In a word: fantastic!
I used public transport and the directions/information in the guide book (6th edition). A few things have changed since the guidebook was published:
The road is now completely paved between Blantyre and Bangula.
This means that there is no longer a ‘railway crossing’ visible in Bangula. To reach the river bank, take the main road through town away from the direction of Blantyre until reaching a T junction. Take the road on the left, signposted Chiromo, and follow as it curves round for 400m until the riverbank.
I’m not sure what the guidebook meant by ‘small boats to ferry people across the river’, but the ‘crossing’ now takes 20-25 minutes. I believe floods (perhaps the ones earlier this year) have washed away another bridge or two. Passengers are dropped on a causeway, where it is a 5 mins walk to the bicycle taxis, including some shin-deep wading for a small stretch. The cost of the boat is 500MK, sharing with other passengers. It was great fun, and even if one isn’t heading on to Makhanga, it would make a fun diversion for a morning/afternoon.
The guidebook is absolutely right about the birdlife being a good inducement to walk to Makhanga. It’s also a fatal inducement to dawdle and get caught in the midday sun! May is a cooler month I believe. I would not want to have walked during the height of summer! The Tiyesembo Guesthouse is still functioning. I was initially fooled by the semi-derelict, recently-abandoned look; complemented by the boarded up booking office and the lack of response to shouted ‘hellos’. But hanging around outside for 20mins did the trick.
Bottled water – I was unable to find bottle water in Makhanga (although it wasn’t an exhaustive search). None of the shops selling bottled coke and fanta sold it, and the two people I was directed to, told me that the water they were selling (in plastic bottles) was from the local pump. So it would be wise to stock up in Bangula.
Directions from Makhanga to Mchacha James were fine, although the flooding earlier this year has left part of the road between the centre of the village and the brick mosque under water and so you must take a detour through the marshland to the side (knee-deep wading required) – this is best done with a villager as while some of the mud underwater is solid, some of it resembled quicksand.