Wed 12th & Thu 13th Oct – Domwe Island
Fri 14th & Sat 15th Oct – Mumbo Island
Kayak Africa Base – Domwe Island: 5km
Around Domwe Island: 11km
Domwe Island – Mumbo Island: 8km
Around Mumbo Island: 3km
Mumbo Island – Kayak Africa Base: 10km
Total km travelled from Nairobi: 4,779
We’d spent a lot of time in the car the last 3 weeks, and it was definitely time to get out and be active. What better solution that 4 days of kayaking, snorkelling and hiking between, around and on idyllic islands in Lake Malawi?
We had booked 4 nights of self-catered accommodation across 2 separate islands. We were still well supplied from Nairobi but needed to pick up vegetables. I thought this would be a straightforward task but Cape Maclear is a fishing village and not a farming one and it doesn’t have any formal supermarket or large shopping area. Instead, our morning was spent trawling little roadside stalls for decent looking vegetables and, after an entertaining hour spent in the narrow alleys of Cape Maclear, we came away with a mix of fruits a veggies, some limper than others, to sustain us on our journey.
Our 2-man kayak was waiting for us on the beach and, after donning life jackets and being handed a paddle a piece, Kian and I headed out on the smooth water heading towards Domwe Island … which it has to be said looked quite a long way away. We’ve done some kayaking before, but I wouldn’t call us experts and we were soon knocking paddles, wobbling the boat precariously, complaining about discomfort and generally bickering … 4 days of this was beginning to look like it was going to be a challenge.
We finally limped our way to a small beach on Domwe Island, where were to be the only guests for 2 nights at a very rustic, Robinson Crusoe lodge. Made up of a few wooden platforms with thatched roofs and a little kitchen at the back, we were quick to adopt this as our new home. We brought our tent along but it was so hot we abandoned that plan and just laid out our beds on the wooden deck. Surprisingly, as we were on the side of the lake, there were surprisingly few insects … just a couple of lake flies and seemingly no mosquitoes … so we slept very well with the breeze keeping us cool. (Hopefully I won’t be writing a ‘malaria blog’ in 10 days time).
We quickly got out the snorkels and had a big moment of Wow! This was absolutely amazing! We explored between the rocky boulders that make up the lake shore and were amazed by the quantity and variety of fish we saw. They were absolutely everywhere, and we were able to swim so close to them … the vivid colours easily catching the light in the clear waters. We took out the kayaks to circumnavigate the island, which allowed us to park off at other snorkeling areas.
It felt remote, especially as the place was so rustic, but we absolutely loved it and having nobody else around was fantastic … just us, our guide, the caretaker and the enormous skink (a type of lizard that Kian ‘befriended’) that lived in the big boulder next to our dining platform. Domwe rises about 400m up out of the lake and we decided to tackle the highest peak for sundowners. It was a challenging climb but well worth the effort as we watched the sun set over the lake and contemplated the very long looking journey over to Mumbo Island.
By this stage, we were becoming quite proficient on the kayak and a decent sense of teamwork was beginning to appear … this came as something of a relief as being several kms from land on a large water body is quite an imposing place to be. Lake Malawi is 580km long and 700m deep in the middle so, when you look down from your kayak the water colour is a deep, deep blue that seems to disappear into black.
We’d loved Domwe, but when we arrived at Mumbo, we were wow-ed yet again. The island is much smaller yet even more attractive, with rooms perched on massive boulders on the waters edge with wooden walkways between them. The snorkelling and rock jumping was even better here (we didn’t think that could be possible) and the hikes around the island much easier as the island doesn’t rise up quite as steeply from the water. Furthermore, there were no primates here, which made food storage a lot easier than on Domwe, where the yellow baboons and Sykes monkeys were constantly trying to raid our supplies.
We did have to share Mumbo with other guests – the lodge was busy as this was Malawian Mother’s Day weekend – but everyone else seemed content with their sun-loungers, whilst we were active and exploring all day long. On our kayak trip around Mumbo, Kian located a few, very high looking boulders that we ‘absolutely’ had to jump off and getting to these involved snorkelling to a point, then clambering up rocky faces before leaping into the deep waters below.
It was an amazing 4 days and absolutely idyllic, yet the negative human impact on this pristine wilderness was becoming quite apparent. One aspect was fishing. Every day in the late afternoon, a flotilla of boats would head out to deeper waters to fish for the night. They set up a series of floating lights, which attract lake flies, which is turn attract ‘Kapenta’, a small sardine like fish, which must be similar to the Omena/Dagga we get from Lake Victoria. The scale on which this is being carried out, all around the boundaries of the Lake Malawi National Park, is astounding and does not appear to be sustainable in the long run.
A second aspect was the approach to rubbish and recycling that we’ve witnessed here. Several times on our journey down the lake we saw people throwing rubbish from vehicle windows and, on our walk to the Manchero Falls, one of the self-appointed ‘guides’ who accompanied us threw his plastic drinks bottle over the edge of a cliff … out of sight, out of mind? Single-use drinks bottles are rife here and there doesn’t seem to be any system for collection and recycling in place. Unfortunately, here in Malawi, all of this ends up in the lake. It’s not that that lake is a rubbish dump … it’s still absolutely beautiful, but it won’t take too much time before straws, bottles, wrappers and packets are everywhere. It’s already started and, without substantial and immediate changes to attitudes and behaviour, things will just continue.