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We all have dreams of idyllic islands set like jewels in aquamarine waters…





By Roy Watts 



Where do we go to escape the Rat Race? Right on our own doorstep it is possible to step into a romantic time warp, and experience the ambience of a graceful past in Malawi - the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’


This is a country not much bigger than Cuba, with a population of some 10 million people, most of whom live under the yolk of widespread poverty, and who depend on subsistence farming or fishing for survival. But nowhere are living hardships reflected in the demeanour of its citizens. Unfettered by the pressures of civilization, the villagers are not malnourished, their days are filled with sunshine, and poverty under the palms is a different proposition to rag and bone survival in the cities.


Malawians are sunny, friendly people living in a state of peace and harmony that is in sharp contrast to much of the turbulence elsewhere on the continent. It is also a land of singular charm, with a burgeoning tourist industry cashing in on a bankable climate, gorgeous scenery and perhaps one of the greatest single topographical resources in Africa – Lake Malawi.


This inland fresh water sea has the reputation of being home to some of the most romantic destinations on earth. Although not given to running through wheat fields in slow motion, when my editor offered an assignment to discover whether reality matched reputation, I took the bait like a blue finned tunny.  


Landing at Lilongwe I was immediately struck by the smiling visages and friendly attitude of the officials steering us through customs and immigration. A short walk across the tarmac and I found myself aboard a 2 hour charter flight heading for Likoma Island and the Kaya Mawa Lodge – one of the most unique hostelries anywhere, and rated by Conde Naste Traveller as being amongst the foremost romantic destinations in the world. And I can’t argue with that.




The main building is perched on a rocky promontory and houses attractive accommodation suites, an atmospheric pub, alfresco and formal dining facilities, a beautiful swimming grotto and a private beach with a full range of aquatic sports options from scuba diving to paddle skis and sailing dinghies. But the main attraction is a number of rough hewn rock chalets each on its own islet in the lake, and connected to the ‘Mother Ship’ by rickety wooden bridges - with pride of place going to Honeymoon Island. 


This spectacular piece of seductive isolation is tucked away amongst luxuriant trees and massive boulders on a rocky outcrop. It has its own private gazebo and teak ladder access to the cerulean waters of Lake Malawi.




Honeymoon Island backs up my theory that rickety wooden bridges always lead to places of enchantment. All too soon, after a wondrous couple of days exploring this charismatic island, I found myself back on a charter flight heading for an airfield at Monkey Bay. From here a brief road transfer takes one to Cape Maclear and the starting point for a place that will have star billing when I set up my honeymoon consultancy – Mumbo Island.

Kayak Africa operates from a mop-topped Robinson Crusoe complex from where I set off by launch for this overwhelmingly beautiful eco-paradise. Here timber poles, canvas, thatch and wooden decks blend with lush island vegetation and terrain. The result is a rustic hideaway that will satisfy the most unrealistic romantic expectations.

We all have dreams of idyllic islands set like jewels in aquamarine waters, and Mumbo actually delivers this vision. In describing this unique travel bookmark, I find myself adrift in a sea of adjectives.


But how else can one describe kayaking on cobalt waters in the golden haze of an African sunset, surreal snorkeling in the psychedelic atmosphere created by neon-coloured fish, or just lazing in a hammock looking out on an impossibly blue vista? I only hope I can get this all down before my poetic license is revoked.  

An efficient but unobtrusive staff runs Mumbo. They magically produce the most delicious meals, load up the primitive but effective showers, and light up the oil fired lanterns that enhance Utopian ambience at night. There’s also a highly professional team of well-trained instructors supervising the aqua activities, and I can’t think of a better place to learn how to scuba dive.




Lake Malawi is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world, and is famous for the small ‘perch-like cichlids of which 500 varieties are not found anywhere else. They come in an enormous range of colours shapes and sizes, and diving here is akin to being underwater in a giant tropical aquarium. Lake Malawi pours into the Shire River at its southern end then flows into Lake Malombe before meandering through the Liwonde National Park.


Strategically placed in a creek at its widest point is the stunning Mvuu Wilderness Lodge. Mounted on a ridge overlooking the small lagoon, are five luxurious tented chalets that blend with lush tropical vegetation. From their viewing decks one can watch an ongoing procession of game, and have an up front and personal relationship with a hyperactive band of monkeys all suffering from advanced kleptomania.  




Mvuu offers a wide range of nature walks and game drives but the main attractions are the launch cruises up Lake Malombe. In its waters hippos loiter without intent whilst enormous crocodiles lurk with malice aforethought. Patrolling the banks, lofty elephants survey their domain, and occasionally take to the lake where they have more fun than kids in a water park.


In the air an enormous variety of birds put on a wondrous aerial display and occasionally you might see a fish eagle swoop on an unsuspecting fish from an overhead branch. There is simply no way you can get better game viewing opportunities than from a launch, and at times we were no further than a few feet from some of the six hundred elephants that populate the area.




At the end of a fascinating excursion filled with interest and excitement, I found myself beset with a severe case of adjectivitis, brought on by unbounded enthusiasm for this wonderful country. And as the rand sinks slowly in the west, I believe that Sub Saharan holidays will increase in popularity. Certainly I believe that my experiences in Malawi prove that this is the venue for a perfect honeymoon – all I have to do now is find a wife!  



Kaya Mawa www.kayamawa.com

Mumbo Island www.kayakafrica.net 

Mvuu Lodge www.mvuulodge.com


Roy Watts is a late-life newcomer to the exciting, but tenuous world of freelance journalism. He started as a moonlighting adventure writer some 20 years ago, when he wrote travel articles and tailpieces for Cosmopolitan and Fairlady, during time filched from his day job as a successful commercial property broker. A serious brush with Guillan Barre Syndrome, a deadly neurological disease that paralyses its victims, knocked him off this hamster wheel in 1999. Now fit and well after a lengthy recovery cycle, he ditched his briefcase and adopted a ‘Have pen - will travel’ credo.



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