9 November 2004
Guess where this is: "a place dominated by immense scarlet aloes which raised the sun like some Burgundian wine towards a madonna blue sky"? Try "Superb, African Cotswold country" where zebras gallop "like a charge of Napoleon's cavalry at Waterloo" and antelopes rise from heraldic fields of wild Irises and delphiniums as if they were figures in "some fine ancient tapestry, suddenly come alive".
Rhetorical overdrive may have slipped a few gears since Laurens van der Post published his international bestseller, Venture to the Interior in 1952. But, lost for words, other travellers to the Nyika Plateau in northern Malawi have taken similar refuge in European imagery. Opening the visitors' book on my husband's and my first visit to the plateau's Chilinda Camp in 1982, I found it crammed with ecstatic snatches of poetry including, bizarrely, "Nobly, nobly Cape St Vincent..."
The source of all this hyperbole is the highest and biggest plateau in central Africa: up to 1,400 square miles of billowing, lioncoloured, grassland, shouldering up to 8,000 ft between Lake Malawi and Zambia's Luangwa Valley; its valleys patched with evergreen montane forest and, lower, brachystegia woodland. The Nyika Plateau has to be one of the most sumptuously beautiful places on earth.
South of the lake, Mvuu Wilderness Lodge and Camp in Liwonde National Park proves that Malawi can lay on for international visitors safari experience of a recognisably upmarket sort. But conventional the Nyika ain`t and while animals dominate the must-see lists of most tourists to Central Africa, its visitor levels have remained low.
This could all change. In September, with the signing of an agreement between Malawi and Zambia, the Nyika and adjoining Vwaza Marsh entered a new era as one of the trans-frontler conservation areas (TFCA) targeted by the Peace Parks Foundation. Existing TFCAs in southern Africa have been lavishly funded with the aim of promoting peace, conservation and tourism through national boundary-spanning game reserves.
In fact, says David Foot of the Nyika Safari Company, the plateau's Importance is underpinned by one of the highest biodlversltles anywhere in Africa. Having spent a New Year here, I can vouch for the fields of wild iris, the delphiniums and the flickering, flame-coloured points of gladioli which stretch like - yes, dash it likea fine ancient tapestry across the hills during the November-January rainy season. Thirty endemic plants flourish among 2,500 recorded species, 200 of them orchids. Even in bleak July, with ice on the morning puddles, we found aloes and helichrysums (everlastings) painting streaks of subtle colour among the rocks.
Whoops of joy from Jalawe peak heralded David`s first sighting in 10 years of a rare black eagle. Our drive had produced several Malawi bird specials; red-winged francolln scuttling along the track, mountain marsh widows trailing black streamers in the sunshine and a mountain cisticola squeaking like a wheelbarrow.
November, the best birding month, offers ornithologists the chance of twitching no fewer than 420 different species. Among the zebras, bushbuck and reedbuck, we saw antelopes uncommon in other African parks, Including roan and eland, their powerful outlines like cave drawings come to life.
While the old self-catering chalets and camp at Chilinda remain, recognition that tourism could do more to help conserve this remote, vulnerable and .uniquely special place has come in the shape of a new lodge, part of an $8m (£4.3m) project financed by the German Development Bank. The feel is Tyrolean hunting chalet, rough-hewn and pinescented. Can life in a cold climate hold any greater luxury than going to sleep by the light of an open fire and waking to hear it being discreetly conjured back Into action? It can: being airtaxied to the Nyika or Vwaza Marsh In the lodge`s own flve-seater Cessna.
Less comfortable for tourists even in remote northern Malawi, is evidence of the conflict between human and animal Interests. On the Nyika, van der Post`s heraldic beasts are under increasing pressure from the rap
idly expanding, often dispossessed human populace on its boundaries - as confiscated bows and homemade rifles displayed at Chilinda demonstrate. In Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, three hours` drive southwest, the sight of villagers setting fish traps and a young kudu wandering past with the remains of a snare around her neck pointed the same way.
Elephants are the big deal at Vwaza's Kazuni Safari Camp: elephant company for breakfast lunch and dinner; elephants Inches from one`s brick and reed hut; elephants practically sharing the shaving mirror. Vasco Munthali, the guide in charge at Kazuni, told us that recently two elderly German ladies, unnerved by the appearance of a large tusker between themselves and dinner, had dived Into the nearest chalet, to be confronted by the equally daunting spectacle of the deputy president in his bath towel.
Sitting in the camp`s lakeside dining area, we watched mesmerised as two separate herds passed only feet away, the infants hedged within a forest of aunt-ish legs. Each cavalcade paused while the young took time out, rolling in the dust and cuffing each other like puppies. At night, silent shapes loomed round the camp fire, briefly blotting out the stars.
On a dawn walk, Vasco, a bird man, pieced together the orchestral backing that summoned up the morning: the pouring-water song of a Senegal coucal, the murmur of turtle doves, the flatbattery call of an orangebreasted bush shrike. In the foreground, bigger players held the stage: impala standing watchfully in the dappled shade; baboons crossing a stream; a pod of hippos sleeping off Its night of ploddings and pshawlngs around the camp.
Heading the Nyika Vwasa Trust`s conservation drive, David Foot cannot afford the luxury of van der Pos's conclusion that "without human interference" this place had somehow "struck its ownbalance with necessity and nature" but is nevertheless keeping his fingers crossed: "I feel we are turning the corner."
Financial TimesJuliet Clough
2 November 2017Update: Translocated Nyika elephants settle in
In August 2017, 34 elephants were translocated from Liwonde National Park to Nyika National Park, Malawi. The elephants are all healthy and settling in to their new habitat on the Nyika Plateau. Thisread more
8 August 2017New life for Elephants in Nyika National Park
Malawi’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining through the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, supported by South African-based NGO, Peace Parks Foundation, this month translocatedread more
5 July 2017Park receives first vehicle in almost 20 years!
Late in June, Peace Parks Foundation had the pleasure of delivering a Toyota Land Cruiser to Zambia's Department of National Parks and Wildlife for use in Zambia's Lukusuzi National Park, part of theread more
7 July 2015Treaty establishing the Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) signed
Marking another major step in southern Africa’s transfrontier conservation development, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Malawi, Prof Arthur Peter Mutharika, and His Excellency the Prread more
12 November 2014President Peter Mutharika of Malawi becomes an honorary patron
President Peter Mutharika of Malawi has honoured Peace Parks Foundation by agreeing to become an honorary patron of the foundation. Peace Parks Foundation has been working closely with the Malawi Depread more
11 November 2014Cross-border collaboration in the Malawi-Zambia TFCA
A Malawi-Zambia TFCA conservation week event, entitled 'Collaborating towards conservation and sustainable livelihoods', was held in Malawi from 28 October to 1 November 2014.read more
4 August 2014Further funding for the Malawi-Zambia TFCAread more
17 May 2012Norway Grant Agreement for Nyika TFCA signed
Following on an earlier report regarding the funding secured for the Nyika TFCA involving Malawi and Zambia, the Norway Grant Agreement was signed on 16 May 2012.read more
26 April 2012Sustainable management of the Nyika TFCA
Earlier this year the World Bank announced that all conditions had been met for it to release a Global Environmental Facility Trust Fund Grant to the value of $4.82 million to develop the Nyika TFCAread more
3 December 2008Working with WCS and COMACO
The Kasungu-Lukusuzi TFCA, which is part of the Malawi/Zambia TFCA comprises two proclaimed national parks: the Lukusuzi National Park in Zambia and the Kasungu National Park in Malawi. Separating theread more