Hiking Mulanje Massif:
Mount Mulanje, known to the locals as ‘the island in the sky’, is the highest mountain in southern-central Africa, and Sapitwa, its highest peak, overlooks the clouds from 10,000 ft. It is well worth a visit if you fancy hiking 46km, burning a quick 15,000 calories, having a 4-day digital detox, or just want to get away from it all and witness the unparalleled views of southern Malawi.
Having spent some time on the lake relaxing and enjoying some epic dives, and probably one too many sundowners, it was time to take the plunge. I had not been in a while so was well overdue a Mulanje detox. With all my gadgets and Lotte in tow, I decided to pay the mountain a well overdue visit.
For more about Lake Malawi have a read here: Some of our favorite spots on Lake Malawi.
…and watch out for a little more on Zambia…coming soon!!
Pre-hike R&R at Huntingdon House
The night before, we headed to the upmarket Huntingdon House, for a little R&R before our mountain march. Set in the stunning Satemwa Tea Estates, Huntingdon House represents a bygone era of colonial grandeur and is the perfect add on for before or after your Mulanje adventure. It offers the ultimate relaxation and homely comforts you need for a relaxing couple of days away.
We were joined here for the night by our latest sales & marketing recruit, Gabriella Costantini, (find her Huntingdon House blog here). The three of us enjoyed a delicious late-lunch and set off on an adventurous ride on the tea estate’s open-top bakkie, heading up Thyolo Mountain to the ‘picnic spot’.
My highlight during this trip had to be when I asked for a Savanna for the drive, our guide’s response was “No, you will be fine”. Just as well, as he drove like Lewis Hamilton to make sunset in time. Wow – This spot was picture perfect. Cold G&Ts and amazing views over the Satemwa Tea Estates. After numerous photos, we headed back to Huntingdon for a delicious dinner and an early night. The rooms here are welcoming, spacious and comfortable, just what we needed for a good night sleep before we tackled Sapitwa. Huntingdon House is ideally located just 45-minutes from our starting point Likhubula Hut. The next morning, we enjoyed a quick but fantastic breakfast, said bye to Gabi and made our way to Mulanje to meet our partners in crime.
FYI: Another ideal (and more budget-friendly) place for you pre or post Mulanje tour is Game Haven Lodge. As a newer build and with more rooms, it is less bespoke than Huntingdon House, but can offer good, clean accommodation, decent food and an abundance of wildlife, including zebra and giraffe, that freely roam the grounds.
Day 1: Let’s go!
Likhubula Hut is the starting point for the route we were hiking which would include the CCAP Cottage, Chisepo Hut, Sapitwa and back down via Chambe Hut… approximately 46km of hiking over 3 nights/4 days.
We were met by our fantastic guide, Comstar, from Mulanje Outdoors (our local partners in Mulanje). These guys are fantastic, they know the mountain like the back of their hand, are super friendly, operate with great health and safety procedures and we love to support local!
Comstar introduced us to the team of porters and our head mountain chef, Button. Mr. Button has cooked for me on many occasions in the past, so I was excited to taste his delicious meals again. Comstar then gave us a detailed plan, briefed us on the route we would take and the time frames in which we would aim for. We then set off for the CCAP Cottage.
Lunch at Likhubula Pool
First stop was for lunch at the beautiful Likhubula Pool. Likhubula is a stunning rock pool, with a striking waterfall and crystal-clear water. It looked so inviting we decided to go in for a quick dip in the ice-cold pool… the refresher was totally worth the torture of the icy-cold water. Our first day up to CCAP ended up being about a 5hr hike, ascending from roughly 850m to 2150m and covering 11km (apparently a burn of 2,900 calories, according to my Endomondo App!). Sadly, once again keeping up with my drone crash record, the drone crashed into the rocks and that was the end of that…
Comfort at CCAP Cottage
The last 30 minutes of our first day of hiking was incredible. As the golden glow of the setting sun illuminated the area, we watched the sun go down on our first day on Mulanje, just as we were welcomed into CCAP Cottage with a warm hot chocolate and a place to put our feet up by the roaring fire.
The mountain huts have no electricity or solar power, so it’s all about candlelight, meals cooked over a fire and bucket showers. Dinner and a glass of wine sent us straight to bed (they actually have bunk beds and mattresses at the CCAP hut, which is more than most mountain huts provide).
Day 2: Rewarding landscapes
Day 2 was an early start, a hot cup of coffee, warm oats, and eggs on toast (all cooked over the fire by Button). Fuelled up, we set off for another day of hiking. We hiked 6hrs from 1850m to 2350m covering 15km to basecamp, aka Chisepo. Thus, clearly wasn’t enough for us, so, we decided to go on a detour to see the sunset point. It really is a stunning viewpoint with some amazing streams, rock pools and views. If I ever climb this mountain again, I will get to CCAP a few hours earlier to get here for sunset…you should do the same.
Sunset & splash shower
We continued back past CCAP and en-route to Chisepo, we stopped at a beautiful halfway point for lunch, where I had some fun with my GoPro, trying to video the tadpoles in the mountain streams. Finally, we reached Chisepo and just in time for another exquisite sunset, as well as a hot chocolate and an epic splash shower. Tonight was always going to be an early night as we would depart at 2 am the next morning to reach Sapitwa for sunrise (madness I know, but you can’t hike all that way and not try to aim for the sunrise). Another delicious dinner and early bed. This time on a thin mat in the communal hut, not the ‘luxury’ bunk beds or mattresses like we had at CCAP, but it all adds to the experience.
Day 3: Hiking in the dark
Day 3 was a VERY early start; the alarm buzzed and woke us at 01:50 am. I had forgotten to pack longs to hike in, plan B it was, my Pj’s. As early as it was, I was pleased everyone got a good laugh out of it! We set off at 2 am, the peak would take approximately 8hrs, ascending from 2350m to 3000m and back down to 1900m at Chambe.
Hiking in the dark has its challenges! Over, under and around boulders, up rock faces, we eventually made it to Sapitwa for just after 6 am. The views were incredible… but it was FREEZING! There was a bitterly cold wind, so I was thankful for my long PJs, I was not going to attempt to brave this in shorts despite my somewhat unusual fashion choice. We appreciated the stunning views, took a few pics and videos and started our descent, arriving back at Chisepo for a 9 am breakfast. Going down was marginally tougher than going up. On a positive note, it was daylight, so we could see. However, walking down rock faces and bouncing from rock to rock was tough. Remarkably we made it with no injuries…success! Button whipped us up a quick breakfast and we settled down for a power nap before descending for another 4 hours to Chambe hut. This was a beautiful walk and not nearly as brutal as Sapitwa. Again, we arrived in time for sunset and another final bucket shower. The last supper was just as tasty as the first two, and as usual, were in bed early sleeping next to the fire.
Day 4: What goes up must come down
Day 4 was another early start. We needed to get to Likhubula, pick up the car and drive to Lilongwe. Feeling positive and reminiscing about the last 3 days, we reached the bottom by 10 am and were back in Lilongwe by 4 pm. All in all, a great few days and definitely almost worth the torture.
My lessons learnt for this trip:
- Make sure drone wings are tightened properly.
- Pack EXTRA warm for Mulanje, do not forget a beanie, gloves or long hiking pants.
- Pick your walking partner very carefully…it may just be the two of you up the mountain and you will require some entertainment. Mine for the record was perfect.
If you would like to hike Mount Mulanje, contact us! We can create a great itinerary incorporating Mount Mulanje and other top Malawi (and Zambia) destinations.