Expert Reviews – Nyika NP
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
Where the leopard is king
Nyika is not a conventional game reserve: the scenery is more reminiscent of the English countryside than the African bush. Located on a high-altitude plateau, animals are easy to spot from a distance in the open grassland. You won’t easily see many flagship species, but I was lucky to see elephants, which sometimes come up from the lower areas where they are more common. Night drives are highly recommended; we spotted a leopard on one of these extremely cold nights out. Nyika has the highest density of leopards in Malawi and lucky guests might see them during the day around the lodge warming up in the early-morning sun after a cold night on the prowl.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
A hiker’s paradise
Malawi’s largest and most scenic national park protects the lofty Nyika Plateau, which averages over 2000m in altitude and supports a mixed cover of grassland, moorland and forest. In conventional game-viewing terms, it is something of a mixed bag. Big Five enthusiasts are likely to see elephant and possibly leopard (it has one of the densest populations of the latter anywhere in Africa), while other regularly seen large mammals include roan antelope, reedbuck, bushbuck, eland and the localised Crawshay’s zebra. Spotted hyena and smaller nocturnal predators are often seen on night drives. Nyika is very much a park for certain special interest groups. Of particular interest to botanists are roughly 200 orchid species, which generally flower in January and February. For birders, the grassland around the only camp is a good place to see the wattled crane, mountain marsh widow and scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird. The Chowo Forest is also home to many localised species, notably the bar-tailed trogon, Sharpe’s akalat, olive-flanked robin and white-breasted alethe. Above all, this is Malawi’s finest walking and hiking destination, thanks to the spectacular scenery, excellent network of footpaths, and the high chance of spotting wildlife on foot. Note that you need to fly in or drive along a very rough road, so allow for a stay of three nights or longer to justify the effort of getting there.
James is a travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guides, including senior author of the guide to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Leopards and rolling grasslands
With its highlands scenery at 2000m-plus above sea level, the Nyika Plateau is a hit with landscape photographers and travellers who want to escape from the lakeside crowds – and are prepared to brave the corrugated road to the lodges and campsite at Chelinda. Visiting this distinctive part of Malawi is all about enjoying sunsets in the simmering grasslands, but wildlife drives and walks are offered and, if you join a night drive, you may spot one of Nyika’s 100 leopards. The big cats prey on the large herds of roan, eland and zebra scattered across the rolling hills, which you can view by mountain bike or on the three-day hike to the historic mission station at Livingstonia. With over 400 bird species, birding is excellent (especially in October and November), while fishers can catch rainbow trout in Chelinda’s three dams.
Harriet is a zoologist with more than 20 years’ experience. She has the privilege of working with the world’s top wildlife photographers and photo-guides.
Like Scotland -with zebras!
The Nyika Plateau is the centrepiece of the park, with its rolling montane grasslands – looking like Scotland! The conifer plantations around the Chelinda area reinforce this impression.
Visitors are pretty much guaranteed to see roan, Burchell’s zebra, eland, reedbuck and bushbuck. There is supposedly a high density of leopards but the closest we got was a steaming pile of scat! However, on a night drive we saw two serval, which are apparently quite commonly seen. We visited in winter when it was very chilly indeed. Far more sensible is to visit in summer, when the flowers are out. Nyika is a botanical treasure trove with more than 200 orchid species, 11 of which are endemic to Nyika. Summer is also the best time for birding – specialities include the wattled crane, the mountain marsh widow, Denham’s bustardand the beautiful metallic blue swallow. You are allowed to walk freely in Nyika, and there is a network of footpaths radiating from Chelinda Camp.