Head to Liwonde National Park to see sable, huge herds of elephant and magnificent birdlife.
To the south of Lake Malawi lies the lush and wild Liwonde National Park. It offers the best game-viewing safaris in Malawi. This is largely because of the Shire river, (pronounced Shiree) which drains Lake Malawi. This river, on the western boundary of Liwonde Park, is a magnet for thirsty wildlife. Riverine forest and palms fringe this broad and languid river. Whilst its wide floodplains stretches out to 3km wide in parts.
Liwonde National Park has a lush diversity of habitats. Relatively dry mopane woodlands cover the eastern half of the park. This is interspersed with candelabra trees. But patches of miombo woodland covers the south.
Arriving by a riverboat is the best way to see the beauty of this magnificent park. Liwonde Game Reserve has one of the densest populations of hippo in Africa (some 1000). And huge sun-bathing crocodiles line the river.
The scenic Shire river is a vital life source for the park’s animals in the dry season. Large breeding herds of elephants are attracted to the grass-covered floodplains. You may also see impala, reedbuck, waterbuck & warthog. Liwonde park is also home to the lion and the elusive leopard, whilst buffalo, kudu, and impala inhabit the woodlands beyond the floodplain.
Birdlife is prolific in Liwonde with over 380 recorded species. It is probably the best year-round birding in Southern Africa. ‘Specials’ include Pel’s fishing owl, white-backed night heron, Böhm’s bee-eater, and Lilian’s lovebird.
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Mvuu Lodge is a thoroughly charming place and much recommended, as long as you have appropriate expectations as to what to expect from the game-viewing in Liwonde . The lodge lies between the Shire river and a small ox bow lagoon. It is a traditional safari camp but thoroughly comfortable and sufficiently zooty to be combined with smarter options elsewhere in Malawi such as Pumulani or Kaya Mawa...
The main lodge at Mvuu Lodge is raised on stilts and overlooks the river with lots of comical warthogs on view from the dining and sitting areas. There’s a small swimming pool close-by. The rooms all stretch along the lagoon. The original five are closest to the main lodge and thus ideal for people who don’t want to walk so far. They are large tented rooms with an en suite bathroom in stone with bath, basin and loo inside and outdoor shower. Lovely views over the lagoon from your deck or hammock. (I reckon hammocks should be compulsory for a safari lodge – they are the perfect way to relax between safari activities!)
Tent 5 is the honeymoon tent, similar in style but with a large bathroom under thatch with a deep circular bath for two. Nice concept but somehow it didn’t really grab me. Tents 6 to 8 are the new tents, quite a bit further away, (so a bit of a hassle if you forget something and have to walk back for 10 minutes), but larger and slightly more stylish. The bathroom is semi open-plan to the bedroom (wooden divide) with an enclosed toilet, indoor shower and outdoor shower. Though I preferred the newer rooms, the original ones are also great with better lagoon views and the benefit of proximity (which is especially nice in the hot spring weather.)
Liwonde Park is Malawi’s premier wildlife reserve but the reality is that, though Liwonde Park has a variety of game, it is by no means a Big Game safari destination. You will certainly see lots of elephant, you will plenty of stunning birds and plenty of general game including the rare Sable antelope. You're also likely to see herds of buffalo and perhaps be able to track down the black rhino on foot. But you'd be very lucky to see any predators even though there are lion and leopard around.
With that mind, part of the charm of Mvuu Lodge is the diversity of game-viewing activities. It offers game drives, bush walks, game-viewing by boat, sunset cruises, village visits by bicycle (great!) and rhino tracking on foot. I loved this variety – you are not just sitting in a game vehicle all the time. After a morning of game-viewing on foot and by vehicle, we transferred to a boat to enjoy some game-viewing from the river. We even enjoyed a delicious breakfast on the boat with a chef cooking omelettes to our specification, plus some of the most delicious cinnamon rolls I have ever tasted.
Bicycling to local school from Liwonde Park
One of the most enjoyable and educational experiences during my stay at Mvuu Lodge was a visit to the local village. This is done by bicycle, cycling first 1km through the park with an armed scout at the front and your ranger at the back. Then you continue another kilometers to the village where we cycled to the primary school, met the headmaster and learnt a lot about the education system in Malawi. This was fascinating, if somewhat depressing as you realize that only the hardest-working and luckiest children can get a secondary school education. You learn how various organizations are assisting this, and other schools, include an organization called HELP Malawi, as well as Wilderness Safaris. Then we visited some of the classrooms and chatted with the kids. I met one particularly spunky young girl in Grade 7 who wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. She asked us what we did and I explained, rather condescendingly perhaps, that “ I was here to learn all about Malawi so that I could bring visitors to their beautiful country”. “On bicycles?” She drily replied with a twinkle in her eye.
Never try to get one over a kid!
I really enjoyed the experience of cycling through the Malawian countryside, saying hello to everyone. As elsewhere, people are smiling, waving hello and the villages are generally very clean.
I enjoyed my stay in Liwonde Park. I would probably combine a safari here with either the Majete Wildlife Reserve or the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia for a more 'full-on' safari.