"Welcome to Likoma island," said Andrew, giving me a bear hug as I jumped off the boat on to a beach that, in the dark, was lit only by giant flares. Behind him, all that I could see were enormous baobab trees silhouetted by a starry sky.
Next morning paradise was more visible. Kaya Mawa (it means "maybe tomorrow") is a luxury hotel perched on the rocks at the southern end of an island in the middle of Lake Malawi. The hotel is owned by two young Brits, Andrew and Will, who arrived on the island seven years ago with only a tent, and haven't been able to drag themselves away since. A kind of Swiss Family Robinson hideaway for wealthy 21st-century travellers, the eight chalets are built around rather than on to the landscape, and are reached via a series of bougainvillaea-strewn paths.
There's a wooden deck for alfresco eating, a rough-hewn indoor restaurant, and a bar with French windows looking over the water. Snorkelling, diving, bird-watching and walking are all on hand and, if you want to explore further, boat trips can be arranged to the island of Chizumulu, or to Mozambique.
Location, Location, Location
Kaya Mawa can be contacted on 00 871 761 684 670 (www. kayamawa.com) or by e-mail at email@example.com. You can walk to the other end of the 8km-long island in about an hour, stopping off for a consultation with the local witch doctor, or, if you're so inclined, a service in the huge missionary-built Anglican cathedral.
Time to international airport: The quickest way to Likoma, which has a small airstrip, is to fly to Lilongwe (BA offers direct flights from Gatwick) and charter a plane (£200) for the one-hour transfer.
Transport: If money is tight, you can get from Lilongwe to Nkhata Bay by minibus in about six hours, from where there is an irregular, 12-hour ferry service (£3 each way).
Are You Lying Comfortably?
Each chalet has a large, mosquito net-draped bed, built on a raised wooden platform over the rocks, with views out on to the water, chunky wooden furniture and old colonial maps and sketches on the walls. All are different but each has a sunken, Flintstones-style bath and shower. Ask for the one with the outside bath for a real, back-to-nature experience.
Keeping in touch: this is a getting-away-from-it-all kind of place, so no phones, TVs or internet, although reception can make a satellite phone call or send an e-mail for you.
The Bottom Line
Chalets cost $150 (£106) per person per night with breakfast.
I'm not paying that: a 20-minute stroll brings you to Mango Drift – sturdy, well-designed beach huts also owned by Andrew and Will. Huts cost around £4.60, or you can camp for around £3.Reuse content