The Viphya Plateau is a true, exciting highland wilderness cut by a number of rivers running into Lake Malawi. Although there are large areas of commercial forestry, there are also rolling grassland hills, Rift Valley escarpments descending to Lake Malawi and even sections of indigenous rainforest. Viphya is a great, dissected plateau aligned parallel to the Great Rift Valley (containing Lake Malawi). Dotted with small isolated hills called inselbergs, it forms the spine of North Malawi, with its highest peaks rising over 1800 metres (6000 feet). The saddle in which the city of Mzuzu lies splits the Viphya and to the north it meets Lake Malawi very abruptly, leaving no space for lowlands at the lakeshore.
To visit the Viphya is to experience the wild. In the forest plantations there is a sense of peace and tranquillity as one walks through the dense, sweet-smelling pines. The birdlife is famously varied. As well as the lesser double collared sunbird adopted by Luwawa Forest Lodge as its logo, there are osprey, eagles, buzzards, herons and egrets to be seen. Bearded vultures have also been reported. While the birdlife is widely spread, mammals tend to be seen more likely to be seen near the dambos and along the stream courses. The Viphya is not a wildlife reserve nor a safari destination but there may still be occasional sightings of some small mammals – the likes of bushbuck, duiker, monkeys and baboons. The plateau is also home to leopard, civet, porcupine, mongoose and hyena.
Much of the Viphya Highlands’ attraction is, paradoxically, because so much is uninhabited – vast areas of primary montane forest and plantations of high standing pine, patches of Brachystegia woodland and riverine forest. A drive along the M1 that cuts through the plateau can itself be rewarding. There are some exceptionally fine views from the road south of Mzuzu where gaps in the hilly terrain allow panoramic vistas towards the broad plains of the Kasitu River. Little clusters of mud and thatch huts look like some model in a museum’s display.
Short treks into the forest can be done with safety especially around Luwawa Forest Lodge where there are marked trails. For longer treks, a guide should be used. Luwawa also offers trails descending the Rift Valley escarpment to the shores of Lake Malawi, using fly camps over a few nights. These can be undertaken on foot or on mountain bike and provide an unrivalled opportunity to see the fauna and flora of the Viphya. The lodge offers a number of other activities on the Viphya, including horse riding trails and even some water sports on the small dammed lake in front of the lodge.
Accommodation offered at Luwawa Forest Lodge includes cottages, rooms and a dormitory. It is a charming, good value eco-lodge with a wonderful setting and lots of activities on offer, including excellent cultural interaction in the local villages.