At around 570 kilometres in length and 75 kilometres wide, Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Niassa) is the third largest lake in Africa. Teeming with fish, this lake has supplied the inhabitants of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania with food since time immemorial. The underwater world with its many unique endemic fish species is a marvel for visitors.
Lake Malawi looks truly resplendent from the air: peacock-blue waters and fringed by sandy white shores. If you travel over land to Lake Malawi, you can stay in Chintheche, which is located slightly to the south of Nkatha Bay. The lodges here are situated along a stunning beach, which is within walking distance from a local fishing village. It seems as though time has stood still here - fish are still caught using the same age-old technique in dug-out tree trunks.
There are two islands in Mozambique's territorial waters just to the east of Lake Malawi, which were colonised by Anglican missionaries spreading east from Malawi. The largest island, which is approx. 17 km2, is called Likoma Island. The Universities Mission was set up here at the end of the 19th century as a safe place for the Anglicans during the lethal battles that were fought by the tribes. Strikingly enough, a gothic cathedral stands in the capital of Likoma Island. Petrus stands proudly in front of this cathedral, looking out over Mozambique and holding the keys to the gate of heaven. The cock at his feet looks startlingly African. The first bishop of the island drowned shortly after his appointment when his boat capsized during a storm. Mass on Sunday is a beautiful experience, if only because of the many hymns that are sung.
The network of the roads on the island is modest to say the least. Everybody travels on foot here and this compulsory deceleration is by no means a punishment, since walking affords you the opportunity to stroll past mango and baobab trees. It also gives you the chance to see the endemic lesser seedcracker.
Likoma Island is also a true paradise for divers, since below the surface you will swim among a whole host of tropical fish tropical fish that you would otherwise only see in an aquarium. Getting to the island does however take a little effort: you can travel by land and take the steamboat to the island, but it's easier to fly there in a Cessna. This will allow you more time to swim among the tropical fish.
The sparkling surface of Lake Niassa gave reason for David Livingstone to name this 'the lake of stars'. The real stars live under the surface however: the lake contains no less than 1500 different species of tropical fish. Lake Niassa has more unique endemic fish species than any other lake in the world, making it a classic example of specialised evolution. This was also reason enough for UNESCO to add Lake Malawi National Park, to the south of Lake Malawi, to its list of World Heritage sites. It's also interesting to know that the beautifully coloured cichlids, which are favoured by many aquarium enthusiasts, originate from Lake Malawi. There are between 750 and 1000 different species and they are regarded as one of the biological wonders of the world.
Another fish species that thrives in Lake Malawi is the chambo. This is the national fish of Malawi and is extremely popular served with chips and beer. The sardine-like usipa is another favourite, which are eaten dried. You will often see women working along the banks of the river in the villages with large quantities of these.
The large variety of fish species make Lake Niassa an attractive and inspiring place to dive and gain your first diving qualification. There is also plenty to keep experienced divers entertained, as well as ample opportunity to snorkel, kayak or sail.
Cape Maclear is located to the south-west of Lake Malawi at the very top of the peninsula, and besides a beautiful beach, Cape Maclear has no less than twenty fantastic diving sites. Dives here are also taken in the company of the curious otters that are local to these waters. A boat trip will also enable you to obtain a good impression of the peninsula and the surrounding smaller islands; or you can test your own and travel by kayak to the islands.