The Nyika Plateau and two smaller highland areas to the north are the only representatives in Zambia of the Southern Rift montane forest-grassland mosaic Eco region. Between September and April, a wide variety of wildflowers can be seen in the national park.
As a consequence of the colonial era when both countries were administered by Britain, a cross-border reserve was established on the plateau. After independence it was divided into the large Nyika National Park, Malawi and the much smaller Nyika Plateau National Park, Zambia. The border between the two parks is the north-south plateau road, which is the only road access, and it starts and finishes in Malawi. Consequently Zambian visitors must enter Malawi to reach it. The nearest Malawian entry points are at Chisenga and Katumbi.
The park extends across the great plateau which is essentially a granitic dome, with an environment that exists nowhere else in Africa. The name, Nyika, means “where the water comes from” as the plateau’s elevation makes it wetter than surrounding areas. Nyika Plateau National Park in the north east of Zambia is one of these amazing places, where you look at the scenery, the valleys, mountains, forests and it does not necessarily say “Africa” at all, until you see the silhouette of a roan antelope in the distance. Very tall trees, 20 metres long at least, and pinecones everywhere. The temperature is several degrees cooler than most of Zambia, Up in Nyika, the air also felt thinner after all, Nyika Plateau is 2500m above the sea level.The rolling scenery is at its best in the rainy season when over 200 types of orchids are in flower.
There are over 400 species of birds that have been recorded in the park .if you are a birdwatcher than Nyika national park is the right place to visit. The rare Denham’s bustard and the wattled crane are among those to be seen, as is the red-winged francolin – which is endemic to Nyika.
The park has one of the highest densities of leopard in Central Africa and there are a number of species of smaller mammals such as warthog and bushpig. Rather than just a place to watch wildlife, what makes Nyika alluring is the chance to explore a unique and preserved patch of African wilderness in a variety of ways: on horseback, by bike, or simply on foot. Common animals here include zebras, bushbucks, reedbucks and roan antelopes, and you may also spot warthogs, klipspringers, jackals and possibly hyenas and leopards. Nyika protects a rich diversity of mammals – almost 100 species have been recorded – including an endemic race of Burch ell’s zebra, Equus burchelli Crawshaii, and a very high density of leopard .The montane vegetation attracts large numbers of antelope from the diminutive duiker to eland and roan. The lower slopes of miombo woodland support good populations of buffalo and elephant, though these animals only rarely move up to the grassland of the plateau. Lion and cheetah are also infrequent visitors to the plateau.
Nyika is wonderful for trekking, mountain biking and horse riding safaris, as well as more conventional 4×4 excursions. Relax by taking in the spectacular scenery whilst spotting bird and wildlife. Get around by four wheel drive, horseback, bike or foot. Game viewing is good all year round, and the open nature of the plateau ensures excellent visibility. In the area around Chilinda, the main camp, visitors are practically guaranteed to see roan antelope, scrub hare, zebra, reedbuck, bushbuck and eland. Your chances of seeing leopard around Chilinda are good. Other attractions include waterfalls, a Neolithic rock shelter, trout pools and even a “magic lake”.
There are various ways to get to Nyika depending on which season you go and what kind of vehicle you have. In the dry season in April to October, the park can be reached in a normal 2WD from Chipata, via Lundazi. Cross over the border into Malawi via Mzimba and Mzuzu and then onto the Plateau. One can also approach from Mpika in Zambia then on to Isoka, this is the last stop for fuel in Zambia. On to Muyombe where you clear Zambian customs, then over to Katumbi in Malawi, clearing Malawi customs and to the plateau.
In the wet season, if in 2WD, one should approach from Lilongwe in Malawi via Mzimba and Mzuzu. If you’re approaching from Zambia in the wet season, a 4WD is necessary to get up to Lundazi from Chipata, through the border with Malawi at Lusuthu then on to Mzimba, Mzuzu and the Plateau. 4WD is recommended for the less accessible areas in the park, but a 2WD is adequate for most roads in the park in the dry season. Extra fuel supplies are recommended otherwise be sure to fill up in Rumphi in Malawi, just before the plateau.
By far the easiest way to Nyika is by air to Chilinda airstrip via Mzuzu. The views from the aircraft are stunning, if you’ve picked a clear day with few clouds, and you can clearly see the foothills, the patches of natural forest, the plantations in Linnaean symmetry and the open expanses of rolling heathland.
Coming from Malawi, Chilinda Camp lies roughly 120km from Rumphi, and is reached along roads which shouldn’t present any problem to a 2WD in the dry season but which will require a 4WD vehicle after heavy rains. The route is clearly signposted: from Rumphi you need to follow the S85 westwards for roughly 50km, then turn right into the S10 to Chitipa. Thazima entrance gate is 8km along the S10. About 45km past the entrance gate, a signposted left turn-off leads to the Zambian Rest house, which lies about 2km from the S10. Perhaps 50m further towards Chitipa, you’ll see the turn-off to the right signposted for Chilinda Camp. Chilinda lies about 16km from this turn-off. The best place to stock up on food before you reach Nyika is Mzuzu, and the last place where you can be sure of fuel is Rumphi (although you can often buy fuel at Chelinda during the dry season). The drive between Lilongwe and Nyika cannot be done in a day during the rains, and it’s a very long (9 hours) slog even in the dry season.
There is a colonial-era rest house, built around 1946, which used to be the only accommodation in either park. After independence, people from Malawi staying there did not have to pass through any border formalities, but paid a “Zambia entrance fee” along with their accommodation bill. It closed in 1998, but was refurbished by a private tour company and reopened in 2006 as the “Nyika House”, available only to pre-booked tour groups. As they have already entered Malawi and there are no formalities and restrictions at the boundary between the two parks, visitors from Zambia usually also visit the facilities and features of the Malawian park. Due to the exclusive nature of the rest house, camping is not encouraged unless large groups of more than eight book the whole rest house and the extra numbers are accommodated in tents.
Any time of the year is good. The warm season (not exceeding 21 degrees C due to elevation) is from September to May, rains fall between December and March. When the sun goes down, even in summer, it can get very chilly. The cold season is from June to August and frosts may occur. Lots of warm clothing is essential at this time. The best colours occur from November to March after the rains have come, the rolling brown hills turn into carpets of green and flowers spring up everywhere. Migrant birds also expand the bird population dramatically. Game viewing however is better in the dry season.