which left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths. Up to that point, we had not come across any criminal element, or even felt threatened, anywhere during our travels – we left those people behind when we crossed the border.

Returning to our cars on the Malawi side after going through immigration, a local was leaning against the front of the Freelander with his back towards us. When he saw us coming round the back of the car, he sidled around the front and came up to me suggesting that I reward him for his efforts of looking after my car so nicely. I declined his offer.

This guy could however not take no for an answer, and kept following us around even after we were already in the car – walking next to us as we rolled towards the exit boom.

By this time his insistence that he deserved a fee, had escalated to arrogance. But WHY not? I finally explained to him that as I had not asked him to look after my car – he was not even there when we parked – I was not going to reward him.

We thought nothing of this until later that afternoon when we stopped at Tete, where we were staying the night.

While we were unpacking, someone noticed that except for one, all the stick-on reflectors – that I put on especially for Mozambique – were missing from the car. They were still there very recently – a photo of the car the previous night shows them all to be present.

On closer inspection of Adriaan’s car – who was parked next to me at the border post – his was also all missing, with just remnants of the double-sided tape remaining. Armas had also lost one off his trailer.

From this we learnt that it is better to rather use the reflective white and red stickers, which can be bought widely at home. This is not so desirable an item as those rectangular reflectors. What does he want to do with it? Stick it on his bike, or maybe put dots on them so he has a white and red set of dominoes?

Fortunately, we could restore the Freelander to “Moz legal” as a number of spare reflectors had been brought along just in case one fell off.

But I hope someone catches that Malawian “car guard” in the act real soon, and twists his ear a bit. If this privilege befalls YOU, please say “Hi” from us.

At Tete we also came super close to a second traffic fine – but not for speeding. The bridge off-ramp on the northern side is constructed as an under-pass. So you turn left at the end of the bridge and then drive underneath it to get onto the road leading along the …