Featured article- A family holiday in Lake Malawi: zen and the art of paddleboarding by Fiona Bruce
When I arrived at Kaya Mawa, I knew I had found my own piece of heaven. A dozen grass-fringed lodges were wedged between black boulders and baobab trees, overlooking a smooth crescent of sand lapped by the fresh water of Lake Malawi, brilliant blue and clear as glass.
Flying over the lake in a tiny Cessna plane is the best way to get an idea of its size, conveniently 365 miles long and 52 miles wide, which is easy enough to remember. Well, those are the dimensions they claim, anyway. It is certainly vast – stretching as far as the eye can see, so huge it even has waves.
I wasn’t so sure about how our children – Sam and Mia, then 14 and 10 respectively – would feel about the resort on small Likoma Island. With no television, no PlayStation and no obvious kids’ activities, it looked suspiciously like a newlyweds’ destination, perfect for mooning around and doing little more than gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes while trying not to worry about the cost of the wedding. Our son hates lounging around on a beach and his first request on arriving at any destination is to ask for the Wi-Fi code. Our daughter would spend every hour of every day in a pool if she could, but is much less keen on open water.
We were met at the tiny airstrip by Michelle Cavanagh – charming, Irish, a former Virgin Atlantic stewardess who was offered the job as resort manager by owner James Lightfoot after a few drinks on the flight to Malawi. She made it clear from the outset that Kaya Mawa was a resort that worked around its guests, not the other way around.
There are no fixed times for anything. If you want breakfast at two in the afternoon, no problem. Don’t fancy what’s on offer for lunch (though that’s unlikely)? Something else will be prepared for you. The head chef, Richard Greenhall, once trained chefs for Jamie Oliver and is no slouch in the kitchen. One delicious meal is served after another and he doesn’t turn his nose up when Mia confides that all she really wants is chicken goujons. They duly arrive.
Dinner is eaten on the beach; your table is moved every night to a different spot, surrounded by lanterns, and you tuck in under the stars with the waves lapping nearby. We got into the habit of playing a very competitive family game of Scrabble at the bar every night before dinner – a simple pleasure, but the kind of thing we’d never all do together at home.
Every water sport you could wish for is provided on the beach. We wimped out of scuba diving and contented ourselves with snorkelling among the kind of tiny jewel-bright fish you see in an aquarium. Every morning we were treated to the sight of James Lightfoot heroically kitesurfing across the bay – wrestling with the wind and leaping the waves, real man stuff, which made every male on the beach wish he was up to it, sigh, roll over on his lounger and decide to catch a few rays instead.
My daughter and I decided to take up paddle boarding, which is strangely Zen once you get the hang of keeping your balance on the wobbly board and manoeuvring your oar at the same time. We spent hours gently paddling along the shoreline, past Kaya Mawa’s villas tucked back from the beach, thatched and exquisitely designed with local materials.
Each is different. I couldn’t decide whether the highlight of ours was the enormous four-poster bed, swathed in mosquito netting, the outdoor shower made out of an upturned dugout from which you could watch the sun set, or the private deck and plunge pool. I paddled to sea past the rock high up on which was the thatched pagoda where you could have a massage; past sandy coves with hundreds of fish laid out to dry in neat rows on wooden platforms.