Mount Mulanje Summit

Sunday 29th June

Nampula, Mozambique – Manguchi, Malawi

We headed off early to start the long drive to the border of Malawi. Although a dirt track, the road was good and the scenery spectacular and we soon made it to the border for an easy border crossing at Mandimba. It was good to hit country number 15 and our expectations of the good times ahead in Malawi were high.

We descended from the hills towards the lake and arrived at Palm Beach Resort near Manguchi. We chatted to a South African tree surgeon who had become resident here for the past month while working on the grounds. He was a keen Land Rover enthusiast which didn’t make him the most exciting person but it was interesting to see his Series 3 and the state it was in.

We joined him and his girlfriend along with the owner, Rita, and her deaf husband and another family friend for a braii (South African term for barbeque) which was fuelled by cocktails from Rita’s newly acquired rum cocktail book. She was very excited when kilts were mentioned and so as the cocktails flowed, a ceilidh was inevitable.

There were some American girls working at an orphanage who were roused from their rooms to join us as Andy blasted the beach with his pipes to accompany some horrific attempts at country dancing. The American’s night was topped off with a rendition of Amazing Grace that brought tears to their eyes…hilarious!!

14, 342 miles

Sunrise over lake
Road to border
Road to border
Sunset on Lake Malawi

Monday 30th June

Manguchi – Mount Mulanje

We said good bye to a bleary eyed Rita and headed south towards Mount Mulanje. After a brief stop in Zomba for cash and strawberries, we continued to the base of the mountain and organised a guide for the next couple of days. The option of also taking a porter was quickly accepted when we saw the amount of kit and the guys were very keen for the work.

As it was still early afternoon, we decided to head up to Chembe Hut on the hill. It was a gruelling climb as we set a record pace up the steep path. We passed hundreds of local guys carrying up to three huge planks (~100kg) of pine down from the plateau in bare feet. Our guide, Abdul, informed us they only get paid £1 for every plank they carry.

We made it to the hut as the sun was setting and the hut caretaker got the fire going for our boil-in-the-bag dinners. We had the place - which was very similar to a bothy - to ourselves so we grabbed a couple of foam mattresses from the dorm and put them near the fire to help get through the freezing night ahead.

Chembe Hut
Chembe Peak

Tuesday 1st July

Chembe Hut – Chisepo Hut

With a frost on the ground, we had an early start for a 3 hour easy trek to the next hut at Chisepo. We relaxed for half hour in the morning sun before leaving our bags and heading to the summit at Sapitwa Peak (3001m) which is the highest peak in Malawi and in all Southern Africa (north of the Drakensberg). For what looked like an easy climb, it turned out to be an endless slog over huge boulder fields on a steep slope that lended itself to Gollum impressions on all fours.

Abdul somehow navigated us through the tunnels and valleys and we reached the summit after about 3 hours. With some ice lying on the ground, we didn’t hang around too long and started the steep descent back over the bare rock. We were happy enough to avoid any snakes that are common in the tunnels as we arrived back at the hut to be greeted by four South African students. We had a good chat with them as we prepared dinner and realised we must have come across as real ‘ramblers’ when they say some of the kit we had which was truly technical in comparison to theirs.

It was another early nights around a fire which we kept going all night to keep us warm as the students rose for a 5am ascent.

Wednesday 2nd July

Chisepo Hut – Blantyre

For the return leg we took the longer scenic route down through pine forests and past waterfalls which made for a great morning despite our weary legs. Despite leading the pace, Abdul and Justin (the porter) claimed we were going too fast but we insisted it was good training for the porters race which was happening in a couple of weeks which sounded like a tough three hour race over the plateau.

Back at the Land Rover at Likhubula Forestry Office (800m), we said bye to our guides and headed along the road to the city of Blantyre to check out the legendary Doogles backpackers. We devoured some lunch by their pool and checked e-mails before cracking into the Red Bull in order to prime ourselves for a big night ahead. The crowd picked up as the evening progressed with numerous ex-pats in attendance and the shots being lined up. Things got a bit blurry after that…

14,764 miles

Chisepo Hut
Up high
To summit
Tight squeeze
Ice near summit
Summit shot (Abdul in middle)
Summit cave
Big rock
Waterfall descent

Thursday 3rd July

Blantyre – Cape Maclear

The previous evening, we had somehow managed to offer a lift to a couple of backpackers, Jamie & Nicole, who were also heading to Cape Maclear. When our heads were finally ready, we headed back north to the lake. It was a painful drive with minimal chat and not something we were keen to repeat. Even the greasy roadside chips didn’t alleviate the hangovers. This was made worse with the terrible corrugations on the last stretch of road.

