Thyolo (pronounced ‘cholo’) is a picturesque area of neat tea plantations on the gentle slopes of an escarpment overlooking the Lower Shire Valley in the south of Malawi.
Tea has been grown in this area since 1908 and in fact, the first tea ever grown in Africa was in Malawi.
There are a number of estates and plantations in the Thyolo area and if you drive through the region, you will see the labour force hard at work plucking the leaves from line upon line of green tea bushes.
Interestingly, nearly all of the tea-plucking in Malawi is done by men, unlike the plantations of South Asia.
Thyolo Forest Reserve and Thyolo Montain are great places for keen walkers and birdwatchers to visit.
Bird species include the rare Natal thrush and bronze-naped pigeon as well as the vibrantly coloured green-headed oriole.
The Cholo Alethe is one of the area’s noisier residents said to burst into song before the coming of the rains; a kind of avian early warning system. Another vocal inhabitant here is the samango monkey.
At 9,850 feet, Mount Mulanje is the highest mountain in Central Africa, rising dramatically from the rolling highlands below it.
This great leviathan is split in two by the Fort Lister Gap, a wide channel eroded by the Sombani and Phalombe Rivers.
Mulanje’s highest peak is Sapitwa and this colossal massif is surrounded by precipitous cliff faces, some towering over 3,000 feet high.
Rivers run along lines of weakness in the rock and spectacular waterfalls cascade over sheer walls.
The action of the water has eroded great clefts that run back towards the centre of the mountain.
Mount Mulanje has its own climate, owing to its great height and it is often surrounded in a light mist, above which the highest peaks sometimes appear earning it the local name of ‘Island in the sky’.
Heading up the mountain, you leave behind the familiar tropics of Malawi and enter a temperate zone more reminiscent of parts of Europe.
The scenery is absolutely stunning and ranges from majestic stands of Mulanje cedar, dense tropical rainforest and heather-clad plateaus speckled with flowers to the hugely dramatic crevasses, basins and gullies gouged out by fast flowing streams.
More unusual vegetation includes the carnivorous Venus fly-trap. You may also see Whyte’s sunflowers tucked away in rocky shelters.
Animal life is fairly limited on Mount Mulanje although monkeys are common and klipspringer are often seen in the forest.
There are large numbers of small mammals such as hares and voles, birds are also encouraged by the diversity of habitat.
It is a wonderful place to explore as the views are unsurpassed and there are numerous paths to follow.
You may prefer the more relaxed approach of a picnic on the rocks and a gentle stroll along one of the road-side paths but if you want to undertake more strenuous hiking there are challenging routes and some great climbs up to the various viewpoints.
Fly into Livingstone and see the Falls then drive to the Lower Zambezi National Park and camp on the banks of the river. Cross country to South Luangwa Park for more superb game viewing and on to Malawi with optional stays at the stunning Mombo Island on the Lake.