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2008 marked the 150th Anniversary of Livingstone’s Zambezi expedition. Brian Lewis retraced his journey from Chikwawa to Chinde paddling his own canoe.


For many the idea of a holiday is a shopping trip to Dubai, a luxury safari on the plains of East Africa or a comfortable tour of places of natural beauty or historical interest. Blantyre resident, Brian Lewis, had a different idea. 2008 marked the 150th anniversary of David Livingstone’s arrival at the mouth of the Zambezi as British Consul, head of an expedition to explore the rivers as a route to the interior of Africa and trade.


The Malawi Government’s recently stated intention of working with regional Governments to open up the Shire/Zambezi Waterway to traffic was further stimulus to retrace Livingstone’s 1858/9 route.





Brian’s regular work takes him into areas

of Malawi draining into the Shire River. He determined to follow the flow on its ten

day journey to the Indian Ocean. With

tent, camping mattress, water treatment equipment, GPS, compass and rations

that many would consider inadequate or

boring, based on a regular daily intake

of 200g raisins, 100g peanuts and 80g of noodles, he set off to paddle his 4 metre canoe solo ‘downhill’ from Nchalo on

the Shire River to Chinde on the Zambezi Delta - a journey of about 430 km.








Day 1 - the daunting task of crossing through the maze that is the shallow Elephant Marsh. Fortunately, a channel just wide enough for the canoe was found. The first day of solitude was broken by a meeting with forty members of the Angling Society who were celebrating a day of fishing with a braii (barbeque) at Bangula. A share of their pig-on-a-spit augmented his meagre dry rations and was one of only three occasions on the way when he was able to enjoy a proper meal.



Day 2 - easy paddling down the strong stream to Nsanje where not much was evident of the proposed port development except for the MV Mcheni sitting forlornly waiting for a channel deep enough to take it further down river!

Day 3 - cleared Malawi Immigration and headed 30 km downstream to the Mozambique Immigration Post at Megaza effectively hidden from the river traveller by a half kilometre wide bank of grass . Years ago, this was a busy crossing now seldom formally used.

The first problem was to find the Immigration Officer. When he had been found, the next problem was to find the key to the neglected Immigration stamp. It was eventually located. The officer was out of practice and very unsure of his technique which necessitated a practice session with the stamp. Hand steadied and assured of a perfect result, he applied the stamp with a practiced flourish. Unfortunately, he had used the ‘exit’ stamp and the process had to be repeated - this time with the correct ‘entry’ stamp.



Ndindi Marsh, 30km of reeds and lilley ponds, was the next obstacle on the journey. Mishek, a local guide, was enrolled to show the way through. The waters of the Shire emerge clear and filtered by the marsh vegetation to

roll on for a few more kilometres before reaching the silt-laden Zambezi. That night was the last spent on the banks of the Shire River.


The Zambezi spreads out to a dauntingly

broad 4-5 kilometres filled with islands and sandbanks. The main flow of the channel meanders hither and thither in a bewildering manner. The canoe’s 10cm draft meant that

a direct route through the shallower sections could be followed. Both banks were heavily wooded. Crocodiles and hippos could be

seen and a few fishermen, many of whom came over to chat and inspect the canoe which they could so easily relate to their own simple traditional craft.


The next two nights were spent on islands in the river. These proved to be excellent campsites affording spectacular views of sunsets and sunrises.



Beautiful Zambezi sunset



Camp on the Zambezi.and friendly visitors


Day 6 - the small craft passed the new bridge under construction at Caia. From there on there was very little human habitation making for a lonely passage.

Day 7 - a short passage to Maromeu and the Sena Sugar Estate where Brian was able to enjoy a good meal, cold beer and to phone home to arrange for his pick-up 4 days later

Day 8 - approaching the end of the journey with an overnight camp at the top end of the Zambezi Delta.

Day 9 - a short haul to Chinde and the Indian Ocean drawing up the canoe on a beach protected by the rusting hulks of boats and barges which is the Port of Chinde today.


The residents of the town received our adventurer with overwhelming hospitality.

On Day 10 the District Administrator was the guide for the day. The old British settlement has completely disappeared, victim to the shifting coastal sands.

But the adventure was not yet over.


Day 11 was a public holiday marking the end of the civil war. The hoped-for boats which normally provide transport on the river took a holiday for two days. That forced Brian into another two days of paddling against the flow back to Maromeu to meet the vehicle for the fourteen hour return road journey to Blantyre and home.



Abandoned Portuguese trading post on the Shire River


Brian found the Mozambicans everywhere to be friendly and hospitable. Many had spent years as refugees in Malawi and receive visitors from their former host country with a degree of gratitude. Their stay in Malawi also helped to spread Chichewa as a lingua franca which proved a great help for Brian in his communications with them.



Man & canoe on the way home. The ferry over the Zambezi at Caia.


Hope you have enjoyed the journey.


©2014 Travel Malawi. All rights reserved.




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