Holiday review by Mrs Janet Van den Berge
Name: Mrs Janet Van den Berge
Date of trip: 09/08/2019
Number of people: 2
Seeing so many animals, especially different types of antelope, and in their natural habitats. Liwonde: seeing sable deer, initially hidden in long grass but later, there was a beautiful male in the open, just posing for the cameras! Nyika: I specially hoped to see roan antelope and on the way to the Lodge, 2 came onto the track and I could get out of the car and photograph them, and the nearby herd. Flatdogs: so many special moments but one morning we were waiting for 8 elephants to cross the river and come out beside our vehicle. They didn't cross, but stayed at the edge of the water, interacting with one another. Two would entwine trunks and move on; then another two would have a similar encounter - and once the smallest tried to join in with two larger ones. This was a bachelor herd, either deciding what to do or working out hierarchies. I could have watched for hours - but it was onwards, and finding a leopard fairly close by . .
Fantastic! So many lovely animals to see, including some I hadn't even heard of! The contrast between the animals found at Liwonde and Nyika was especially interesting. It was great to see so much of Malawi, travelling by car with a knowledgeable guide. People were all so helpful and friendly, especially in all the places where I stayed. The variety in scenery, land use and different local products, as well as the frequent local markets we passed, made for fascinating journeys.
I felt I knew what I needed to know, eg where several layers of clothes would be needed and the weight restrictions in the light aircraft. The only problem was the late realisation that Blantyre Airport was not able to take South African Airways planes, apparently because of delayed repairs to the runway. The local agents had already sent the driver down towards Blantyre with a car - I was surprised that they weren't aware and able to tell you, but the problem was resolved well before I got there.
I think I was particularly lucky in all the game reserves in having the best guides for seeing animals. In South Luangwa, Joseph had a knack of finding leopards and was delighted with seeing a civet cat - the first of several sightings we had, including one when we were walking. In Liwonde, Danger's handling of the Land Rover in quite challenging terrain won my respect and all the guides told us interesting things about the animals, as well as their habitats, and birds. The groups were always small enough for individual interests to be noted, and everyone to have an outside seat.
Social & Environmental Responsibility:
All the Lodges seem to employ and involve as many people as possible and are involved in the local community. Often this will help develop local skills as well as benefiting the local economy and helping to justify any disadvantages of living close to wildlife conservation areas - eg elephant invasions. Village tours are often available, typically showcasing the Lodge's contribution to projects such as a local school. Much that is used in the kitchens is locally sourced or grown on the Lodge's premises. The extensive use of solar power must make anyone environmentally conscious happy!
The places you stayed
A lovely place to stay, guests are made very welcome and every need catered for, with cooking a speciality. Although the electricity goes off at night, solar lights are provided. The local riding stables are exceptionally well run, with a variety of possibilities for riding. My only disappointment was that my guide decided that the car (4WD) didn't have enough clearance to drive the rocky road to the top of the plateau so I didn't see the views, which had been the main attraction for me, or have time to arrange an alternative. The scenery on the way up to the Lodge was impressive. Tom, who has the concession for the Lodge, is very much involved in the local community and has recently taken on a larger area of the surrounding forest, so walking opportunities should increase.
Another wonderful place to stay, with the Lodge and cabins overlooking the wildlife, and so much of it! Superb facilities, a great welcome and nothing too much trouble. River safaris were the best, but the forest drives, including a walking tour, were also brilliant, with an excellent guide. The water meadows in front of the Lodge had so many animals, some differing each day, there was always so much to see. I noted afterwards that my itinerary included the Camp rather than the Lodge, so perhaps I got lucky, I just went where I was taken!
Accommodation was excellent; also the catering but I felt threatened by another wasted day. A bird walk was offered, at extra charge, and returned past some of the local houses and fishermen working on their nets, which was interesting. I was told that the weather was not calm enough for boat trips and soon discovered that the beach in front of and to either side of the hotel was too rocky to go swimming. There was a good swimming pool, but the ants around the edge were a bit off-putting. Some Dutch volunteers showed me round the tree project which they were helping with and also told me that there was a local riding stables. I had a nice quiet ride through the forest, which was very enjoyable, and riding on the beach was also an option. The horses seemed well looked after but the owners were all away and it was not in the same league as the excellent stables and customer care at Zomba.
Another not-to-be-missed place to stay, with drives through wonderful scenery and seeing very special animals, as well as some colourful flowers just emerging after the annual burning of about half of the grassland area - for firebreak and conservation purposes. Frosty mornings but evening log fires, including in the beautiful and spacious log cabins, and plentiful hot water - as well as excellent food - made the stay very comfortable. Larger groups are allocated to a guide, who helps them plan their activities during their stay and these can include whole day drives to about 3 different destinations. As a sole traveller, I didn't get the option to do the longer drives but was happy to join in any other drives available.
What can one say about paradise? Elephants wandered through the camp and could be heard walking around at night. The ever-amusing hippo conversations sounded just outside, although were probably some way away and impala and bushbuck grazed close by. Animals abounded within the park - I've never seen so many on game drives - and on the way there. The driver I had throughout was very informative and excellent at finding places to watch animals. We saw lions and leopards, lots of birds and the night drives were very productive, including sightings of genets, mongooses, and a leopard stalking. The accommodation, food and facilities were excellent, and management and staff all really helpful.
Another day, and I could have joined a vehicle going for a whole day drive, to a different part of the park; I hadn't realised that could have been an option but it would be a great thing to do.