Stay on Lake Malawi
I flew from Johannesburg to Lilongwe and the tiny airport was awash with tourists queuing for the immigration officials. Luckily Robin Pope Safaris had arranged a “fixer” for me.
Jerson met me off the plane and got me right to the front of the queue and I was through in no time. I managed to deal with any feelings of guilt at this special treatment by reminding myself I was here on business. Yes, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to spend their time visiting the best lodges in Africa!
I was transferred to Africa House, about 10km north of Lilongwe. This is a very pleasant lodge being managed by a young Dutch couple who have travelled extensively in Malawi. There are 8 rooms and a dining area as well as a pretty garden and covered terrace. Simple but delicious lunch on offer – ie filled omelette – and an appetising 3-course dinner. There’s a pleasant atmosphere and it’s a nice place to chill for a day or two. Fans in room but no air-con.
Back at the airport the next morning I met Munyama from Robin Pope Safaris who was kindly accompanying me on my visit to Pumulani Lodge, near Monkey Bay in the south of Lake Malawi. I really enjoy light aircraft flights and was eagerly looking forward to flying down to Monkey Bay. Before long our pilot came and met us and we strolled out to the plane. I relish the sight of a tiny aircraft (ours!) sharing the tarmac with commercial and even military aircraft. Eicker was to be my pilot for this, and the next two flights, and I was lucky enough to sit at the front of the plane on every trip.
It’s a 45 minute flight to Monkey Bay with hilltop villages set amongst verdant forest slipping by underneath us, and then we were over Lake Malawi, chasing our shadow across the water.
On reaching Monkey Bay airstrip we did a “low pass” to clear the strip of birds and goats etc. Very exciting! And then we were bumping along the dirt airstrip and shutting down. Eicker put the covers over the air intakes and a sun shield in the windscreen and then we chatted to the man from the Department of Civil Aviation responsible for keeping an eye on the plane while we were at Pumulani. Then a 20 minute transfer to the lodge.
The original idea of setting up Pumulani Lodge was to offer a really good beach option post Zambia safari without the need to go to Mozambique/ East Africa. The link between the two areas is straightforward and swift, as I would find out for myself the next day: when I went from Pumulani to Nkwali in South Luangwa the TOTAL travel time door to door was 5 hours, including a bit of waiting time at Lilongwe while the pilot filled out his new flight plan.
The main lodge is at the top of a granite outcrop, from where the views of the Lake are breath-taking, and the villas are at different heights below. I had room 5 which not only has the best view in my opinion, but is also close to the communal areas in terms of horizontal distance and height.
Other rooms are lower; some are pretty much at beach level which is quite a hike – about 150 steps (my guess, I did not count them!) or a fair 3-5 minute walk up. BUT they do have a golf cart they can use to transport people. All villas have grass roofs and are beautifully appointed. There’s a family villa near the Lake which has 2 bedrooms. The honeymoon suite has an outside shower in a kind of dhow. In general a third or even fourth bed can be put in all rooms.
All activities are included except Scuba diving and motorised water sports. For diving and snorkelling they take guests in one of their speed boats to Cape Maclear. That takes about 20-30 mins and they go there because of the Cichlid fish. They also have open kayaks and 2 person dinghies, the latter are available to experienced sailors to take out on their own or be accompanied by a guide. I did the dhow sunset cruise which was fab – you’re out for an 1½ hours which seemed just right.
I also did the early morning bird walk which was superb. Mine was only an hour but we saw a fish eagle nest and the fish eagles themselves plus many others such as sunbirds and a pygmy kingfisher. Often they combine a walk and a return by kayak in a 2.5 hour morning activity.
Finally on the activity front is star gazing. They have a wizzo 850 x magnification telescope and when I was there Simon was also in camp, and he really knew his stuff. Highlight was seeing the rings of Saturn – yes they really DO exist!
Food was superb as expected. You can dine up at main lodge or down by the beach bar where there’s plenty of shade. Overall I very much like Pumulani and could well imagine chilling out there after a Zambia safari. How many days could I envisage staying there? Well, I think 4 or 5 would be fantastic; I certainly didn’t want to leave!