My friend Khumbo and I started off to Majete Wildlife Reserve (also referred to as Majete Game Reserve) in the Lower Shire early in the morning from Blantyre city. My favorite thing about going down the Chikwawa Road has always been descending the mountain, and appreciating the oxbow lakes. Growing up, I always wondered what the little bodies of water were. My mother told me they were little lakes that form where a river meanders. The Shire River meandered a lot around that area, and the oxbow lakes are such a pleasant view.
A safari vehicle, led by a professional wildlife guide and scout, took us first to a view spot or hide where we could enjoy the sunset while having a sun-downer and snacks. As the sun dipped we rediscovered the magic of an African sunset.
You will be thrilled by nocturnal animals if you make the journey to Majete; hippos grazing by the Shire River, elephants, buffaloes, bush babies, genets, civets, antelopes, porcupines and nocturnal birds. You may even get to see predators that are more active at night such as hyenas, elusive leopards and best of all, lions. I managed to see the elephants and zebras for the first time ever, pretty up-close too.
Bush walks are conducted by the scouts who themselves cover the reserve on foot during patrols, and thus know the area and the animals found in different habitats. If you are a keen birdwatcher, ask to focus your walk on the wealth of birds. Areas along the river systems are particularly rich in birdlife and game.
When at Majete, you can cruise the islands and channels of the Shire River and Kapichira Dam looking for hippos, crocodiles or, commonly seen, elephants in the water and riverside birds. You may feel the rapid roar of Kapichira Falls. Evenings are best for the riverside experience. I was simply in awe of the view from the top.
Mkulumadzi, a luxury lodge along the Shire River, is operated by Robin Pope Safaris and features eight riverside bush chalets. It is located just outside of the Majete Wildlife Reserve. Mkulumadzi offers guests a chic and contemporary retreat set amidst rugged and untouched bush land.
The lodge, accessible by a footbridge suspended over the Mkulumadzi River, comprises of eight spacious chalets, each with private viewing decks offering dramatic and unimpeded views over the confluence of two rivers, the Mkulumadzi and the Shire. The main lodge is an open-fronted space maximising the beautiful river views and taking advantage of some cool shade on the forested banks. Activities range from swimming in the pool and dining under the stars, to river cruises, game drives and walking safaris.
The Sunbird Thawale Lodge
Completely unfenced, the Sunbird Thawale Lodge is itself regularly visited by wildlife. It is located right at the entrance of Majete, and it was established by the reserve.
Thawale has four twin-tented chalets, two double tented chalets and one family chalet all ensuite and each with a private veranda overlooking the waterhole. The chalets are spaced to offer visitors privacy and an individual bush experience. In the communal lapa (traditional lounge area) and restaurant both local and international cuisine is offered.
The animals (including elephants) do pass by the family house and all the tents at different times of the day. Be prepared for a true camping experience inside a game reserve.
There is a pretty little museum, called the Heritage Centre, which holds much information about the region and local conservation programmes. There is also a gift shop selling arts and crafts created by locals.
In the lower Shire valley in the south-west of Malawi, approximately 70 km from Chileka International Airport, and west of Blantyre city in Malawi reigns a 64 year old nature haven – the Majete Wildlife Reserve. It was established as a protected area in 1955, and has been managed privately in a quarter century contract by African Parks since 2003.
The wildlife park boasts the highly sought after “Big Five” – hosting buffalos, elephants, leopards, lions and rhinos. It had no less than 12,200 animals, as of 2016. It also hosts other mammals which include the hippopotamus, monkeys, warthogs, zebras and an abundance of antelopes (impala, eland, duiker, nyala, reedbucks, waterbucks, and sable). It also has reptile like crocodiles and tortoise, and birds that include the African finfoot, Bohm’s bee-eater, Egyptian goose and the racket-tailed roller. Only 78 square kilometres of its 700 square kilometres is reserved for safaris.
The reserve established a lodge called Thawale, an education and visitor center, and a campsite operated by locals.