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Mwanda Peak 

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Mwanda Peak is situated on the Nyika Plateau in the Nyika National Park. The park encompasses almost the entirety of the plateau and is shared between the neighboring countries of Zambia and Malawi, formerly known as Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland respectively.

The location of this transfrontier park provides Mwanda Peak with a unique dual nationality status, although it’s actually situated just inside the Zambian border.  

On the Zimbabwean side, there are no roads leading into the park, therefore, access is only available to visitors from Malawi. In Malawi, the national park is the largest in the country, spanning 3,200m,² yet, it only covers 700 m² in Zambia.

The prominence of Mwanda Peak as Zambia’s highest has been up to debate. Despite being listed as such on several prominent travel sites including Lonely Planet, there’s apparently a nameless summit which is part of the Mafinga Hills also close to the Malawi border which is 181m higher. There’s Zambia High which needs to be considered too. It supposedly exceeds Mwanda Peak by 14m.

The Exploration Society of Southern Africa after personally visiting all these sites did, however, conclude that Mwanda Peak is indeed the highest.
Best Time to Visit Mwanda Peak

The best time to go to Mwanda Peak is May through to November to avoid heavy rains.

Mountain Fact File

Location Info
Continent:  Africa
Country:  Zambia
Province:  Eastern Province
Location:  Close to the Malawi border
Coordinates:  10.6667 ° S, 33.5833 ° E
Height: 2,148 meters
Prominence:  Highest topographical point in the country
Range:  The Malawi Highlands
Other Nature Info:  
The Nyika Plateau is like no other in Africa due to its environment of vast grasslands and gentle hills coupled with the rocky outcrops and valleys filled with tropical forests. UNESCO has tentatively listed Nyika National Park as a World Heritage Site.

During the rainy season, there are well over 200 different types of orchids in bloom covering the montane highland but wildflowers like gladioli and “red hot pokers”, endemic herbs, and heathers are prevalent throughout the year.

The plateau is a flora hotspot because of its unique ecosystem that allows old plants to survive and new and rare ones to thrive as well. For this reason, the Nyaki Plateau is a point of interest to many botanists, biodiversity managers, naturalists, and researchers.
In 2000, 3,343 different species were collected during the Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Nyika Plateau Expedition (SABONET).

The national park can be divided into 3 distinct vegetation communities namely the miombo woodlands which cover more than half of the park’s area, the montane grasslands which make up 37%, and evergreen forests for the remaining 3%.

In terms of wildlife, the zebra is common. The concentration of leopard is one of the highest in Central Africa. The park is also home to over 100 mammalian species including elephants, buffalo, warthogs, and lions. The red duiker also resides in the area and is registered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Game viewing at night also brings out bush babies, honey badgers, nightjars, spotted hyenas, and bush pigs.

With more than 400 bird species, the Nyika National Park is a veritable birdwatcher’s paradise and is considered the best in Malawi.  

The red-winged francolin is endemic to the area. It is also the only place in Malawi where the mountain marsh widow, yellow mountain warbler, chirring cisticola, and cracking cloud cisticola can be found.

Mount Mwanda Name Origin

Mwanda is a Shona word that means “bundled” or “row.” However, it is unconfirmed as to whether this meaning translates over to when Mwanda Peak was named.

Nyika National Park retains the same name on either side of the border although it was initially called the Malawi National Park up until 1969.

The granite dome and the park share the name Nyika which translates as “where the water comes from.” This apt as this area is one of Malawi’s largest water catchments running from 4 major rivers. Water often reaches Lake Malawi over the eastern edge of the mountains as waterfalls.   The annual rainfall is recorded as being over 1,500mm in the highest rainfall areas.

The Swahili word Nyika also means “hinterland” or “bush.”

Mwanda Peak Geology and Formation

The Nyika Plateau is elevated at almost 2,000m above sea level and covers 1,800 km. It separates two of the major faults of the African Rift Valley with Zambia’s Luangwa valley to the west and Lake Malawi in the opposite direction. The African Rift Valley is one of the only places on the planet where tectonic forces are still in play today.

The roughly oval-shaped plateau’s location still experiences regular earth tremors and is considered to have the most seismic activity in Malawi.

The tremors are considered responsible for many landslip scars particularly in the east of the Nyika Plateau but these can also be due to heavy rains. It is also only in this area where Cordierite Gneiss is found.

Typically, small landslides are found with a pronounced concavity in the hillside except for the larger Chelinda mudslide which occurred in 1960.

When radiocarbon dating tests were conducted on the bog soil at the head of the Chelinda landslide it was found that the soil dates back to in between 10,500 BP to 4,200 BP (years before present).

Some of the valleys measure a kilometer in width with a depth of 200m and are often filled with sediments. The maximum recording of this was 6.2 meters deep.

