Malawi’s Mountain of Tea: Hiking Mt. Mulanje

, January 10, 2012

Malawi is not famous for its mountains, rather for its wide fresh-water lake and internationally renowned Lake of Stars Music festival. In fact there is only one mountain in the entire country, but what a mountain. The last in the Afro Mountaigne range, stretching from the top of Ethiopia all the way down the spine of the continent, Mount Mulanje keeps up the range’s proud tail; the largest in Southern Africa. The mountain creates a unique bio sphere with breathtaking backdrops for great walking and the finest cup of tea one could wish for.

Standing at only 3002m, the Mulanje Massif is not to be written off due to its lack of height. An ancient volcanic plug sitting proudly in the southern Malawian flatland, it is over 208 square miles in size and can only be fully explored via a six day walk across its shelf. Its slopes are cloaked in tea, the mainstay of the southern industry, and it is possible to arrange for pre and post walk accomodation at one of the many tea estates. I would recommend Lujeri Tea Estate, one of the largest in the region with over 3,300 acres of tea. Lujeri provide guests with a self-catered plantation with panoramic views of both the mountain and rolling tea bushes. Alternatively it is possible to stay at the town of Chitakale in a variety of lodges such as the Mulanje View Motel.

Mount Mulanje Malawi TeaThe hiking is simple, with only the final rocky scramble up to the peak Sapitwa (3002m) proving ‘tough’ at worst. Otherwise traverse the Massif by ascending its various peaks and demi-peaks; highlights include Chagaru Peak, Manene and Mchese. Guides are not a necessity but the Mountain Club of Malawi requires a park entrance fee  (approximately $10) and can provide both maps and decent guides if need be.

The mountain is dotted with huts, varying in capacity (the largest can sleep 12, the smallest 2). Whilst you are encouraged to bring all the necessary camping gear, each hut contains cooking utensils, well worn mattresses and sufficient firewood to keep you through the cold night.  All rates can be found on the homepage of Mountain Club of Malawi and booking and plans can be made through them.

The mountain’s lower reaches are cloaked in thick forest, home to the native and unique Malawian Cypress, which is on the brink of extinction due to illegal logging. Mulanje is famed amoungst butterfly catchers and ornithologists as it is a unique biosphere home to number of rare species including the Cholo Alethe and White-winged Apalis.

Mount Mulanje Malawi Face

Getting to Mountain Mulanje

Travelling to Mulanje is relatively simple. South African Airways flies to the Malawian Capital of Lilongwe from Johannesburg twice daily and from there a regional flight on Air Malawi will take you straight to Blantyre.

From Blantyre, hop on a minibus heading east to the Mozambique border and then alight en route once you’ve worked out where you want to begin the trek. The ride shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars and if you want to stay a night in Blantyre, Doogles is a good lodge and has a deal of information about hiking Mount Mulanje.