An extract from Travel Africa’s Jul-Sep 2022 issue takes us to Malawi’s Liwonde National Park and we gain insight of what makes it so special…
Malawi’s premier safari destination, Liwonde National Park offers relatively easy game viewing with high wildlife diversity, including the big iconic species. It’s a relatively untouristed park with easy access from Blantyre and Lilongwe (and Lake Malawi) — and it’s a great example of a conservation success story. Here’s why it should be on your must-visit list.
TOP TIP Liwonde changes noticeably from season to season, with each month holding its own particular attractions due to changes in water levels, breeding cycles and migratory bird patterns. Don’t be put off by the rainy season (generally December through March): although accessibility can be a challenge, the river is always open and Liwonde is wondrous when wet.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Liwonde National Park lies in the south of the country, around 120km from Blantyre and 240km from Lilongwe. Broadly speaking, there are six vegetation zones. Much of the park is covered by the floodplain of the Shire River (which forms the park’s western boundary), comprising grassland dotted with riverine thickets and patches of woodland including soaring fan palms and majestic baobabs. To the east rise the Shire Highlands, while further north are the rocky hills and sub-montain forests of the Mangochi Forest Reserve, part of the Rift Valley wall and incorporated into the protected area in 2018.
WHAT TO SEE? The Liwonde-Mangochi ecosystem is home to around 120 mammal species, including lion, cheetah and leopard alongside hyenas, jackals and honey badgers. Plentiful elephants, crocodiles and hippos can also be seen, plus a growing (and heavily guarded) population of hook-lipped rhinos. Zebra, buffalo and a large variety of antelopes roam the grasslands, while there are more than 380 resident and migratory bird species, from strutting waders patrolling the Shire River floodplains to reclusive owls, woodpeckers and flycatchers lurking in the thickets of Mangochi.
REHABILITATION Liwonde was gazetted in 1973 but suffered from high levels of poaching and degradation until 2015, when African Parks began co-managing the park, reintroducing apex predators and developing one of southern Africa’s best ranger forces, removing over 40,000 wire snares, fencing the park to reduce human-wildlife conflict and introducing numerous education and development programmes in neighbouring communities. Highlights include: 2016 Translocation of 336 elephants from Liwonde to Nkhotakota Reserve — one of the largest ever elephant translocations. 2017 Cheetahs reintroducted to the park for the first time in a century. 2018 Introduction of ten lions to the park from South Africa and Majete Wildlife Reserve. 2019 Relocation of 17 black rhinos from South Africa. 2021 African wild dogs reintroduced after a 60-year absence. 2022 250 elephants moved from Liwonde to Kasungu National Park (Malawi). The transformation of Liwonde in the last seven years, as well as similar achievements in Majete and Nkotakota Wildlife Reserves, has not only established Malawi as a bona fide safari destination, but is cause for optimism for the conservation effort across Africa.
Rainy season, often pleasantly cool. Some routes may become inaccessible.
Superb views as the rains wash dry-season smoke and haze from the sky.
Climatically the best time to visit, although light showers may persist into April.
The park turns a verdant green, with pleasantly warm days and cool nights.
Becoming cooler, with warm days but chilly nights.
Elephant herds start returning to the river; sable emerge into the open.
Temperatures rise; the park becomes increasingly dry.
Animals begin visiting the river in increasing numbers.
Hottest time of the year, daytime temperatures 30°C/85°F+.
River waters recede; birds congregate on the sandbars; elephants roam the banks.
Unpredictable. Hot and dry, with possibility of early rains
Migratory birds arrive; nursery herds of impala gather on the plains.