Crash Landing at Njaya Lodge, Nkhata Bay

On April 19th I received a connection in LinkedIn from Paul Norrish, a solar pioneer who worked with Jeremy Leggett (now the SolarAid chairman) at SolarCentury a few years ago. Interestingly, Paul raised the first round of funding for SolarAid and was involved in the SunnyMoney’s first project is Malawi, in Nkhata Bay. So I’m now connected to one of the founding fathers of SolarAid.

Paul also owns a lodge in Nkhata Bay, the Njaya Lodge, and offered us a sweet deal if we wanted to visit. Paul regularly visits Malawi, with his next trip in June, so our plan was to visit him then at the lodge.

But we realized this weekend was a long holiday weekend so we confirmed with Paul they had availability and took the day off Friday so we would be able to drive the “5.5 hours” (per Google) in day light.

I have been a little nervous about the RAV4. It’s burning a lot of oil, trailing black smoke. I’m a careful man so I went to see Wiseman and he thinks we may have damaged the piston rings when the water pump failed and the engine overheated. But he said we should try this engine supplement called “No Smoke” to see if that might fix the problem. Sounded a bit of a witch-doctoring solution to me but the bottle instructions said all the right things. Wiseman also looked over the engine and said the RAV was drivable but might burnt a lot of oil. 

The day before we set-off Paul sent me a note asking if we had room for a passenger. Sam Biggs had arrived in Liliongwe 3 days before and was on his way to Njaya lodge to work on a solar irrigation project in Rumphi. No problem for us and we all planned to leave 11am Friday.

Sam is Australian and has ruined one of my national stereotypes by arriving exactly on time. Car was packed so we all squeezed in and headed off on our 400km journey via Mzuzu.

After 200km the oil pressure warning light came on and the RAV started stalling. This was not good.

I had bought 5 liters of oil for just this eventuality although it is tricky judging oil levels on a hot car.  Still, we poured some oil in and continued on another 50km until the same thing happened. With no other option we repeated the process and the black smoke got thicker. 

To make things a little more interesting my stomach started aching and kidneys hurting as they were obviously battling something I had eaten. We arrived in Mzuzu, finding a Petrol station to buy more oil and thankfully for me to use the toilet. The car was sounding tired but the last section Mzuzu to Nkhata Bay was 1-hour and 20 minutes on a steep downhill road, under construction. And I was getting feverish.

This last leg was brutal; it was now dusk as we coasted downhill when we could, through villages where the locals were warning us we were on fire. The trailing smoke made it look like we had been shot down and were coming in on a crash landing.

We limped into the Njaya lodge parking lot at 7pm, exhausted. An 8-hour drive, biting our fingernails from 200km out. I did my best to return the friendly welcome from the staff but I quickly headed to our room to sleep my bug off. There’s a story here about the risks of taking a sleeping bill while suffering from an upset stomach that I’m not allowed to share….

As sick as I was and as dark as it had become we could still feel the ambience of this wonderful lodge. Feels like a luxurious tree house on the beach, overlooking the Lake. We had crash landed in paradise.  Here’s a picture of the survivors of the drive.

Paul built this lodge 25 years ago after searching the globe for the perfect location. Saturday was a rest and recovery day: we didn’t leave our room. But with a room and view like this (both pictures taken from our doorway) why would we?

Still, the next day I was well enough for a quick picture with two of the lodge staff, Dickson and Gilbert, who were friends of Brave too. Gilbert was in joyous mood as his Chelsea team had just won the English Premier League. 

Sunday now, health restored and now to explore Nkhata Bay. It’s Malawi so be happy… and we’ll worry about the journey back tomorrow.


5 thoughts on “Crash Landing at Njaya Lodge, Nkhata Bay

  1. Stunning views again and another exciting journey! The hairstylist’s chariot continues to deliver a wealth of comedy gold as I predicted. Highly appropriately titled Wiseman adding to the plot with his random diagnostics and inappropriate solutions – worn out piston rings? Quick squirt of magic juice into the engine before you head off 300 miles into the remote bush should see you right – part mechanic, part alchemist and full time comedian. Good luck on the return journey, don’t forget to check the level of the petrol each time you stop to fill up on oil.
    When the roadside assistance turns up don’t say “piston broke” as they will assume you are referring to your Australian passenger…


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