(Photos courtesy of Mumbo Island)
What is this place?
Mumbo Island is an uninhabited tropical island floating on the vast waters of the Lake Malawi National Park marine reserve in the Southeast African country of Malawi. It is only 1 km in diameter and lays 10 km northwest of Cape Maclear. The lake is 600 km long, 80 km wide and over 700 meters deep and is the southern extremity of the African Rift Valley.
What makes it so special?
Well, if you want to feel like the last - or first - people on earth, there is no place like Mumbo. It has the distinction, and awards to prove it, of being eco-friendly in almost every respect. There is no electricity here so forget about your gadgets. The kitchen works off gas, and all lighting is solar-powered. Also, in a country known as the "warm heart of Africa" the amazing Malawian staff will make you feel like part of a rare happy, smiling family. The view of the lake goes on beyond the horizon giving the impression of a crystal clear, sleepy ocean. Plus, there are so many shooting stars at night, you might just run out of wishes.
What manner of wildlife lurks here?
Ever heard of a rainbow skink? You will here. Also check out the large water monitors. Bird life is dominated by the ubiquitous Fish eagles, but twitchers will be rewarded with sightings of less common forest birds like the northeast race hypoxanthus variety of Sombre Bulbul.
And the camp itself?
If you require opulent luxury, look elsewhere. If you want privacy and seclusion, Mumbo is perfection. It accommodates only fourteen guests in five double units and one four-bed family unit in the form of tastefully furnished tents and spacious reed chalets with hot bucket showers and "eco-loos" en-suite, as well as shaded decks with hammocks overlooking the lake. The entire camp is built of timber, thatch and canvas, and is perched on high boulders, combining with the lush foliage to create a Robinson Crusoe ambience. There is also a dining area with bar, lounge and a water sport gazebo.
Meal times are flexible with respect to activities. A wooden, croaking frog calls you, yes really! A simple, scrumptious breakfast is served daily and lunches and dinners feature an array of salads, fresh fish, chicken and vegetable casseroles, curries, stir-fries and pasta dishes. The well-stocked bar is open all day.
So apart from lazing about, what is there to do?
The two-person kayaks are large and stable, and the guides are local residents with an intimate knowledge of the area. Lake Malawi is also a great place to SCUBA dive, ideally suited to beginners or those who prefer relaxed diving with hardly any danger. In fact, it is considered to be the finest fresh water diving spot on the planet. Mumbo is a
Professional Association of Diving Instructors
(PADI) registered resort, offering beginner, advanced and specialty courses. For walking enthusiasts, nature trails weave their way through the massive granite boulders that constitute the island. But lying in my hammock with a book and a cocktail all day long is my preferred adventure activity here...
So how do I get there?
Several airlines fly to Lilongwe from Hong Kong, with one stop or more, including Ethiopian Airlines (your best, shortest and cheapest bet), Emirates and Kenya Airways. Road transfers are available from Lilongwe and Blantyre. Driving time from Blantyre and Lilongwe is around three and a half hours to Cape Maclear. By air: Air Malawi offers domestic flights to Club Makokola or Monkey Bay.
What's the bottom line?
Prices vary between $230 and $260 per person per night, depending on the season. Children stay at a discounted rate. Rates include three meals per day, purified water, bottomless tea, coffee and soft drinks, all activities and equipment, taxes and National Parks fees. Prices exclude alcoholic and bottled drinks, SCUBA diving and sailing. For more info go to http://www.mumboisland.com/
From South Africa: There are daily flights on South African Airlines from Johannesburg. Flight times also allow you to connect from Cape Town, Durban and other cities. Bottom line - leave home in the morning and by sunset you will be sipping a cold Carlsberg beer or a Gin and Tonic as you gaze over the lake.
From Europe: There are daily flights on Kenya Airways via Nairobi; and daily flights on Ethiopian Airways via Addis Ababa. Taking an overnight flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, and connecting from there is also an option.
All above-mentioned flights arrive in Malawi around midday, which leaves enough time to transfer from the airport to your first lodge of choice. Malawi's two international airports in Lilongwe and Blantyre have been recently upgraded and are pretty efficient and welcoming. Pre-arrange a road transfer from the airport (or any other pick-up point) in Malawi's main centers of Lilongwe and Blantyre; from any nearby lodge or National Park; or from the nearest airfield at Club Makokola.