Imagine a Gothic cathedral on a tiny island in a tropical fresh water lake. St Peter, holding the keys to the Gates of Heaven, gazes across the rocky shoreline edged with indigo and ultramarine, to the mountains of Mozambique. The biblical rooster at his feet looks remarkably African.
This is Likoma Island, a patch of Malawi in Mozambican waters. The island was the headquarters of the Universities Mission (Anglican) in the late 1890â€™s. Chosen as protection from constantly warring tribes, a rocky castle with a natural moat. The first bishop, Chauncey Maples, drowned shortly after his appointment when his boat capsized in a storm. The missionary, whose name was immortalised by a ship which now lies in disuse, was on his way to this paradise in the watersâ€”although St Peterâ€™s cathedral itself was built some 10 years after his death.
Stay, if you can, for the service on Sunday, when the grace of bricks and girders are fleshed out by joyful diversity of voices raised in harmony.
Itâ€™s a stirring experience for both tourists and believers.
According to locals, the island boasts less than 10 vehicles but many paths criss-cross it. Walking in the shadows of the baobabs and mango trees keep tourists eyes peeled for the little crimson-rumpled waxbills unique to Likoma.
Boats will ferry you round the island, across to Mozambique, or to the smaller island of Chizumulu. Beware of crocodiles, though, in this seeming sea.
Those using boats must steer clear of sudden fierce storms which sank the newly launched MV Viphya in 1946. But the scenic spot is usually serviced by MV Illala and the on-and-off Mtendere.
On the south-western shore, luxury eco-lodge Kaya Mawa basks in the glory of granite boulders, sandy beaches and baobabs, an intoxicating blend of English fairytale and African legend.
A visit to Likoma, on the ubiquitous Ilala or by private air charter, is unlike any experience anywhere else. Here the heart slows to a different rhythm.
Opposite Likoma and Chizumulu islands is the bustling port of Nkhata Bay. There, and around Chintheche to the south, are dozens of other small, often simple, lodges built of local materials and right on the lovely silver sand beaches.
Activities in Likoma include snorkelling, wind gliding, kayaking, diving, fishing, boat trips, bird-watching, mountain biking and equestrian sport/horse riding. Government trained guides
are available at Nkhata Bay but best check their identity cards before hiring.â€”www.visitmalawi.com