I decided to combine some of my annual leave with a work trip and, joined by my husband Garry, spent just under two weeks exploring some of Malawi’s highlights. Our work trips are often rather fast paced – naturally we want to see as much as we can within a short space of time. It was lovely to travel at a slower pace and really get to grips with each individual area as well as get a little bit of a feel for what it’s like to be on holiday in Africa!
The trip focused on visiting the game reserves of Majete and Liwonde before spending a week on the picturesque Lake Malawi visiting a few contrasting properties.
We landed at Blantyre airport around lunchtime to an unseasonably windy and cool 18C – a relief for the locals who had experienced a 40+ heat wave the previous week. The tiny airport ran efficiently, and within 20 minutes of disembarking we were on the road to Majete Reserve and Mkulumadzi Lodge. The scenic journey down the escarpment took just over two hours. After the short walk across the footbridge suspended over the Mkulumadzi River, we arrived at the comfortable lodge with its spectacular view of the Shire River.
Majete Wildlife Reserve is situated in the lower Shire valley in the south-west of Malawi. The reserve was once a prolific wildlife refuge but by the late 1990’s most species of large game, including elephant, had been eradicated. African Parks, in partnership with the Malawian government and local communities, took total responsibility for the rehabilitation and management of the reserve. The last 12 years has seen significant development from road networks, electrified perimeter fence and wildlife stocking. There are now healthy populations of several species and it prides itself in being the only Big 5 reserve in Malawi.
During our stay we included a couple of game-drives as well as a boat cruise on the river. We encountered a good variety of wildlife from elephants, zebra, eland, kudu, bushbuck, hippo, crocodiles and lions roaring in the distance (unfortunately we could not track them down)! At the lodge itself, we enjoyed their excellent food and friendly service. The spacious rooms are set facing the river with lovely views. They are very comfortable and you certainly feel exclusive.
My overall impression is that if you have the time to include Majete Reserve then it is worth visiting. The game is not in abundance and in no way competes with the likes of Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, but it’s not trying to either. What this area does offer is reasonable wildlife, excellent birdlife, wonderful scenery, exclusivity and good value for money!
Next stop Liwonde National Park. A long but wonderful drive, back up the escarpment and through Zomba Plateau heading northwards up the Shire River. The drive took some 4 hours but it seemed to whiz by, as combined with the beautiful scenery, you are mesmerised by the numerous villages and locals going about their daily lives. Your heart melts as you watch the children walking happily back from school with their well-earned cup of porridge for attendance, often their only meal of the day. Your tears of sadness turn to joy as you pass through a small town and read the hilarious local business names – the winner for us had to be ‘Every-one Complains Estate Agents’!
The last section of our journey to the park and our accommodation, Mvuu Camp was by boat up the Shire River. I can honestly say that is was one of the best boat trips I have experienced in Africa. The forty-five minute journey had our heads moving side by side like kittens after a ball of wool! The wide river, stretch lined by palms and the lush floodplains were teeming with animals. Large pods of hippo; huge crocodiles sunning themselves in the mid-day sun; countless waterbuck, impalas, warthogs, baboons and several families of elephants quenching their thirst. The birdlife was also incredible – Reed cormorants, African skimmers, Saddle-billed stork, Hamerkop, African jacana to name a few!
We spent two nights at Mvuu Camp, a charming tented lodge with comfortable accommodation in a mixture of stone and canvas. The thatched dining and lounge area is built off the ground with impressive views across the floodplain. Lunches are enjoyed watching the antics of the resident baboons or warthogs enjoying a mud bath in one of the large puddles. It is not unusual to see hippo grazing out of the water during the day and the birdlife is plentiful.
Activities include game-drives, night drives, nature walks, rhino tracking in the enclosed sanctuary and boat cruises on the river. With no real predators in the park (there is talk of one lone lion), this area really does feel like an animal paradise. A highlight for us was an afternoon boat cruise, which had us metres from an elephant luxuriating in the cool water, whilst another, so relaxed, lay fast asleep on the bank. Top that off with an incredible sunset across the still water, washed down by a refreshing Malawian gin & tonic and you’ve had another magical day in Liwonde National Park!
We left Liwonde and travelled by road a good few hours north to reach the beautiful Lake Malawi. This vast body of sapphire water stretching as far as the eye can see, fringed by beaches of golden sand and mountain backdrop takes your breath away.
We spent a couple of nights at Pumulani, a luxury beach lodge situated on the west side of the Nankumba Peninsula on the southern end of the lake. Ten spacious villas are dotted on the side of a hill offering fantastic views of the lake. With the restaurant and pool at the top and beach at the bottom, you will certainly get a daily work out with seemingly no end of steps in between!
We enjoyed several activities during our stay including a sunset cruise on their traditional dhow and a guided nature walk up into the hills with incredible views before descending down to a secluded beach and kayaking back to the lodge. A snorkelling trip to one of the nearby islands was a highlight. We were surrounded by countless cichlid fish and the crystal clear water afforded perfect visibility of their vibrant colouring.
We departed Pumulani by boat and travelled a short distance around the bay to Cape Maclear. We popped in at Danforth, a charming owner-run lodge with excellent personal service and ideal location to enjoy a range of activities. The lodge also owns a 38 foot catamaran whereby you can enjoy private charters for several nights on the lake. After a delicious coffee and chat with the owners Howard and Michelle, we set off to Mumbo Island, an unspoilt island a short boat ride from Cape Maclear.
It is fair to say that Mumbo Island is not everyone’s cup of tea. With very simple accommodation, no electricity and eco loos, it’s definitely for the more adventurous. That said the tiny island offers wonderful natural beauty and tranquillity. The staff were friendly and food was excellent. During our short visit we managed to squeeze in some snorkelling from the beach, explore the forests using the numerous marked trails, as well as kayaked around the island and soaked up the incredible sunset as it melted into the still water. Personally, I loved its simplicity and could quite easily have stayed a couple of nights. Garry, on the other hand, although thoroughly enjoying the activities and islands itself ..… well, let’s just say he likes his luxury!
Our final four days in Malawi were spent on the beautiful Likomo Island at Kaya Mawa (meaning ‘maybe tomorrow’). The island and the lodge blew us away. The lodge itself has an idyllic setting located on a rocky outcrop surrounded by two lovely beaches. The accommodation is comfortable, food excellent and staff, all of which are local to the island, utterly charming. It is one of the best run properties I have stayed at in Africa – nothing was too much trouble.
We enjoyed a variety of activities during our stay including kayaking and snorkelling from the beach, and a several hour boat trip around the island which to my delight included a couple of fishing rods too! On land we visited the Cathedral and the local market where Garry managed to purchase a pair of Facebook branded flip flops!