The Nyika National Park in the north of Malawi is the oldest and largest national park in the country. At the heart of the park is the Nyika Plateau, which rather than exploring as a trip from somewhere nearby we decided to walk across to get to our next destination of Livingstonia and nearby Mushroom Farm.
Three days of long buses from Livingstone took us as far as Mzuzu where after a number of last-minute phone calls we eventually found someone who owned a 4×4 and could drive us into the park.
It was a long and bumpy drive through Rumphi to the park gate and onto Chelinda Camp, the only accommodation in the park. It’s a beautiful location with views of the endless rolling hills and herds of eland, bush-buck and zebra roaming about.
The campsite is a 20 minute walk from the camp itself and it was a brisk, nervous walk home after dinner hoping we wouldn’t see any of the resident hyenas or leopards. The park is thought to have the most concentrated leopard population in central Africa, but thankfully we didn’t see any!
We awoke to blue skies and after fruit and rusks for breakfast, we paid our park fees and set off with our guide Pete. We headed through a pine forest and for the first hour walked on dirt tracks before heading into the bush. Around this time the weather changed and for the rest of the morning we walked in the rain. It didn’t take long to be completely soaked through and after a few hours there were even puddles in our shoes. We were so wet we felt as if we were back at the waterfall!
It was pretty misty so unfortunately there were no views to enjoy, although there were a lot of beautiful flowers, including proteas, orchids and delphiniums.
Eventually the rain stopped and after a final short, steep climb we arrived at Dilla ‘camp’ – a small piece of grass with no shelter of any sort. It was now 2 pm so it wasn’t possible to get to the next camp before it got dark, and although our inexperienced guide wasn’t sure where we would be able to camp in-between, we decided to push on after a quick lunch of crackers and cheese. We were cold and damp and wanted to keep moving.
Thankfully we were now walking towards blue skies, with a beautiful view of the rolling hills to our right, and when we got on to the ridge we saw Lake Malawi for the first time. After an hour’s walk, we were at the top of the ridge where we pitched our tent. The sun was now out and it was a beautiful late afternoon as we enjoyed the stunning views and dried off.
A massive storm moved in overnight and when our alarm went at 5 am, it was howling and pouring outside. We decided to go back to sleep for 30 minutes, hoping it would ease off. Our luck was in and by 6 it had stopped raining and the wind was gentle enough that we had no issues packing up our tent.
The morning’s walking was tough going as the path was narrow, steep and treacherously slippery. We walked through an overgrown forest which had a number of thorny trees so it was a long and tough four and a half hours, much of which was spent on our floor!
Once out of the park, we descended into the valley and the Chakaka coffee factory. From here it was a further five hours to Livingstonia; up out of the valley and through the countryside with fields of tobacco and maize. The walk was very undulating, and steep in parts, but we had lovely sunny weather and views of the valley.
Around 5 km from Livingstonia, we couldn’t refuse the offer of a ride into town and our wonderful lift actually dropped us outside Mushroom Farm (it would have been a further two hours from town so we would have been walking in the dark).
We’d heard so much about Mushroom Farm and it was a wonderful place to relax and recover after the trek. It’s perched precariously on a cliff edge with stunning views of the valley and the lake. They serve the most delicious vegetarian food and three different day trips are run every day to explore the area. Profits support a number of community projects, so it’s a lovely setup.
It’s always fun to walk to your destination. This hike probably wouldn’t make the highlights package just because of the weather and the slippery trails, but we were lucky with a few views and the destination really was something special.
- Day 1 – 18 km, 6.5 hours to Dilla Camp. 45 minutes to our campsite on the ridge
- Day 2 – 15 km from Dilla to Chikaka. It took us 4.5 hours but we camped an hour past Dilla
- 17 km from Chikaka to Livingstonia. We had walked for four hours when we were picked up around 5 km out
- 7 km from Livingstonia to Mushroom Farm
There is no public transport into the park although we understand that once a week there is a bus that could get you within 16 km of the gate. The camp is a further 60 km from the gate and hitch-hiking would be your best bet (though you may be waiting a while for a car to be going in).
It is possible to catch the bus to Rumphi and in the dry season you may be able to pick up a regular car here.
We hired Philip and his 4×4 – it took just over five hours and cost $200.
Philip is on WhatsApp – +265 993530701
Rainy Season Considerations
I actually wouldn’t recommend walking in the rainy season as the path is treacherously slippery. It’s also unrealistic to make it to Mushroom Farm in two days. In the dry season, it would be possible in a long two days or a leisurely three.
We did our shopping at the big Shoprite in Mzuzu as Rumphi is a fairly small town.
- National Park fee – $10/person/night
- Entrance fee for car – $3
- Chelinda Campsite – $10/person
- 4×4 Hire – $200
- Mushroom Farm camping – $5/person
- Mushroom Farm daily activity – $3/person