Mountain safari in Nyika National Park

Curious zebras in Nyika National Park
Curious zebras in Nyika National Park

Nyika National Park in Northern Malawi

Grass plains

The landscape around us reminds me of Scotland and green and lush grasslands gently swell as far as the eye can see. Also, here and there some small woodlands with pine forest. I’m just waiting to see a flock of sheep and some peaceful cows grazing on the hillside. But here the zebra and elk herds dominate, no cows or sheep to see in the Malawian highlands. Perhaps a leopard is lurking in the pine forest. Suddenly a striped jackal is running across the bumpy gravel road and we are able to get a good impression of this beautiful animal before it disappears in the high grass.

Grass plains in Nyika National Park.
Grass plains in Nyika National Park.

We are heading for Chelinda Lodge, 2300 meters above sea level on the Nyika Plateau in Malawi. The area was established as a National Park in 1965 and is Malawi’s largest National Park after a further expansion in 1975. Nyika National Park is situated at the border to Zambia and on the way up we are actually inside Zambia for a few kilometers.

Getting there

From the capital Lilongwe, it is just over 500 km to drive to Nyika National Park. We therefor chose to split the drive over two days and stayed overnight at the Luwawa Forest Lodge just off Viphya Forest Reserve.

Nyika means “Where the water comes from” and it is a very suitable name for this high mountain plateau north of Malawi. We stayed 5 days in December 2018 and there was a lot of water and heavy rain. Nevertheless, we can safely recommend Nyika National Park, even in the rainy season.

Orchids and other flowers

The area is never as lush as in the rain season and perfect for studying plant life and all the orchids Nyika are known for. The humid climate means that more than 200 species of orchids bloom in Nyika during the period from December to April. At least four of these orchids are only found here in Nyika National Park.

Accommodation

Chelinda Lodge is the only accommodation in Nyika National Park. They offer slightly different options; high standard log cabins, easier self-catering cabins and they also have a camping site where you can set up your own tent. We got our own log cabin with a fireplace and one of the best beds I have ever slept in in Africa. There were soft pillows and a wonderful light down duvet. Both the fireplace and the duvet felt wonderful when the temperature sank at night and rain poured down outside.

Chelinda Lodge with its magnificent view, Nyika nasjonalpark
Chelinda Lodge with its magnificent view, Nyika nasjonalpark.

The lodge is situated with a fabulous view at approx. 2300 meters altitude. The lodge has a high standard and our stay here was just perfect. We were on safari mostly every morning and evening and we were also on walking safaris. The area is very suitable for both walking and cycling. Nyika has large herds of antelopes, especially eland, roan antelope and bush duiks. In the area around Chelinda Lodge you can see herds of zebras. There are also elephants in the area, near the entrance to the park there is now a separate fenced area for elephants that are taken from other national parks where the numbers is larger than desired.

Nyika National Park and elands.
Nyika National Park and elands.
Nyika National Park and the view to zambia.
Nyika National Park and the view to zambia.

Walking safari

The landscape is majestic and the experience of going out early in the morning with our talented guide Whyte is difficult to describe. We walk slowly and lift our legs high to make the least noise possible. The goal is a herd of zebras on the other side of the valley. We have to cross a stream to get there and we rejoice as young children over two termite armies in full combat on our path down to the stream. Suddenly, a wild boar with a little one are running at furious speed just a few meters in front of us. We had scared them up from the hiding place in the tall grass.

The birds’ singing follows us on the whole trip and soon we are near the zebras. We stop, the zebras also stop and we stare fascinated at each other. Carefully we try to get closer, but then they retreat. Just a few meters, they stop again and we stare at each other again. I lift the camera and for a moment I star into the eyes of a beautiful zebra stallion. Click and the moment are immortalized. The stallion shakes his mane, turns and runs a few meters away.

After some hours walking, we are back to the Lodge and can put boots to dry and have a delicious breakfast. The food at Chelinda Lodge is superb and the staff doesn’t know what to do for you, you feel well taken care of. After breakfast we go on safari again, but now in the safari car. It is raining, but we hope it will change during the day.

Bird life

This time we drive north and the landscape is changing. It is rockier and the valleys are deeper, the hillsides steeper and we can see the blue hilltops in the west on the border between Zambia and Malawi. On the way back we turn south and stop at a waterfall. A short walk where we can admire the flower splendor leads us close to the waterfall. It rumbles and whispers, but not enough to drown the birds’ playful chirping.

Today we have not only Whyte as a guide, but also his buddy David.  He is on Christmas visit to learn more about the landscape here in the north of Malawi. Nothing excites our two guides more than the bird life. For every little bird we see, they open the bird book and an avid discussion about what type it can begin. Most are well known, but now and then we see a small bird that is not so common. The bird life in Nyika National Park is varied with over 400 species observed. We were extra excited about the Bustards that we saw several times. It is a large bird found in several places in southern Africa, even though the stock is decreasing.

Less visited tourist destination

Nyika National Park is not a major tourist destination and we therefore had the whole park almost for ourselves. It was a lovely feeling, but the park deserves more attention as the unknown gem it is. Perhaps not the most exciting wildlife and not the kind of safari as one experience in the large parks further south. But the landscape is unique and beautiful and the contact you get with nature is greater here than most other places. For us Norwegians it can be compared to a visit in the Norwegian mountain world. If you have been on a safari and experienced “the 5 big ones” already, a completely different African experience as this is highly recommended.

Read more

You can read more about our many safaris in Africa at:

Ethiopian Air and KLM fly to Lilongwe, but you have to count on two stops along the way from Oslo and probably also from other European cities. We spent 3 weeks in Malawi and the trip was planned in collaboration with Central African Wilderness Safari. After we made a list of the places we wanted to visit in Malawi, they made a suggestion for an itinerary and booked all the accommodations. Car and driver throughout the period were also ordered from the same company. The scheme was perfect. We want to emphasize that they didn’t sponsor us in any way. We did not tell that we have travel blog and we paid the whole trip ourselves.

A movie from our entire stay in Malawi can be viewed on our YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms_G4vN21lk

 

Per and Whyte.
Per and Whyte.

Chelinda Lodge in Nyika National Park.

A sundowner in Nyika National Park.
A sundowner in Nyika National Park.
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