Zomba Plateau rises dramatically from the Shire Highlands in the south of Malawi, dominating the skyline of the eponymous city of Zomba, which sits at its southeastern tip. Covering a total area of 130km² and reaching over 2,000m at its highest peak, it is an abrupt and imposing fortress of granite rock. It is a much loved and celebrated inselberg.
The plateau is home to a mix of pine, cedar, and cypress trees alongside pockets of indigenous montane forest and Miombo woodland, all interspersed by lakes, rivers, and the occasional waterfall, such as William’s Falls. Nearby lies Chingwe’s Hole, a deep cavity in the rock where local leaders were once said to have disposed of adversaries.
Like much of the region, the massif was historically inhabited by the Chewa, which remains the largest ethnic group in Malawi. Much later, the Yao people migrated into the area from what is now Mozambique, settling as farmers and traders. Later still, the British established the city of Zomba as their administrative capital for the British Central Africa Protectorate at the foot of the plateau. With its cooler climes and natural beauty, this ‘island mountain’ gained a reputation as the ideal retreat for city administrators and their families.
Zomba Plateau continues to enjoy a reputation as a natural haven to this day. Birdlife includes the long-crested eagle and the tiny and endangered white-winged apalis. Vervet monkey, samango monkey, and yellow baboon are all relatively widespread across the plateau, as are antelope such as bushbuck. Sightings of serval cat, mongoose, and even leopard have also been known, if exceptionally rare.
Sadly, these sightings are likely to remain scarce in the near future, as deforestation continues at a pace on the plateau, as it does in much of the country. Industrial logging coupled with the local populations’ need for subsistence firewood is placing Zomba’s natural resources under intense strain. However, several initiatives are underway to help reforest the plateau, and to further strengthen its tourism credentials, thereby offering an attractive and critical alternative to the timber industry.
See Zomba Forest Lodge to learn more about the part played by ecotourist ground operators in protecting the Zomba Plateau.