Arriving at Fat Monkeys campsite at Cape Maclear, the manager Tania invited/warned us that they were having a huge party on Saturday night. Once again, we had hit another independence day (Malawi’s) holiday weekend. Having missed any beach parties so far on the trip, this news was music to our ears. We grabbed a pizza from the kitchen and had an early night in preparation for what we suspected would be a big weekend.

14,940 miles

Friday 4th July

Cape Maclear

Having left Blantyre the previous day with heads not properly functioning, we realised we had no cash or supplies for the weekend ahead. We decided to head to the nearest town of Manguchi 1½ hours away. Being the generous guys we are, we asked if Tania needed anything from town for the weekend. She decided to join us to save the drive and we headed for supplies at the cash & carry. It was handy to have someone who knew the best places for food and drink and she even bought a huge bucket of strawberries that we tucked into.

After a quick oil change we were all set for the weekend. On the way back to camp we stopped for some lunch at a great farm shop Tania knew where we picked up some huge steaks for dinner. The corrugations took their toll though and shook the rear brake shield loose to a clattering noise. On inspection, it also made us aware of a cracked rear shock mounting which was cause for concern.

Back at Fat Monkeys, we chatted to some of the other travellers there including a huge convoy of old Afrikaan couples who fitted all the stereotypes. We had to celebrate yet another independence day as there was a large American contingent there and headed to a nearby bar where some guys (or hedge monkeys as we labelled them) put on a fire show.

Fat Monkey view
Beach boys

Saturday 5th July

Cape Maclear

We hired a sea kayak for the morning from Dan at Kayak Africa and headed out with some snorkel gear to a nearby island where there was plenty of fish on offer. We returned to shore slightly fried from the sun and grabbed lunch at a locals eatery which took an age to arrive – Andy was still struggling to deal with Africa time.

Back at Fat Monkeys, preparations for the party were underway so we got a braii going for a great steak dinner with a beer or two. As the Red Bull kicked in, so did the party and some of the faces from Doogles showed up. The evening ended in the very early hours after the kilts were donned. Nick vaguely recalls teaching English to a group of 20 kids as the sun was rising.

Sunday 6th July

Cape Maclear

It was a very late start waking up in a sweaty roof tent with the kilts still on. Lots of bleary faces filled the place and the bar was serving lots of water and pizza. Picking up the bagpipes from the sand, we did the post mortem from the evening which was helped by numerous apparent new found friends saying hi and normally laughing.

It was a lazy afternoon as we played DJ on our laptops using the sound system from the night before while rehydrating. One of the beach boys (locals selling stuff on the beach, not the band!) organised a barbeque on the beach later that evening where we were joined by a bunch of kids who sang and danced to keep us entertained. In the next door bar, we heard various whoops and gasps as the Wimbledon men’s final was on. It was a good match apparently. Despite some efforts to get another party going, everyone faded fast which was a relief.

Sea Kayak
Graceful water exit
Kittted up
Aqua boy
Winding it up
Pre party bar
Local party boys
Arm wrestling



Monday 7th July

Cape Maclear – Senga Bay

We packed up and said goodbye to Fat Monkeys via a local welding shop to fix the shock mounting. We also stopped at Toys ‘r’ Us to buy a replica of our Land Rover in wood for Andy’s pleasure

It was a short drive to Senga Bay and we tried to stay at Cool Runnings which we had heard good things about but sadly they were expecting a big group and there was no space. Instead, we headed along to Steps Sampsite which was a nice enough place on the beach. Unfortunately, it was rammed with local families on day trips for the holiday weekend.

We ignored the noise of screaming kids to spend the afternoon sifting photos and updating diaries and starting the detox procedure. The numerous monkeys in the campsite provided an amusing distraction as they made attempts to steal the picnic lunches of the families.

15,165 miles

Tuesday 8th July

Senga Bay


With the crowds now gone, the campsite was a much more chilled place and so we spent the day relaxing on the beach &washing clothes. There was a catamaran sailing marathon this week and throughout the day the boats and support crews arrived on the beach on route to sail up the length of Lake Malawi. They were a mixed crowd of mainly ex-pats who were interested in our trip and vehicle.

Before long the place was filled again with the sailors and two overland trucks that arrived with about thirty travellers in them. While bracing ourselves for another big night, and inspired by the many South Africans we were now meeting, we finally christened the Land Rover with the name ‘Bru’. Ably assisted by the vodka sundowners, we decided this was a great name which caused great hilarity. At the bar, our game of darts was quickly overcome by the overlanders in the trucks but we had a good chat with many of them, including one of the drivers.

With a university degree in hunting, he could finally give authoritative answers to our regular driving game of ‘Which animal would win between an X and a Y?’. To our surprise, an elephant would beat a rhino due to its horn being attached to soft tissue rather than bone. We found it a truly inspiring night, but maybe it was the vodka and over fifteen weeks in each others company!



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South Africa