Malawi’s varied landscapes provide the perfect backdrop and environment for an ever-increasing range of outdoor activities.
Rock climbing is largely restricted to the Mulanje Massif where a number of little-used routes up the great granite faces offer experienced climbers a variety of challenges. There are also opportunities for climbing on the Viphya Highlands and escarpments of the Northern Lakeshore. And where there is climbing, there is also abseiling.
Malawi has such beautiful and varied scenery throughout, that walking and trekking is popular at pretty much any location, even along the laekshore. Walks through all of the national parks and wildlife reserves are popular for game viewing but trekking is generally through the cooler, shady forests on the hills and plateaux.
Mulanje Massif offers the greatest choice and has a network of huts for intrepid explorers to stay in. Marked paths offer a variety of routes and guides and/or porters can be hired cheaply.
Nyika Plateau is less rugged but walking is undoubtedly one of the best ways to explore this unique and wildlife-rich wilderness. There are marked trails for those prepared to hike and camp for a few days. They cover the varied peaks and valleys whilst offering chances to encounter the animals in the park close at hand. Guides are available and to be advised.
Also in the north are the Viphya Highlands which are covered in forests and provide fascinating trails, including those off the highlands and down the Rift Valley escarpment to the shores of Lake Malawi.
Another which offers an exploration of the Rift Valey escarpment is Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. This is an area of rugged wilderness where rivers crash through thick forest. It is just beginning to become accessible to visitors.
The serene forests, hills and streams of Zomba Plateau, and the views from it, offer another attraction for walkers.
Finally, a number of forestry reserves around the country provide pleasant walks through shady environments. Ntchisi Forest is easily accessed from Lilongwe and a wonderful tranquil retreat. Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is even closer to Lilongwe (in the opposite direction). As well as the wonderful scenery, its hills and forests are home to fantastic birdlife. The hills surrounding Blantyre are also popular for walks.
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There are a few places around Malawi where horse riding can be enjoyed – scenic locations that can be leisurely explored on horseback. Beginners are welcome and rides will be adapted to suit ability. There is a stables between Chintheche and Dwangwa offering rides into the bush and along the beach. All the lodges there offer rides to their guests. On Zomba Plateau there is a stables which offers rides through the forest at all levels of experience. Horses have also recently been brought in to the Satemwa Tea Estates at Thyolo, another beautifully scenic location. And horseback safaris on Nyika Plateau should be returning in 2010.
The change in scene over relatively short distances, and the varied terrain, make Malawi a good country for cycling. The generally good tar of the main roads allow for cycling tours over a few days, for example, along the lakeshore.
More challenging mountain biking is provided in the forests and on the plateaux. Many of the newly privatised forest lodges offer mountain bikes for hire and there is an increasing number of trails to explore.
As well as Lake Malawi, rivers and smaller lakes and reservoirs provide varied fishing opportunities. Light tackle will cover most situations and some equipment may be available for hire at the resorts, though it’s always best to bring your own.
The majority of the 400+ species in Lake Malawi are small tropical aquarium fish, mbuna. However, sungwa (perch), ngumbo (lake yellow-fish), mpasa (lake salmon), sanjika (smaller relative of lake salmon), ncheni (lake tiger), kampango (catfish) and vundu (catfish) offer interesting possibilities. Fishing is year round but best between September and April.
The best river fishing is usually off banks of reeds and heavy weed beds. The Bua river, running through the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, is excellent for salmon with the Luweya, Lufira and North Rukuru not far behind. In the Lower Shire river, below the Kapichira Falls on the southern boundary of the Majete Wildlife Reserve, tiger fish are abundant, joined further down by vundu and barbel as the river broadens. Heavier tackle and a boat are needed here. Dry season fishing between May and November is possible in the Lower Shire river and requires no licence.
The streams and dams of Zomba Plateau, Mount Mulanje and Nyika Plateau are well stocked with rainbow trout. Only fly fishing is permitted, with flies tied on single hooks. The season is September to April.
With rugged terrain and some ‘challenging’ tracks once off the main highways, quad bikes and larger off-road vehicles offer a motorised way or reaching places otherwise only accessible on foot. Quad bikes are few and far between – currently only on Likoma Island and at the Tyholo Tea Estaes. 4x4 trips are available across some of the forested highland areas.