Road to local tourism
By Aliko Munde:
For years, local engineering companies spent time patching up potholes on the 47-kilometre Mzuzu-Nkhata Bay Road which gave travellers rough rides to and from the lakeshore district.
In spite of being one of the top tourist destinations in the country, some people, especially Mzuzu City residents, could not dare go to the lake for weekend retreats due to the road’s poor condition which resulted into frequent accidents.
A stretch of the road known as Lwaniatonga turned into a death trap as most of the accidents occurred there.
Statistics at Nkhata Bay Police Station indicated that in 2015 and 2016, the district recorded 22 accidents each year on the road.
Out of the 22 road accidents in 2015, 15 were fatal, three serious and four minor. In 2016, 13 accidents were fatal while four were serious and five minor.
Lorries carrying quarry and workers sweeping potholes in readiness for patching were a common site along the road. But the impact hardly gave the desired result.
The patches made the road lose the splendour and the feel travellers used to enjoy in its early days, the 1970s, when driving up and down the predominantly winding road.
Bumps and potholes distracted travellers from viewing the evergreen scenery covering the mountainous landscape all the way from Mzuzu down to the lakeshore.
In 2013, the Malawi National Assembly approved a bill authorising government to borrow money from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to finance construction of a new Mzuzu-Nkhata Bay Road.
Strabag International was tasked to do the work to the tune of K17 billion and the outcome of the project has reopened doors that almost shut down tourism business in Nkhata Bay District.
“Before the road was rehabilitated, we used to spend one-and-a-half hours between Mzuzu and Nkhata Bay, but now it takes us just about 30 minutes,” says Loti Kalinga, a taxi driver.
He says since the road was reconstructed, many people from Mzuzu and beyond are now travelling to the lake in Nkhata Bay, especially during weekends.
“When we compare with previous years, this year, tourists, especially local ones, are patronising our services more,” Chikale Beach Resort manager Josephine Imani says.
Imani believes the rehabilitation of the road has contributed to the increase in patrons at the beach.
“We receive at least 500 local tourists a week especially from Friday to Sunday. Most of these tourists come from Mzuzu side,” Imani says.
Even Northern Region Tourism Officer, Japhet Kuweruza, attributes the surge in the number of locals who patronise tourist sites in Nkhata Bay to the condition of the road which, he says, has reduced travelling time to and from Mzuzu.
“Many local investors have built new lodges in Nkhata Bay following the reconstruction of the Mzuzu-Nkhata Bay Road,” Kuweruza says.
On the other hand, he stresses that his office will continue with inspection of lodges to ensure quality is not compromised.
“We have intensified inspection to make sure that the lodges are of good standards and their rates are affordable that even local tourists can afford them,” Kuweruza says.
Mzuzu University Travel and Tourism Instructor, Frank Wadilika Gondwe, says good roads like the new Nkhata Bay- Mzuzu Road are ideal in promotion of tourism.
He also hails the government for prioritising improvement of the country’s road network.
“Government also needs to improve on economic profile for the country’s tourism industry to remain competitive on international market,” Gondwe says.
Meanwhile, as the country commemorated the tourism month in September, Nkhata Bay’s Kachere Castle hosted the top-20 annual international music festival, Lake of Stars, from 27 to 29.— Mana
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues