Maputo - Mozambique
Mount Mulanje is an isolated granite massif, covering over a thousand square kilometers. From a distance, it’s hard to believe Mulanje is not a range of Mountains, it seems long rather than high. Yet it is so tall that it creates its own climate, and is known to be unkind, even lethal to those who dare take the mountain for granted.
The summit, the highest in south-central Africa at 3000m, is called Sapitwa, which is said to mean “Don’t go there!” The warning challenges the determined climber. Sapitwa does require experience, though often testing endurance rather than technique.
For the less dedicated, Mulanje offers equally great rewards. Spectacular views across tea plantations to Mozambique, sheer drops down gullies laced with waterfalls; glades shaded by forest trees where purple crested loeries and sun squirrels scuttle along the branches; montane grasslands dotted with ground orchids and gladioli and alive with butterflies; forests of fragrant Mulanje cedar trees.
Mulanje Cedar, Widringtonia whytei. Threatened by logging in the past, the cedars may not survive the next half century. In the late 1890’s the offices of the Commissioner of British Central Africa as colonial Malawi was then called, were roofed with beams and shingles of Mulanje cedar. Visitors can still buy beautifully carved trinket boxes and chests of this pale, beautifully scented wood.
Mulanje is within easy reach of Blantyre on a beautiful new road, making it a superb day outing for visitors. The drive through the Shire Highlands is satisfying in itself. Some tea estates, like Satemwa, (113213.233@ compuserve.com) in Thyolo and Lujeri , on the lower slopes of Mulanje (email@example.com), offer gracious guest houses for those who would like to spend more time exploring the area. The tea plantations have a haunting beauty, and the relic bush, that clings, despite deforestation, to the stream banks shelters a wealth of specialised flora and fauna.
On the mountain itself are six climbers’ huts, maintained jointly by the Department of Forestry and the Mountain Club of Malawi. (email firstname.lastname@example.org ) Malawi’s famous tenga-tenga, (porters, literally “those who carry”, the term was also used to refer to the postal runners in the old days) will be more than happy to carry your luggage or pack on your climb but make sure your chosen guide has a Government issued identity card indicating he has been formally trained. It is good manners to employ at least one porter per person, even if you carry little more than a day pack. Friendly and out-going, the tenga-tenga know every nuance of the mountain, and the guides will prove invaluable in the sudden changes of weather to which Mulanje is prone. Laurens van der Post’s Venture into the Interior has a harrowing account of one such occasion, where the advice of the guide was fatally ignored.
For authoritative advice on Mulanje,visit the website of the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (www.mountmulanje.org.mw, email email@example.com )
Just stand on top of the Zomba plateau and gaze across the Phalombe plains to majestic Mulanje, and you’ll soon agree. The bowl of the mountain top is a forest reserve, and has a primitive beauty. Among the plantations are patches of indigenous forest, cool streams and high grasslands, and from the view points, Malawi laid out like a relief map. Hike, fish or ride, but take your binoculars and camera.
Zomba Mountain Zomba is about an hour from Blantyre. The Mtengatenga Postal Museum is a must for philatelists, and art lovers should look out for road-side stalls selling handmade clay pots and whimsical “mud heads”. As you enter Zomba, there is the King’s African Rifles War Memorial (left), to the men who gave their lives in the two World Wars.
About half an hour north of Zomba at Chingale are the craftsmen who specialise in carving chief’s chairs. Each made from a single trunk, the chair’s simple design is ornamented by bas relief carvings. These are uniquely Malawian.
Dedza Mountain rises almost 2200 above the Great Rift Valley. From the summit, a glorious view of Lake Malawi is possible. Dedza is a bird watchers delight. Pockets of indigenous montane forest tucked into gullies between rolling grasslands provide a wonderfully varied habitat.