A zigzag ride through Khwekhwerere Road in the mountainous part of Dedza leads to a place known for its natural scenic beauty—Cape Maclear. Located on the southern tip of Lake Malawi, Cape Maclear is home to Lake Malawi National Park, the first fresh water national park in the world, and also a World Heritage Site.
The park, which covers an area of 94.1 km² of which 7 km² is water, is the only park in Malawi that was created to protect fish and aquatic habitats. The rest is land around the cape and bay as well as the 13 small islands off shore, such as Mumbo, Domwe, Thimbi and Boadzulu.
Director of the park, Leonard Sefu, describes the islands as eco-friendly and relatively untouched because of their natural scenic beauty.
“The waters of the park are home to 500 fish species, including the thousands of freshwater colourful fish called mbuna, which are only found in this part of Lake Malawi,” explains Sefu.
In addition to marine lives, the park with its wide reserved land in the cape and bay is home to terrestrial animals such as baboons, antelopes and birds of different variety. Reserved plants and trees include a large baobab, supposedly over 800 years old, where it is said David Livingstone used sit to and give sermons to the people.
With all the natural beauty of the park, its 13 islands, plants and animal reserves and the historical monuments, it is clear that Lake Malawi National Park has a huge potential for tourism.
However, the only infrastructure development around the park, besides Kayak Africa Investments, is just a few lodges and cottages in Cape Maclear that do not even cater for the tourists visiting the area.
The park has ruins of what used to be important buildings including the old Golden Sands Hotel that operated in the 1960s and 1970s.
The hotel and other buildings were abandoned due to lack of financial support.
Rocks and mountains, though they add beauty to the place, also prevent people from communicating with each other.
“We fail to communicate over mobile phones most of the time. Even watching television here is a nightmare,” said a boat ride operator at Cape Maclear.
Traditional Authority Nankumba of Monkey Bay says the place looked better in the 1970s.
“The ruins show that the place had beautiful lodgings. I remember old friends who used to work at the park boasted that their payments were good because there was good business in those days,” explains the chief.
He says nowadays, though some people are employed at the park, it is not as it used to be.
Some tour operators feel unless more infrastructures such as buildings, communication technology and electricity reaches most of the islands, tourism will not flourish.
Senior park and wildlife officer Bryson Banda said the park, if improved, would be a very attractive site for tourists and travellers from all over the world.
“The park has so many interesting sites that only need some improvements and renovations. We know we can earn a lot than what we do now if the improvements are made,” says Banda.
He also specified most of the challenges that wildlife officers and tour guides face, including shortage of resources such as cruise boats, firearms and houses for the officers.
“With reliable cruise boats and other water resources, we would explore tourism based on water spots around the park,” says Banda.
When Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife Rachel Mazombwe-Zulu visited the place on April 9 this year, she said government plans to improve Lake Malawi National Park.
Zulu said it is possible to develop the place because government has included tourism in the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP).
“My ministry has plans to develop tourism around Lake Malawi. More investors have also expressed interest to help develop tourism in Mangochi,” said Zulu.
She said she was impressed by the natural beauty of the islands of Mumbo and Domwe, which are run by Kayak Africa, a foreign based investor.
She said: “It would be productive if the other 11 islands in the park were in good condition like these two.”
For example, visitors pay $225 (about K90 000) for a room at Mumbo Island for a single night.
With plans to reverse the trend and make use of the 13 beautiful islands, Malawi tourism industry will eventually be boosted.