Our first planned stop in Malawi was Liwonde National Park. All we needed was a quick-ish stop in Lilongwe (the capital) for some groceries and cash (card facilities are limited in Malawi so cash is king) and we were on our way again.
The roads were much easier to drive during the day but just as crazy with people, trucks and vegetable stands dotting the sides of the sides almost everywhere. All this also made it difficult to find places to stop and stretch (read: go to the bathroom).
Liwonde is situated south of Lake Malawi, along the Shire river which is the drainage river from the lake. We had originally booked for Cheryl and I to be camping and my parents to be in an en-suite chalet at Liwonde Camp but they were enjoying camping so much that they figured they’d stay with us in the campground instead. That is until they saw the chalet. Situated on its own, with a deck which overlooks the bush, covered on one side only by screens, and a spacious, hot outdoor shower on the side along with crisp, white sheets on the bed and they were convinced. Chalet it is, At least for a night. The second night they actually surprised Cheryl and I by booking it again and having us stay in there while they camped. How great!
While in Liwonde we took a river cruise along the Shire. River cruises are a great way to see animals (especially birds on this one) and we loved it. Cruising along our Captain pulled right up to a bunch of crocodiles, a pod of hippos and a lone elephant chomping on the riverbank grass.
River cruising on the Shire river – Liwonde National Park, Malawi
Later that afternoon we decided to do a self-drive through the park, but not before purchasing some Baobab jam and fresh honey from the Parks worker at the gate. We saw lots of game and were impressed with the amount of work that was being done to keep up the park. Africa Parks has recently taken over management and is visibly doing a lot of work on it which is great. It’s a cool little park. One of the things they’ve done is to reintroduce predators (as well as remove some of the overpopulated elephants.) Up until 2 weeks before we arrived Liwonde had no predators (though they claim to have leopard, I doubt it.) Two weeks ago they released 4 cheetah into the park, first in a pen for a week and then into the wild. We went in with no expectations of seeing the cheetah but low and behold, as we were driving out and debating whether to take a detour or not a big male cheetah was laying right next to the road in front of us.
Our hearts went out to the poor guy who was obviously lonely and missing home. He was acting strangely, whining and unsure of what to do with himself it seemed. We stayed there watching him for a good 10 minutes until a hyena call made his ears stand up straight and he slunk off into the dimming light of the setting sun. Later that night, when talking to a guide at our campsite we realized that we are the first self-drive people to have seen the cheetah in the wild in Liwonde.
All in all we really enjoyed our time in Liwonde and would highly recommend Liwonde Safari Camp. The best part about the place wasn’t the hides overlooking the bush or even the great chalet but just how friendly the people were there. It was a stark contrast compared to many of the places we’ve been. In general we found the people of Malawi to be fantastically friendly and they would go out of their way to help out when needed.
Next stop: Huntingdon House on Setemwa Tea Estate – time to spoil my parents!