Introducing Nyika National Park
Accessed by a rough road, Malawi's oldest reserve is easily one of the most magical experiences in any trip to the country. Turning burnt amber in the afternoon sun, the highland grass flickers with the stripes of zebras and is punctuated by glittering boulders that look like set dressing from a Star Trek movie. Towering at over 2500m above sea level, 3200 sq km Nyika National Park is enigmatic; one moment its rolling grasslands remind of the Yorkshire Dales, but then an antelope leaps across your bonnet, you note the nearby mound of steaming elephant spore and you remember you're in Africa (and that Nyika is home to a very large population of leopards!).
There are plenty of zebras, bushbucks, reedbucks, roan antelopes and elephants and you may also spot elands, warthogs, klipspringers, jackals, duikers and possibly hyenas and leopards (one until recently could be seen at Chelinda Camp's lake in the morning, taking a drink; between playing voyeur outside chalet windows!). Twitchers should note that more than 400 species of bird have been recorded, including rarities such as the wattled crane and moustached green-tinkerbirds. And after the wet season, the landscape bursts into life in a blaze of wildflowers. There are around 200 species of orchid alone growing on the plateau.
Rather than just driving around in a safari vehicle, you can explore on a mountain bike, ramble through the hills on foot or simply sit down by a gin-clear stream for a spot of fishing. But who knows for how much longer you'll be able to do this on your own, for in 2013, lions (and possibly cheetahs) are due for reintroduction, which will add brilliantly to the drama.
It can get surprisingly cold on the Nyika Plateau, especially at night from June to August when frost is not uncommon. Log fires are provided in the chalets and rooms, but bring a warm sleeping bag if you’re camping. During dry periods, sectors of the park are burnt to prevent larger fires later in the season. Before setting off for drives or walks, inquire at the park headquarters to find out about areas that are being burnt.