© Above the clouds. Nyika Plateau National Park
The Nyika Highlands offer a delightful and unusual destination for lovers of nature and the Great Outdoors. Carpets of wildflowers, Leopard sightings during the day and adventurous trails through magnificent scenery are just some of the attractions.
The Nyika Plateau National Park in Zambia is located in the north-eastern section of the country on the border with Malawi. Entrance to the park is actually from the Malawian side as this country has the biggest portion - it is known as Nyika National Park in Malawi.
If travelling through Zambia in the dry season in a 2x4 vehicle you can approach the park on The Great North Road via Mpika and Isoka and then cross the border into Malawi. You can also travel from Chipata located on the border further south which is a popular route for visitors going to Lilongwe. In the wet season it is best to travel in a 4x4 vehicle. Within the park there is an extensive network of roads and trails with many different hiking and driving options.
The closest airport for ease of access and road travel from Zambia is probably Lusaka International Airport. Another smaller airport with international connections is Mfuwe Airport (the gateway to the Luangwa Valley), which is near to Chipata and the Malawian border.
The Nyika Highlands are shared between Zambia and Malawi. The Zambian slopes are deeply forested and great for birding. The Malawian side has the biggest portion of the national park with many trails and drives to follow. The Nyika Highlands feature rocky outcrops, rolling grasslands, lakes and little streams and bogs. You can also visit the highest point on the range which is Nganda Mountain. The wonderful views and fresh mountain air make this park a welcome diversion from traditional safari destinations.
The high altitude grasslands and panoramic vistas of the Nyika Highlands are a major highlight. It is one of the few Afro-montane areas with big game in South-Central Africa and has a high density of Leopard. You'll see beautiful rolling hills and evergreen forests as well as waterfalls, dams and archaeological sites, also groves of buttress root trees including Yellowwood and Ebony that support trailing vines and lianas. The views from the plateau are breathtaking.
The grasslands are often covered in wild flowers and this is enhanced in the summer season when the rains come, so expect carpets of colourful blooms and spectacular orchid displays. The Nyika Highlands can be visited at any time of year and explored on foot, by bike and on driving routes. Horse safaris are also a great way to discover the delights of this area. Birding enthusiasts will find plenty to search for.
What to Do
Nature drives and night drives in closed 4x4, hikes walks and trails, horse safaris (daily rides and multiple day trails moving from camp to camp), biking and birding, river swimming and trout fishing.
The Nyika Highlands can be visited year round. From January to March it is high summer and pleasantly warm and wet with stunning wildflower displays. April still has light rain but the weather through to June is clear and cool. The temperatures drop in July and August with cool days and chilly nights. From September to December it is dry and gets progressively warmer with light rains beginning in November.
On the Nyika Highlands you'll enjoy an alpine atmosphere with a variety of outdoor activities to get you moving and cosy nights in front of the fire. The champagne air and scenic surroundings can be appreciated in a number of ways. On nature drives and horse safaris, what wildlife you see will depend on the time of the year, but Nyika is home to a great variety of antelope species including Roan, Sable, Eland, Southern Reedbuck, Crawshay's Zebra, Bushbuck and Duiker. Leopard can be seen during daylight hours because of the mild climate. You may even see Hyena, Serval and Jackal.
There are many roads and trails in the park which is wonderful for hiking and biking and you probably won't do the same route twice even if you stay for 4 or 5 days. There are dams at Nyika and some are stocked with trout. You can also enjoy a walk to Chisanga Falls, visit various viewpoints or drive to the highest point on the range and walk to Nganda Peak, which at 2 506 metres is the highest peak in the park. Exquisite wild flowers bloom at various times of the year but especially from October and include displays of Everlastings (Helichrysums), Dieramas, Pelagoniums, Hibiscus, Gladioli, Kniphofia, Proteas and even a huge variety of stunning Orchid species.
Birding is good all year round (400 recorded species) but with added interest in the summer months especially from October to January when the migrant species visit. The Red-Winged Francolin is endemic to the highlands, but you could also spot the Wattled Crane and Denhams Bustard. Bird watching is particularly good on the Zambian side on the Chowo Forest walk located near the ruin of an old guest house.
Currently, accommodation can only be found in the Malawian Nyika National Park in the Chelinda area. There is a comfortable bushcamp with spacious en-suite rooms and self-catering accommodation, plus an elegant lodge with log cabins.
What you need to know
This is a high altitude destination and the climate tends to be mild. You will need warmer clothing in the cooler times of day, a jacket and a windbreaker, especially in the middle months of the year. On sunny days you will need sun protection and sunglasses. This is not a malaria zone.