Zomba Plateau is a lush mountain top dressed in forest, streams and waterfalls in Malawi's Zomba District. Once the capital city of Malawi, (until 1975), Zomba has a rugged history seen today by the many colonial buildings dotted around the winding road up to the plateau. The natural beauty and accommodating temperatures of Zomba attracted a host of European visitors in the 19th Century when it was a British colony. These influences are still seen in the architecture of the town today.
The plateau rises up 1800m above sea level and it offers a good spot for hiking, walking, riding and birdwatching. Zomba Plateau has the oldest forest reserve in Malawi and now houses a large dam which was constructed as a water reservoir in 1999.
Wildlife includes leopard, baboon, giant butterflies, and birds such as long-crested eagle and augur buzzard. The views from the top, which can be reached by road, were once described as 'the best in the British Empire'.
The plateau is also the perfect base from which to explore Zomba Town, which aside from its faded colonial splendour has a bustling market full of local produce.
Malawi's president since independence, Dr Joyce Banda, hails from Zomba and has practised much of her reign in the town, which was historically the capital, as declared by the British rule.
Lake Chilwa, Malawi's second-largest lake, is located in the eastern Zomba district on the Mozambican border. It supports a huge bird and fish population and is surrounded by protected wetlands.
There is a high number of small villages in the area that are near enough for guests staying in the Zomba district to visit. A cultural experience in Malawi is quite exceptional and visitors are welcome.
Towards the town and to the south the plateau presents a rockface of over 750m, while to the west the fall is even greater. Here it forms the faulted edge of the Great Rift Valley and the Shire lowlands. Afforestation has taken place for 100 years and there are now great stands of cypress, Mexican pine and magnificent and rare Mulanje Cedar.
In the ravines and on other steeper slops there is an incredible variety of natural vegetation from jungle-like creepers to wild flowers, from ferns and thorn bushes to orchids and lichen. Butterflies flutter, hover and milk the nectar of the flowering plants. Above all, this plateau is well known for its amazing natural features and prolific birdlife, including black saw-wing swallow, mountain wag-tail, Bertram's weaver and the white-tailed crested flycatcher.
Mammal species that dwell on the plateau include startled mongooses, vervet and samago monkeys and baboons. Fishing in the many dams and streams is also possible.
Malawi’s climate remains at moderate temperatures for most of the year, only getting quite cold in the chilliest winter months of June, July and August. Early morning and evening game drives will require some bundling up, but by midday the sun is out and the skies are clear.
Summers are obviously much warmer and after the season starts changing in September and October, the temperatures start to climb and the clouds prepare for rains. The mountainous topography of the country means that the low-lying areas around Lake Malawi get a lot hotter than the higher levels.
November brings the rain, some years, while other years the rain abates until December. During December, January, February and March, Malawi receives its rainfall and the vegetation begins to grow until it is wonderfully green and lush. It is not the best season for game viewing, though, as the game spreads out and becomes more difficult to see. April and May see the return of the dry weather and the temperatures drop.
Nestled on top of the Zomba Plateau, 900m above the town of Zomba is Ku Chawe Inn. It offers visitors the chance to unwind and soak in the relaxing atmosphere of this tranquil forest reserve renowned for its temperate climate and natural splendour.
Ku Chawe was once visited by the Queen Mother and her husband, Prince Albert, and following that, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. These royal leaders came to visit the capital town of Zomba during its British colonisation.
Today Ku Chawe Inn still stands and offers its guests surroundings of landscape and terraced gardens. The hotel commands spectacular views, which on clear days stretch all the way along the Shire Highlands and Mount Mulanje. Each room has been attractively furnished with ensuite bathrooms, satellite television and log fires to compliment the cosy atmosphere of the Inn.
Malawi is primarily a driving destination and there is very little use of light air transfers. The country is very small and the roads have been well maintained, making for efficient and enjoyable road transport.
The primary international airport is in Lilongwe, the capital city, which is located in more or less the centre of the country. Sun Safaris will fly their guests into Malawi at Lilongwe International Airport from where they will connect with an arranged road transfer that will take them to their wildlife destination.
In other cases, Chileka International Airport, located 16km out of Blantyre, can be used as a domestic terminal for guests choosing to fly as close as possible to their destination in the south of Malawi.