The Mushroom Farm, Malawi: a clifftop utopia
It was after the third mention of ‘The Mushroom Farm’ by fellow travellers that I decided I had to know more about this apparent ‘must see’ on the African backpacker trail. All had mentioned its remoteness as its main quality, but i knew nothing more. As it happens, our time on Zanzibar is coming to an end and we have a long, rough ferry ride from Stonetown to Dar Es Salaam ahead of us before Miranda flies home to Australia tomorrow. Taking out my trusty Lonely Planet Africa I flick straight to the chapter on Malawi, where I’m instantly intrigued by the following passage:
“this permaculture camping ground perched on the mountainside is worth the arduous journey for the astonishing views”. Screaming “hell yeah” under my breath, The Mushroom Farm Malawi is added as the next destination on my journey.
After waving goodbye to Miranda at the airport the next day, my new journey begins with a flight from Dar Es Salaam to Mbeya (and what seems like the world’s smallest airport) before catching a bus into town. For the most part, Mbeya is off the map and devoid of any large-scale tourism, yet I manage to find a comfortable room in a guesthouse and settle in; becoming giddy with excitement when i discover the World Cup football on its small tv. The little things!
6am arrives and I’m up again, ready for another bus ride to the Tanzania-Malawi border. Rural Tanzania rolls by and after crossing the border with relative ease and obtaining another passport stamp, i find a minibus heading for Chitimiba. In what will become a common occurrence in this beautiful country, an incredibly kind local hands me the front seat and off we head.
The Mushroom Farm Malawi: A Clifftop Utopia
The Mushroom Farm Malawi is located in North of the country, in between the lakeside town of Chitimba and the missionary settlement of Livingstonia. I had previously been warned the journey was onerous, a 15km hike from Chitimba or, if you are lucky, a lift via the long, steep, multiple hair-pinned road.
Arriving into Chitimba, i’m approached by another friendly local who offers to lead the way to the Mushroom Farm, and carry my backpack. Given its weight and the stifling heat, I duly accept and we head off.
An hour passes before we stop for a water break. I am shattered. Kilimanjaro is catching up with me. In a stroke of sheer luck, I hear the rumble of an engine approaching and sure enough, an SUV appears. I manage to haggle a ride and gleefully jump in the tray back, squashed alongside 10 or so locals returning from their day at the markets. The drive is painful, perilous (and probably not covered by insurance!) but somewhat exhilarating and 20 minutes later I finally walk into The Mushroom Farm Malawi.
What strikes me immediately is the view; words cannot do it justice. Spreading out over the rift valley to Lake Malawi, the view extends far in the distance, Tanzania. As I walk further into the grounds I’m greeted by Maddie, the owner, who offers me a water as i take in the scenery, proclaiming its beauty. She nods in agreement, clearly having heard the same exclamation by other travellers.
I choose a safari tent as my lodging; the view from this and my private balcony is breathtaking.That evening, while enjoying an amazing vegetarian meal compliments of the resident chefs - two local ladies from a women’s group known as the Manchewe Mountain Mamas - I chat with a large group of friendly South Africans who provide me with a ‘to do’ list of the local area. They also suggest i wake at 5am to watch the sunrise.
Waking at 5am the next morning snug after a wonderful night's sleep, a bright orange glow peeks through the gap in my tent. I jump out of bed, sit on my balcony and take in the brilliance of the rising sun. Sure enough, the South African group are up, also watching in awe. The memory of this beautiful moment will last a lifetime.
I decide to spend the day exploring the area’s most famous attraction, Manchewe Falls. The falls, surrounded by thick rainforest were a hiding spot for locals during the slave era, and a local, Junior, offers to show me around. Junior takes me to a cave behind the waterfall and i sit and enjoy another amazing view. I walk on further into town, Livingstonia, bypassing many friendly locals, all probably wondering why a single ‘Mzungu” (Swahili term for ‘European’) is strolling through the area.
Arriving into Livingstonia is a little like being transported back in time. The town was founded in 1894 by missionaries arriving from Scotland, and it seems not much has changed. Scottish stone and brick homes dot the mountain ridge, while locals dressed in their Sunday best venture to mass. I have seen nothing quite like this in Africa.
Fearful i may not make it back to the Mushroom Farm in light, my stay is brief. As i head back along the long, orange dirt path, the friendly local kids beg for my water bottles - a vital local bartering item in the storage of liquids. I hand them over and smiles abound; I feel i have made their day.
The camp is quiet tonight, so i spend time getting to know Maddie and her boyfriend Dan. Their story is amazing, but i’ll let you discover it when you visit!
After a few days spent at The Mushroom Farm in a hammock - reading, catching up on diary entries, doing yoga, eating delicious vegetarian fare and exploring the area - I find out Netherlands Vs Mexico is playing tonight on the only tv in area, in the local orphanage. As it so happens, two Dutch travellers are staying at the farm, so we head to Manchewe village and excitedly. Junior, our exuberant guide from the other day, takes us to the orphanage with what seems like the whole village.
Men, women and children clamour into the small, dark room with a 15” TV powered by a generator in the corner. Two men sit in a wheelbarrow, such is the lack of space. Local support aligns to the Dutch and specifically Arjen Robben. Mexico score first and a chorus of boos ring out and with the match heading towards a Mexican victory, the Dutch win a penalty. The room erupts and not long after, the Dutch score again to secure victory. The atmosphere is mind blowing. Singing and dancing ensues and i am swept up in the moment, dancing to the beat of life. I am reminded why i travel. We set off home in the dark having just had the most unexpectedly exciting night.
Sadly, without an ATM in the near area, I know i will have to leave soon to replenish my funds. I spend the last two days making the most of this little slice of paradise. I hike up to Chombe Plateau, admiring the views and the solitude i’ve been afforded. I relax in the hammocks, dreaming my life away. And i eat, enjoying the delicious vegetarian fare.
The day of my departure has arrived, and all I can think as I leave is that more people need to know about this wonderful place.
The short of it:
Where: Located in between Manchewe and Livingstonia, Northern Malawi
How: Keep in mind that The Mushroom Farm, Malawi is difficult to reach! Your best bet is to take a bus from Lilongwe north to Mzuzu, another to Chitimba and hike your way up to Livingstonia
Cost: Expect to spend between $8-30 USD per day (including accommodation, food, activities)
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