Nyika is Malawi’s largest park, with an area of no less than 1250 sq miles (3200 sq km) extending across the great Nyika plateau, which is a granitic dome of rolling ‘whaleback’ hills cut by streams and interspersed with pockets of sheltered evergreen forest. Reaching altitudes of over 8000 ft (2500 m), its environment is like none other in the whole of Africa, with its stunningly beautiful scenery leaving most of its visitors lost for words. Often compared to wilderness areas found in Europe, Nyika has the added attractions of being inhabited by large numbers of African safari animals and, at times, sitting above the cloud.
The name, Nyika, means “where the water comes from” and it is, indeed, one of Malawi’s most important catchment areas. It is perhaps at its best in the rainy season when over 200 types of orchid are in flower, the richest concentration of orchids in south-central Africa. though the grasslands of Nyika are rich in wildflowers in other seasons.
The montane vegetation is home to a diverse array of wildlife including large numbers of antelope, from the diminutive duiker to roan and eland, the largest in Africa. During the breeding season, both the roan and eland gather into herds as large as any seen across Africa. Zebra are common and bushbuck are regularly seen outside Chelinda Lodge. The park has one of the highest densities of leopard in central Africa and there are good sightings particularly in the forest behind Chelinda Lodge. Hyena and jackal are occasionally seen and there are a number of species of smaller mammals such as warthog and bushpig. Elephants and buffalo usually keep to the lower ground on the northern edge of the park but more elephants were brought in to the park a couple of years ago and they do very occasionally make it up to the higher plateau.
For birdwatchers, the park has a lot to offer: over 400 species have been recorded. The rare Denham’s bustard and the wattled crane are among those to be seen, as is the red-winged francolin – endemic to Nyika.
Nyika is wonderful for trekking and mountain biking as well as more conventional 4×4 excursions and safaris. There is such a lot to see in the vast park: waterfalls, a neolithic rock shelter, trout pools and even a ‘magic lake’ are just some of the attractions beyond the breathtaking vistas and wildlife encounters.
Accommodation at Nyika has been run by Central African Wilderness Safaris since 2010. Chelinda Lodge offers stunning, upmarket log cabins and the nearby Chelinda Camp has cheaper cottages and rooms.
Nyika National Park doesn't follow the same pattern in terms of the best months to visit as other parks in the region. The wet summer months from November to May are the best months for wildlife viewing on the plateau as the weather is fair, and less cold for visitors.