Lake Malawi is known for its amazing fish population- several thousand types of cichlid and frankly there is no better way to see a lake than from the bottom. So that’s how we found ourselves our first night in Nkata Bay- at the bottom of Lake Malawi- looking up at the full moon.
Night diving in Lake Malawi was an incredible experience, and for our first night dive it was the perfect place. As the dive master said over and over again, there is nothing that can hurt you in the lake: no sharks, no rays, no crocodiles (at least not near Nkata Bay!).
As we flipped out of the boat and reassembled our dive group at the bottom I couldn’t help but think that night diving was a really bad idea. We had done a dive that afternoon to see the lake in the day light and it was spectacular- tons of colorful fish and some beautiful rock formations, so I was expecting to see something familiar at night. At night though, the Lake was actually rather scary. It was exactly like the few minutes of footage from Lake Malawi on the documentary Planet Earth. Dozens of dolphin fish, a little less than a meter in length swarmed our lights, using them to hunt for sleeping cichlids. Although the dive master warned us that the dolphin fish would swarm our lights and possibly touch us, but not harm us, I was rather unprepared for the sensation of being surrounded by rather large hunting fish. It was unnerving.
We had been warned to be prudent with our underwater lights, as shining them at a cichlid to get a better view was akin to playing G_d. Danny, who tried to catch fish the entire time, of course tried to shine his light on some cichlid, but fortunately the ones he chose made it through the night.
Diving in Lake Malawi was unique and different. Beside being our first dive in freshwater, the lake bottom is also an incredible landscape of enormous rock formations. It felt like we were swimming along a rocky valley, which is actually exactly what we’re doing. Lake Malawi is the southern end of the Great Rift Valley- which extends all the way north into the middle east, and one of the only places where the valley has filled with water. Over time, the species caught in the lake have evolved into different sub-species, making the lake one of the best examples of Darwin’s evolutionary theory on the planet. Besides being beautiful, we also saw cichlids that swim upside down, eating the algae off the underside of rocks. It was a beautiful place, and certainly a nice place to dive or snorkel….just do it during the day.