Lake Malawi | Desert Island Dreaming

Mumbo Island Camp. MalawiMumbo Island Camp

Dreaming of a honeymoon island holiday with some gentle exercise in crystal clear water ? Then Kayak Africa's Lake Malawi trip should exceed your imagination. Carrie Hampton tells us what she dreamed of and how she found it.

Isn't it everybody's dream to spend time on a deserted island, but perhaps with a few more comforts than Robinson Crusoe? My ideal would be a chalet on wooden platform perched on giant boulders, topped with a thatched roof. It should have a balcony overlooking ridiculously clear water magnifying multitudinous azure and silver fish, and a large comfy hammock in which to snooze.There should be kingfishers and cormorants darting around and majestic fish eagles perched on high branches. I would also like slinky iridescent lizards sunbathing on rocks and opaque night-time geckos eating up any biting insects. Under my canopy should be a tall roomy tent with soft mattress and aerating insect proof windows letting in the soft breeze. I want a discreet Man Friday to appear only at mealtimes with delicacies to tempt me and I want ice for my drinks and chilled wine. Well a girl can dream can't she?

Blissful Days

I found my dream in the middle of Lake Malawi and arrived on its shores in a sea-kayak. For a couple of blissful days there were just two of us and an inconspicuous staff of five on the island. We decided to stay one more night and radioed back to the Kayak Africa office (a laid-back thatched affair on the beach at Cape Maclear on the south-eastern shore of the lake). 'But your chef is going on leave today and I can't have you there without one,' came Malaika's reply.We were more than happy to cater for ourselves for one day but this is not how Kayak Africa does things. Before we knew it, chef Number 2 arrived by kayak and our bulging stomachs were filled once more with freshly caught Tilapia (a type of Bream), potato bake, home made chips, salads, deserts and yes, iced drinks.Kayak Africa have set up two exclusive island camps within the Lake Malawi National Park, on Domwe and Mumbo islands, and have exclusive use of them. They blend so perfectly into the background that it is hard to see the elevated wooden structures peeking out between the rocks under the shade of large trees. Domwe Island Camp is subtle and superb but Mumbo Island Camp exceeds even this accolade. Heavenly I would call it.A small strip of yellow sand beckons you into a gentle, inviting bay sculpted by gigantic grainy boulders emerging from many fathoms of clear fresh water. One side of this bay is in fact its own little island, cut off from the beach by a knee-high channel of water. It is upon this little island that the tented camp hides.The little bridge linking the two had been taken away by a storm, so with bags held high we waded across. The open-sided kitchen shack, fully equipped with beautiful wooden carved gas hob, was on the main island, so all meals came across water, up and over the rocks and along the plank walkway to the camp. All the more delicious for its journey.

Swing in a Hammock

Hammocks are strung between trees and director's chairs are scattered around tables under a shaded dining area. The tops of little animal-shaped tables are painted up for chess and draughts and large wooden Bao Boards are for those who know how to play the local game of 'Malawi Headache.' Seeds are shifted from one little scoop hole to another enabling you to take your opponents share. It can last for ages or be over in a flash.Porridge and fresh fruit salad was a precursor to a full egg, bacon and sausage breakfast. I wore a life jacket when snorkelling as I thought I might sink from the weight of breakfast alone. The morning passes lazily with a swing in the hammock, a snorkel around the camp island, maybe a scuba dive or a kayak around the big island. A siesta is a must after lunch or maybe a couple of board games, then the clear water calls again for more aqua enlightenment.

Instant Aquarium

Lake Malawi is unique for its cichlids, small and often colourful fish that adorn many freshwater aquariums. They are biologically unique and many are endemic to a small area of the lake. All have adapted very quickly in evolutionary terms resulting in a prolific number of species. More than 500 have been recorded but it is thought there could be 1,000 different species in the lake. This is more than all the freshwater species of Europe and USA put together!Each has adapted to its own place in the scheme of things. Some mbuna (rock feeders) like vertical surfaces, some prefer horizontal, some go deep, some like it hot near the surface which at times felt as warm as a bath. I gawped at the Cobalt Zebras which shimmered blue and silver with bold black stripes, and the Mumbo Yellow only found around this island. All apart from one species are mouth brooders.The mother carries the eggs and hatched fry in the mouth. She lets them out to practice feeding but at the first sign of danger sucks them all back in to her rubbery-lipped mouth. The mbuna are not so tolerant. Once they have hatched in her mouth, she places each one under a rock and departs.

I Recognise That Fish Eagle!

The completeness with which my partner and I settled into Mumbo island struck me as we were circumnavigating is shores in a double kayak. He stated with assurance that our camp was around the next bay. I asked how he could be so sure and he replied, 'I recognise that fish eagle.' This statement seemed so absurd, as there were too many fish eagles to even count. As the magnificent raptor flew above us, he pointed out that a couple of its wing tip feathers were missing.Now that really is the coolest way I have ever come across of finding your way home. When I next feel the need to live my desert island dream, I know exactly where I am heading.

Note from author Carrie Hampton:

Are you tempted? You should be, because this holiday is so special I cannot recommend it highly enough. I travelled courtesy of Air Holidays and the trip was made possible by the hospitality of Kayak Africa and Club Makakola resort.

Note of Thanks:

Club Makakola - now known as Makokola Retreat is an upmarket package-holiday resort at the southern end of Lake Malawi. Free non-motorised watersports, wide beach, swimming pool, good food, very relaxed for doing nothing. They have their own airstrip so it is a good idea to stay at Club Mak (as it is affectionately known) for a couple of days before and after your island holiday.Copyright 2002 Carrie Hampton. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited. Feel free to contact Carrie on carrieh@iafrica.com.
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