Thursday, 12 September 2013

The bay that is Nkhata.

It would be terrible of me not to write an entry on the place I visit every second weekend, my home away from home, away from home. I cannot believe I have been here over a year and have not written about the legendary Nkhata Bay. It seems fitting that as this weekend marks 12 months since I took my first trip to Nkhata Bay, I write about this place. (How I remember it was this weekend is because it is All Ireland hurling final weekend).
View of the lake from Butterfly
Butterfly beach and deck

Jah family playing at Kaya Papaya

Nkhata Bay is a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Malawi about 45kms south east of Mzuzu that attracts a large number of independent travelers. Most travelers stop as one of their first stops in Malawi as Nkhata Bay is easily reached from Mzuzu (which is on the main a.k.a only road to Tanzania). You can travel between Mzuzu and the bay by mini bus(MK800) or share taxi (MK1,200) and takes a little under an hour once your vehicle fills up. As is the norm with most transport in Malawi, the bus/car does not depart until it is not just full but packed to the brim. The taxis drop you in the centre of town and you emerge into the hustle and bustle of a busy lakeside town.

The difference in altitude between Mzuzu and the bay makes Nkhata Bay a welcome change from the cold winter months in Mzuzu. The difference in temperature starts to hit after about 30mins into your trip from Mzuzu and once I step out of the car, I am constantly surprised by how much warmer it is lakeshore. During the hotter months, it is the lake itself that draws me to it. There is nothing quite like the first dip into the lake after a week of sweating in the office. And so it began my love affair with this town, a place where I have been so often that people know my name, even if I don't know theirs, where the rastas no longer bother me to buy their wooden carvings. A place where I cannot walk down the street without bumping into people I know and a place where I have formed special friendships, over many greens, MG&Ts and bottles of Gold Label while gazing out over the blue expanse of Lake Malawi.

Dining area at Butterfly
Bar at Butterfly
I always stay at Butterfly Space where the owners, Alice and Josie, have become firm friends. Butterfly Space is not just a backpackers hideaway but a community lodge with projects such as nursery schools, hosting a special needs club and helping womens groups. What the guys have achieved here is amazing and they host volunteers year round to help in their various projects. The lodge itself is perched on the lake shore overlooking Ilala Bay with a wide view over Lake Malawi where, on a clear day, you can make out the Mozambican coast. It has an unrivaled bar where you can challenge the local beach boys to a game of bao over a cold green, or where you can dance the night away at one of their parties. The next morning you can sit at their communal eating area and talk about the night before which may, or may not have ended with a trip to Izo Izo, an infamous night club that only closes when the last person leaves. The you can go to Aqua Africa, the local diving school, with, in my opinion the best view in Nkhata Bay, to drink coffee and fall asleep on their comfortable couches before hopping in a share taxi back to Mzuzu. Or make a trip to Chikale Beach for their famous Sunday parties with a DJ playing the best of African tunes while I like to lounge in the lake, the initial dip shaking off any hangover from the night before.

View from Aqua Africa
Beer, beach and bao. An afternoon
 on Chikale
Party on Chikale
What makes Nkhata Bay special? The town has an undeniable draw, it is a place where you can easily get "stuck". I have met many people who have planned a day or two and 2 weeks later they are still there. It differs from other lake shore resorts where the lodges are away from towns, here you have numerous options for food and drinks, lots of people who are here long term to socialise with (which is a welcome addition in a country where people are constantly leaving) and it's proximity to Mzuzu makes it perfect for a day trip or a weekend trip. I am loathe to write about it in too much detail as it's relative "isolation" from the main overland travelers itinerary means that very often, you can have the beach to yourself, but this is a place that captures the heart, the people who live there, Malawians and expats, are friendly and fun, it is a place where you can relax or party hard, a jumping point to explore the lake shore via the Ilala ferry, or visit the islands (Likoma and Chizimulu), Usisya or Ruarwe. I fear I am doing this town a terrible injustice with my descriptions but is really is a place that you have to visit to truly appreciate it.

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