Demystifying ‘Nyika’ in Nyika National Park

If you had the opportunity of exploring Nyika National Park up north and were asked to describe the experience in one word, my guess is that it will be a very difficult exercise because there are many things to see and the name ‘Nyika’ in the game reserve has come to symbolise a myriad things on its own.

I have been lucky to visit Nyika National Park three times in my life and I would simply say that it is amazingly the most beautiful place in Malawi and probably in Africa.

The first phrase that comes to mind when you think of Nyika National Park is that of “heaven on earth”. Some people have gone further to say that if some people still have doubts about God’s creativity then this is the place to take them to appreciate his hand-work.

The Nyika National Park description can also be figuratively  found in the Bible according to Genesis 1 vs 12: “And God said, Let the earth (Nyika ) bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”

One would be forgiven to conclude that when God said these words, He was looking at Nyika National Park. Nyika National Park—which is high on a plateau— is the largest in Malawi covering a vast area of no less than 3 200 square kilometers (sq-km), and also the oldest having been declared a national park in 1965.

From the beginning the name Nyika has been used to mean many things. Some say ‘Nyika’ means ‘where the water comes from’, this is in reference to the plateau’s elevation, making it wetter than surrounding areas.  Nyika is also a Swahili word meaning “bush” or “hinterland”.  Nyika also is the name of the special butterfly Axiocerses Nyika only found in Malawi on the Nyika Plateau.

One interesting observation is that people from the Northern part of Malawi fondly refer to the Northern region as “Nyika Republic”. The name simply represents Northern Region in the most special way.  It is estimated that 30 percent of water in Lake Malawi comes from the Nyika Plateau rivers which overflow into the lake. Lake Malawi is the ‘blood and soul’ of the people of Malawi. The livelihoods of many Malawians depend on the lake.


The London weather

The last time I visited Nyika was in September 2017 and it is always like the first time because of its magical experience. I would strongly recommend the best time to visit the park during summer. Nyika Plateau has naturally cold weather by Malawian standards which is referred to as “London weather”.

During summer, you experience the cool breeze and avoid the freezing temperatures. The top is frequently cold in cold dry season. The dense fogs called Chiperone may persist well into the morning and even sometimes all day.

You need to be a little bit brave to visit Nyika because it requires a lot of patience since it is a long drive from Mzuzu City and requires a powerful good four-wheel drive vehicle. From Rumphi Boma it is only about 120 km, but it can take over four hours to arrive at Thazima which is the main entrance to the park and you travel another 60 km from the entrance to Chelinda and speed is strictly limited to 40 km per hour. The road is rough which hinders a lot people even to dream of going there.


Game viewing

Nyika has short grass which makes it easier to view the game, although the park is famously known for its large number of zebras, antelopes and the highest masses of leopards probably in Central Africa.

It has also a number of species of smaller mammals such as warthog and bush pig. Africa’s Big Five is also there; elephants and buffalo usually keep to the lower ground on the northern edge of the park. We also noticed that they have introduced more elephants recently which were in specially-made fenced wire.

You can go for long walks through the forests and grass. Undulating scenery is at its best in the rainy season when over 200 types of orchid flowers are in bloom. The grasslands of  Nyika are rich in wildflowers in other seasons.

It is estimated that over 400 species of birds have been recorded in the park. The rare Denham’s bustard and the wattled crane are among those to be seen, as is the red-winged francolin— endemic to Nyika.

Other attractions include waterfalls, the most impressive being Chisanga Falls where the North Rukuru River falls off the plateau to Thalire, neolithic rock shelter, trout pools and even a “magic lake”.

My third experience at Nyika led me to one conclusion that God is the best art director. The grass, the river, the plateau are the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in the country.

I would strongly recommend that if you love to experience life to the fullest please book Nyika National Park as your next holiday destination.

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