Nyika National Park
(Entrance gate: early-18.00 daily, USD10 for international visitors, USD7 for international residents, USD1 for Malawians per 24hrs, and free entry for accompanied children under 12. Daily fee for private vehicles USD3 to USD15 depending on weight)
Nyika National park is located 550km north of Lilongwe, standing 2,000 metres above sea level, and covers the entire Nyika Plateau. It is Malawi’s largest at 3,200 sq km (1250 sq miles) and oldest national park certified in 1965.
The park is unique in the region in terms of biological diversity, landscape, scenery and climate. The top is one of the coldest parts of Malawi, moderate in summer but subject to fierce winds and sub-zero temperatures often recorded on winter nights.
The name, Nyika, means “Where the water comes from” as the plateau is one of the most important water catchment areas in Malawi. The persistent moisture brings roughly 200 types of orchid into flower which especially flower from January to April in the wet season; of these, 11 species are endemic to Nyika and a further 27 are found nowhere else in Malawi. The landscape of rolling hills and grasslands with the flowers is breathtaking and creates the scene for an unforgettable Malawi safari.
Activities include trekking, mountain biking, 4×4 excursions and birdwatching. It also offers some good game viewing and can be explored from Chelinda Camp.
Nyika National Park protects a rich diversity of mammals, and almost 100 species have been recorded, including large populations of antelope and the highest population of leopard in Central Africa. Visitors can also expect to see eland, roan, zebra, buffalo and elephant. Visitors also do stand a good chance of encountering spotted hyena and smaller nocturnal predators on night drives. In recent years a herd of more than 40 altitude-loving elephants have made their permanent home here, and they are now often spotted with young.
It is also home to over 400 species of birds. Four birds found at Nyika have been recorded nowhere else in Malawi (yellow mountain warbler, chirring cisticola, crackling cloud cisticola and mountain marsh widow), while the Nyika races of red-winged francolin, rufous-naped lark, greater double-collared sunbird and Baglafecht weaver are endemic to the plateau.
There are also three butterfly species endemic to the plateau, and one species each of chameleon, frog and toad are found nowhere else.
Getting there and away
By road, Chelinda Camp is roughly 100km from Rumphi and clearly signposted. The road is highly variable in condition, depending on how recently it has rained, so a 4×4 may be required, especially from December to April in the warm and wet seasons. The route from Rumphi entails following the M24 westward for around 50km, then turning right onto the M9 to Chitipa. The Thazima Entrance Gate lies 8km along the M9, and it’s about 30km further to the signposted turn-off right to Chelinda, another 16km away. If you are driving yourself, take note that the last place where you can buy fuel before reaching Chelinda is at Rumphi, and make a point of checking current road conditions with the National Parks office in Mzuzu. There is no public transport runs all the way through.
For those without major budget restrictions. Ulendo Airlink flies to Chilenda from Lilongwe, with a minimum of two passengers. Central African Wilderness Safaris can arrange all charter flights and road transfers. Safaris can also be organised through a number of operators based in Lilongwe or Blantyre.