A sliver of a country, Malawi is renowned for its hospitality and magnificent natural attractions. Lake Malawi – the Lake of Stars – lies at the heart of it, surrounded by peaks, plateaux and plentiful wildlife. By Keri Harvey
When David Livingstone first clapped eyes on Lake Malawi, its surface danced with twinkling stars. He named it the Lake of Stars, though it’s also called the Calendar Lake for being 365 miles long and 52 miles wide at its broadest, with 12 big rivers flowing into it. It’s a vast expanse of water; waves break onto the sandy beaches and, on appearance, it’s a huge freshwater ocean stretching beyond the horizon.
“Lake Malawi is quite unique,” local lake guide Johnson Nthenda says with a smile. “It’s only the third-largest lake in Africa, but it was the first lake in the world to be proclaimed a national park to protect the marine life of a tropical, deep-water, Rift Valley lake. Because nearly 1 000 species of fish – mostly dazzling, brightly coloured cichlid – live in its waters, and new species are still being discovered every year.”
Islands in the lake are boulder-strewn and dotted with baobabs; wildlife is regularly seen on the lakeshores. Zebra, bushbuck, klipspringer, baboons, monkeys and rock hyraxes live along the lake; otters frolic in the waters, and in the quiet reaches are hippos and crocodiles. Tiny deserted beaches and coves are everywhere, giving the lake an island paradise appeal. This is also a favourite area for kayakers, who go from island to island enjoying pristine nature.
Getting there: Numerous airlines connect South Africa to Malawi, including Air Malawi, South African Airways, Precision Air Services and Ethiopian Airlines.
Visas: South African passport holders do not require a visa to Malawi, just a valid passport.
Best time to go: Malawi is beautiful all year round, with May to September/October being the cooler months. The lush, green summer season is from November to April, when anti-malaria precautions should be taken. May and June combine the best of both seasons and are good for photography. Game viewing is best in the hottest times of the dry season, while birding is best in October and November.
Health: Malaria precautions are advised all year as the area is high-risk. Bilharzia is not highly prevalent and only a risk in stagnant water. It is advised not to drink water from the lake unless it’s boiled.