Lake Malawi is the most southerly lake in the East African Rift valley system. The lake, third largest in Africa and ninth largest in the world, is situated between Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. It is also the second deepest lake in Africa but its placid nature at its northerly shore gives no hint of this feature. The lake’s tropical waters teem with more fish species than any other lake on Earth.

Lake Malawi is between 560 and 579 km long and is 75 km wide at its widest point; its total surface area is approximately 29,600 km². The lake is bordered by western Mozambique, eastern Malawi, and southern Tanzania. Its largest tributary is the Ruhuhu and its outlet is the Shire River, a tributary of the Zambezi.

Lake Malawi lies in the rift valley formed by the East African Rift where the African tectonic plate is splitting in two. The lake itself is approximately 40,000 years old.

David Livingstone was the first European to reach the lake, arriving at its shores in 1859 and naming it “Lake Nyasa.” Much of the area surrounding the lake was subsequently claimed by the United Kingdom to form the colony of Nyasaland. Although Portugal took control of the eastern shores of the lake, the islands of Likoma and Chizumulu (which lie just off the shore) were colonized by Scottish missionaries from Nyasaland, and as a result were incorporated as part of Nyasaland rather than Mozambique. Today they form lacustrine exclaves: Malawian territory surrounded by Mozambique waters.

On August 16, 1914, the lake saw a brief naval engagement when the British gunboat Guendolen, commanded by Captain Rhoades, heard that World War I had begun and received orders to “sink, burn, or destroy” the German Empire’s only gunboat on the lake, the Hermann von Wissmann, commanded by Captain Berndt. Rhoades’s crew located the Hermann von Wissmann in a bay near Sphinxhaven, in German East Africa’s territorial waters, and disabled it with a single shot from a range of 2,000 yards. The encounter was hailed by The Times as the British Empire’s first naval victory of World War I.