Zomba Plateau is a great slab of a mountain rising to nearly 1,800m (6,000ft) and extends over around 130km² behind Zomba town. It reaches an altitude of 2,087m above sea level at Malombe Peak, a part of the Shire highlands that run from the southern end of Lake Malombe.
Much of the plateau is protected in Malawi’s oldest forest reserve under active management by the Department of Forestry. A variety of softwoods are being grown on the plateau, the main ones being Mexican pine, cypress and Mulanje Cedar. A large dam was constructed as a water reservoir in 1999, but this does little to interrupt the natural feel.
The Plateau offers a good spot for rambling, hiking and birdwatching. Though it is less spectacular and wild than the larger Mulanje and Nyika plateaux, the upper reaches of Zomba are considerably more accessible. For most visitors, Zomba’s scenery is undoubtedly its main attraction, and the views from the top were described in colonial times as “the best in the British Empire”.
The mountain also supports a rich birdlife including the long-crested eagle and the augur buzzard. The most common bird is the white-necked raven which soon becomes a spectator at any picnic. While mammal includes leopards, serval cat and mongooses although sightings are rare. Red duiker, vervet monkey and yellow baboon are reasonably common. More in evidence are giant butterflies and baboons on the lower slopes.
Getting there and away
The 10km road from Zomba Town to the top of the plateau used to split about halfway up into a separate up-road ad down-road, but it is now surfaced in its entirety and carries two-way traffic all the way to the top. The Sunbird Ku Chawe Inn, forestry campsite and other private cottages are all clustered near the edge of the escapement at the end of the road. To get to them, follow the road signposted for the Ku Chawe Inn from the centre of Zomba Town opposite the supermarket.
There is no public transport to the top of the mountain. If you are in a hurry, the best thing to do is organise a private taxi at Zomba bus station. If you’re lucky (and start early enough) you might catch a lift. The alternative is to walk, which is perfectly feasible, though steep-going towards the end. If you want to walk down the mountain, then take the ‘Potato Path’, which is signposted from near the Ku Chawe Inn and takes about an hour to walk when dry – but is dangerously slippery and steep in wet conditions.
If you want to stay at Zomba Forest Lodge, you need to go straight on at the barrier up the old up-road, then take the second left turning. It’s about 4km from the turn-off on a well-maintained road along the contour of the mountain.