Across the plateau, there are also raised outcrops occasionally which consist of resistant quartzite or Nyika Granite with the latter also making up the underlying sections as well.
Typical of the high plateau soils of the tropics, the area’s soil is mainly acidic. The pH levels range from 4.0 to 5.5 on average.

Climbing (or Hiking) Mwanda Peak

The park offers many activities for visitors. These include hiking, horseback trekking, 4x4 safaris, fly fishing excursions, camping, and mountain biking.

In addition, Nyika Plateau is safe as there are no dangerous animals on the higher elevations. The Nyika National Park has designated wilderness trails of varying difficulty and that takes a day to 4 days to complete.  

To reach the top of Mwanda Peak takes approximately 3 hours and will take hikers across various different terrains.
Accommodation Nearby Mwanda Peak
In 2007, a series of government actions led to the unfortunate closure of the only existing lodges in the vicinity. But 3 years later, 2 of these reopened after extensive renovation:
  • Chelinda Lodge: The lodge has been entirely built from timber and stone collected from the Nyika Plateau. There are 8 double story cabins connected by wooden walkways. Each cabin has a private viewing deck looking out onto the expansive grasslands and plateau, an open plan lounge with a fireplace, and a bedroom with bathroom facilities en-suite. Hot water is available.  

    Chelinda Lodge also has a dining room, bar which doubles up as a communal lounge area, and curio shop.
  • Chelinda Camp: The camp offers more basic accommodation and is approximately a kilometer away from Chelinda Lodge. It has 6 rooms with twin beds, a bar, shop, and restaurant all of which overlook an expansive large trout dam.

    The park’s most popular hiking route known as the Livinsgtonia Route starts from Chelinda Camp all the way to Livingstonia on the Rift Valley. Many of the wilderness trails also go to the pine plantations found behind the camp. The possibility of seeing a leopard here after dusk is high.  

Our Top Tips When Visiting Nyika National Park

  • Rent A 4x4: Regular cars are ill-equipped to handle the terrain leading up to the Nyika National Park. These can only be used to get to the park via Lunazi from Chipta during April to October which is the dry season.

    It is best to hire a high clearance vehicle which can be used inside the less accessible areas of the national park as well. In addition, washed away bridges are not uncommon.
  • Fuel Up: Travelers taking the route via Zambia’s Mpika to Isoke to the national park should refill at the latter as this is the last stop for fuel. On the Malawi side, fuel can also be acquired at Rumphi which is located just before the plateau.

    It is recommended to always purchase extra fuel.
  • Payment Methods: The national park accepts US dollars and payments can be made in cash or with a credit card. The nearest bank and ATM can be found in Malawi’s Bolero which is 90km away.

The Star That Dropped From The Sky - Top Interesting Legend Close To Mwanda Peak

A meteorite impact in the region of the Nyika Plateau was described by D.J. Mossman in 1972. Although the exact location and even the country were unknown, the crater caused by this celestial impact was described as being 80m in diameter.

The details, although somewhat sketchy and based on secondhand accounts from several locals and a forester, was amassed by Mossman when he visited the area a year or 2 after the event was alleged to have taken place.

It’s said that the impact occurred in 1959 on a quiet night at about 2 am. The meteorite fell to the earth in a bright light accompanied by a loud explosion like a gunshot and then rumbling similar to that of an earthquake. The latter continued sporadically for about an hour.

The villagers whose homes are about a kilometer away from where the meteorite landed talked about a star that dropped from the sky. These are only the few that witnessed the actual event and many of the locals deny that it ever happened.

A proportion of the vegetation was destroyed by a windstorm that flared up for a short while after the actual impact. Further reports state that the trees were either scorched or dead and even flattened for 100 m radially outward from the point of impact. The locals further claimed that the only affected trees were those planted by the Musungu (white men) and not those planted by God or themselves.

Initially, the only trace to be found beside the crater was meteorite dust which was collected with a hand magnet.

Only in 1995, after an investigation by a team from Harvard University and the University of Kuwait was this crater rediscovered and the meteor impact confirmed. The only guidelines the group had were that it happened in at the fir tree plantations. This helped them to narrow their search down to the only artificial plantation in the area, Chilinda Pine Plantation, which is just less than 35km from Mwanda Peak.

This crater is known as the Nyika Plateau Structure. It has been suggested that the Chilinda mudslide in 1960 which covered the stream was most likely caused by the meteorite.

Additionally, when the mudslide was inspected by Dr. C.R. Hursh on the morning of the 23rd April 1960, his wife told him she had heard strange rumbling the night before. For a week after it continued to rain heavily.

However, the 1995 expedition team disagrees and says that the landslide was probably caused by a waterlogged dambo and seismic activity which has caused other landslides regularly in the past.

RECOMMENDED TRAVEL APPS

To make the most of your trip to Mwanda Peak, install the below two apps to conveniently take photo routes and measure the height for peaks in the surrounding area.
Peakvisor
Routes.Tips App
Happy travels,
The Routes.Tips Team

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