Two home-grown Malawian entrepreneurs, Manuel Mangazi and Joseph Mponda, saw a tourism market potential at the feet of the granitic Dzimwe hills under a canopy of tropical savannah climate miombo trees that meet the crystal clear southern lakeshore sandy beaches of Lake Malawi, one of the world’s fresh water bodies, at Monkey Bay in the tourist district of Mangochi. Here they opened a tourist resort on possibly the lake’s spectacular vintage and tourist attract point.
The lake water at Monkey Bay is remarkably clear and its beauty is marked by the heavily wooded baobab and several species of Ticus, Sterculia, Khaya and Albizzia and a groundcover of grass, wild flowers, Brachystegia and shrubby vegetation.
On its part, the rugged natural beauty landscapes of Dzimwe hills offer birding and natural trails through the distinct vegetation and natural habitats that is a specialty to tourists, naturalists, faunists and rock climbers.
Mponda says the area, famed for its monkey population and as one of the country’s main fishing hubs, also has attractive mammals such as hippos, duikers, baboons, vervet monkeys, bush pigs, warthogs and occasional elephants while reptiles include crocodiles and plentiful monitor lizards.
“There have also been occasional reports of leopard, kudu, bushbuck and impala but these have greatly declined from the area,” he says pointing out that the bay and its marine reserve area, the Lake Malawi National Park, is rich in birdlife including fish eagle along the shoreline with adjourning islands being nesting grounds for white-throated cormorant which number in thousands.
The bay, popular for its ship construction, repair and operations, has earned itself a niche for a tourist centre since the British missionary visits of David Livingstone and Chauncy Maples in the 19th century and a place to experience the extra ordinary marine life of the Lake Malawi National Park, home to over 350 endemic small brightly coloured rocky-shore cichlid fish species, underlined by the establishment of Malawi’s Fisheries Research Laboratory.
Monkey Bay, set against the background of the Great African Rift Valley escarpment, serves as one of the world’s evolution study sites comparable to the Galapagos Islands or the honey creepers of Hawaii because of its global importance for biodiversity conservation due largely to its fish diversity that is acclaimed to be an outstanding
example of the ecological processes.
The Lake Malawi National Park, a World Heritage Site, is considered to be a bio-geographical territory with estimates of up to 1000 species of fish, half occurring within the lake, a fish specie count estimated as the largest compared to any other lake in the world. The lake contains 30% of all known cichlids species in the world and is also rich in other fauna including mammals, birds and reptiles.
The park, which covers some 94 km2, is composed of the Cape Maclear peninsula, three other disjointed mainland areas, 12 islands and lake waters that lie within 100 m of the park’s terrestrial sections.
“As a lake port, Monkey Bay, is a strategic area for both local and foreign travellers wishing to establish trade and leisure links between the mainland communities and the lakeshore communities,” says the co-founder of the Monkey Bay Beach Lodge, a facility nestled with seven indoor rooms, 10 outdoor camping tents overlooking the lake with
access to the water front.
The lodge overlooks Thumbi East Islands, a rocky land mass with sceneric plant life at the lake’s inlet to the bay just 500 metres away.
He says, the site of the lodge offers direct opportunity for visitors wanting to go for water skiing, diving, snorkeling, canoeing and swimming.
“We have a speed boat for excursions to the lake islands as well as crocodile spotting expeditions,” says Mponda adding that in due course they intend to have guided night tours to nearby villages for tourists to watch traditional dances and have a feel of the local culture where they can have a taste of traditional dishes under a moon lit night or
wood lit campfires as folklores are reeled out by the dominant native Yao tribe villagers.
The Yao culture dominates in Monkey Bay, which was once ruled by the Muslim Yao chief and slave trader, Mponda, during the 1880s. The local villages relocated from the lakeshore to pave way for a modern ship building and repair company, the Malawi Lake Services (MLS), in the 1940s.
The Yao culture is known for its unique language, tradition, knowledge of the lake, fisheries, bead making, ivory trade, history of slave trade, and folktales. They are extremely warm and friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming to their community.
Apart from being a relaxing place to stay in private rooms or overnight camping tents, Monkey Bay Beach Lodge, is in the process of constructing grass thatched shelters.
The lodge has a bar and catering services for guests and drop-in visitors serving three meals per day. All local food prepared fresh daily with the Chambo fish specialty.
“With the boatyard close by we will be taking visitors to have fun on some of the lake’s principal commercial carriers of cargo and passenger traffic on Lake Malawi at the Malawi Lake Services (MLS) harbour.
MLS has two passenger ferries plying the lake, the 350-passenger steamship Ilala and the MV Mtendere. The MV Ilala, a 620-ton vessel, provides an essential lifeline service to local communities along the Lake. MV Mtendere which is currently grounded travels on a route to Senga Bay in the central region district of Salima. It also used to go
to Meponda in Mozambique.
Visitors to Monkey Beach Lodge include local Malawians, tourists from United Kingdom, France, German, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Asia.
Monkey Bay is 206 kilometres (128 mi) from Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, and 253 kilometres (157 mi) from Blantyre, Malawi’s largest city. It has been described as “the country’s best known tourist resort” and is often travelled through on the road to Cape Maclear. It is connected to the two major cities by car or bus services.
The bay is an upcoming town centre with supermarkets and a market centre and two banks.
Monkey Bay has been described as the “best known resort-area” in Malawi.