Many visitors come to hike up Nkhoma Mountain for a panoramic view of Malawi. Nkhoma Mountain is located behind Nkhoma Mission Hospital 50 kilometres south-east of Lilongwe. It is often clearly visible from Lilongwe.
Select a trail and try to stick close to the path (which can be covered with foliage during the rainy season). Some sections can be steep; wear appropriate footware. For some trails a local guide is advised.
Nkhoma is a one hour drive from Lilongwe. Head south down the M1 for 40 minutes until you get to the town of Khampata and you’ll see a turn-off to the left (east) with lots of notices at the intersection, including one to Nkhoma. Continue along this road for 20 minutes (14 kilometres) until you pass the Mission Hospital. Turn left on the first main road past the hospital, and then left again so that you are behind the hospital. Park near the CCAP Nkhoma Synod (church) to start the walk.
Nkhoma Mountain has two visible peaks: Nkhoma and Mbalambala. This formation earned it the local name Phiri La Mitu Iwiri meaning “the two-headed mountain”. Nkhoma Peak, considered the true summit, rises to 1743 m (5718 ft) above sea level, and this is the side where hiking and camping usually happens, when approaching the mountain from the south. If you are going hiking for the day, then best place to park is the Mission Hospital or the CCAP Church, and remember to tell guards to watch over your vehicle. Guards may or may not expect a tip (MWK1000 is adequate). If going camping for one or more nights, then park vehicle at the Synod Guest House, where you also have to check in with Mountain Hut Manager1 and get a pass to show guards at the Hut. The hiking trail is six kilometres (6 km) to the top (a total of 12 km roundtrip), with over 600 m elevation gain, and can start from the Mission Hospital, Church or Guest House. It starts with dirt road for about 20 minutes and then a trailhead goes up on the right (landmarks: a tree and cement pillar with some paint on it).The mountain Hut is 4 km up.
According to the locals in GVH Nsumati, Nkhoma Mountain has a long, rich and significant history to the Chewa people living around the mountain: from slave trade in the 1800s, wars with other tribes, to the coming of the Dutch Missionaries in 1896. Mbalambala Peak, because of its strategic position, offered a natural fortress to fight off Arabs and Yaos looking to capture slaves. Villagers would flee to the mountain there when war loomed (the Yao and Ngoni raids) or rumours of slavers broke, and they hid in caves. From the top of Mbalambala they could see everything approaching from all directions and would properly hold their defense by rolling down boulders and shooting down arrows. There was a pool of water at the ridge near the top, which provided drinking water and, therefore, allowed them to stay longer up there in the caves than their enemies could wait for them down at the villages. Furthermore, Mbalambala was swelling with game then, which the people hunted for food. Some sites there also held a spiritual significance to the people; the Chewa Chiefs had them consecrated for ceremonial and religious rites, which were led by Chewa priests. Besides Nkhoma, other places of historical significance within Lilongwe are Bunda and Dzalanyama, which also happen to be popular hiking destinations. Bunda Hill was a rain shrine and centre for ritualistic ceremonies (led by a High Priestess or Prophetess called Makewana and Nyau, and it played an important role in the social, cultural and economic activities of the Chewa people since the 15th Century. In Chichewa, Bunda is short for “Chibunda or Chiwunda”,meaning “young dove or pigeon”. More important was Dzalanyama. The Chewa passed Dzalanyama range of mountains when migrating from Zaire through Zambia into Malawi. According to Chewa mythology, all things were created by Chiuta or Chauta (God) at Kapirintiwa, a mountain on the western boundary of Central Malawi (with Mozambique), during a thunderstorm. Therefore, it continued to have greater religious and cultural significance in the Maravi empire. In fact, the High Priestess, Makewana, to whom all the priests were subservient, was stationed at Msinja at the foot of Dzalanyama. This area, Kapirintiwa, is Dzalanyama mountain or what is now called Dzalanyama Forest Reserve. In Chichewa, Dzalanyama means “full of game (animals)”.