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North Malawi has so much to offer the visitor. Less well known than the rest of the country and with a lower population density, it is a region for those who wish to experience Africa at its most unspoilt. Its quite astonishing beauty is the lasting memory of all who explore this unique area of central Africa.
The north is characterised by its great highlands. Forming a forested spine up from Central Malawi, the Viphya Highlands is an undulating plateau rising to 6000ft (1800m) although some peaks stretch a further 1000ft (300m) higher. On the borders with Zambia and with Tanzania, in the north, other significant ranges include the Malingu Mountains and the Misuku Hills rising to over 7000ft (2100m) and 6500ft (2000m) respectively. But the most magnificent of all is the Nyika Plateau, towering to no less than 8000ft (2500m). The rolling landscapes of the centre of the plateau are described as whalebacks but the edges of this granite core are scarp-like especially where, in the north-east, it forms the edge of the Great Rift Valley.
Not only is Nyika a unique landscape, but it is Malawi’s largest national park, populated by numerous species, including large herds of roan and eland antelope. North Malawi’s other protected area is the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, a lower lying area offering a more traditional bush-game experience.
The highlands of the north also influence the nature of the lakeshore, which in this region can be quite dramatic – fishing villages sitting at the base of cliff-like escarpments accessible primarily by boat. Chintheche has perhaps some of the most beautiful of Lake Malawi’s beaches. Nkhata Bay is a bustling lake port, important to the fishing industry. Set back from the Northerm Lakeshore at Chitimba is Livingstonia, a mission settlement high on a plateau overlooking the lake, that has a fascinating history dating back to 1894. The most northerly lakeshore town of note is Karonga, an important archaeological centre and now home to a museum that tells the history of this area back to pre-historic times. The skeletal remains of the Malawisaurus dinosaur have been unearthed nearby, as have been the oldest human remains in the country. Across the lake, into Mozambiquan waters, is Likoma Island. Not only does it have some beautiful beaches, also a missionary-built cathedral the size of Winchester’s. A nearby stretch of the Mozambique shoreline,Manda Wilderness, is a 120,000 hectare community reserve of unspoilt wilderness and white sand beaches.
Mzuzu, the regional capital, is the only town of any size in North Malawi. Though still dwarfed by those to the south, it is growing rapidly now.