GENERAL

Nyika Plateau National Park, Malawi

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Nyika Plateau is a beautiful, montane, highland area, lying on the Malawian border, at the eastern-most tip of Zambia. The park is actually an extension of the National Park on the Malawian side, which incorporates the rest of the Plateau.

Sitting 2000 meters above sea level, the views from the Plateau are spectacular with dramatic cloud formations on the horizon. This is surely one of the most beautiful places in Africa. Nyika, the largest national park in Malawi, is one of the most unusual in Africa, with a plateau cut by numerous rivers that reach Lake Malawi by way of waterfalls off the eastern edge of the mountains.

In terms of landscape, Nyika is often compared with Scotland: gently rolling hills covered with grasses—green in the rainy season, brown in the dry season—as far as the eye can see.

In Scotland, however, you won’t see herds of zebras or eland grazing on the heather. In Nyika, if you’re lucky, you might even glimpse a leopard in the early morning or at dusk. Keep your eyes open for warthogs as well; often all you see is the erect tail sticking out of the grasses as it trots away.

 

Nyika is Malawi’s largest park with an area of no less than 1250 sq miles (3200 sq km). It extends across the great plateau which is essentially a granitic dome and its environment is like none other in the whole of Africa. The name, Nyika, means “where the water comes from” and it is, indeed, one of Malawi’s most important catchment areas. The rolling scenery is at its best in the rainy season when over 200 types of orchid are in flower. The grasslands of Nyika are rich in wildflowers in other seasons.

Nyika is wonderful for trekking and mountain biking and, as well as more conventional 4×4 excursions. The montane vegetation attracts large numbers of antelope from the diminutive duiker to eland and roan. Zebras are common. The park has one of the highest densities of leopard in Central Africa and there are a number of species of smaller mammals such as warthog and bushpig. Elephants and buffalo usually keep to the lower ground on the northern edge of the park but lions and elephants have recently been seen on the high plateau.

The eastern border of the plateau forms the wall of the Great Rift Valley. The great domes of hills have gentle slopes, making Nyika perfect for both trekking and mountain biking as well as Jeep exploration. Antelope and zebra abound, and the park has one of the highest densities of leopard in Central Africa.

For the birdwatcher, the park has a lot to offer: over 400 species have been recorded. The rare Denham’s bustard and the wattled crane are among those to be seen, as is the red-winged francolin – endemic to Nyika.

There is such a lot to see in the vast park: waterfalls, a neolithic rock shelter, trout pools and even a ‘magic lake’ are just some of the attractions. The higher elevations are open, undulating grasslands with incised valleys, creating panoramic views, slopes with masses of wild flowers, rolling green hills, rocky outcrops, or koppies, and small, tropical forests nestled in the valleys. Due to the elevation of Nyika Plateau, it is pleasantly warm during the day as opposed to the intense heat of the valley below.

The landscape is just lovely, and chances are you’ll have it to yourself. You can hire a guide and take a walking safari, or you can drive around the park in your own vehicle, stopping to enjoy the silence wherever you’d like. There won’t be any traffic, so just stop in the road.

Make sure to take at least a short walk outside at night. You’ll be amazed at how bright the night sky can be. If the moon is small, the Milky Way is breathtaking. If the moon is full, you’ll be able to read outside!