The wildest African adventure in Malawi

Posted by Nidha Narrandes on 6 December 2019

It was the hundreds of hippos in the Shire River that did it. That was the moment I fell completely and utterly in love with Malawi. Until then I had never seen or experienced anything this wild. As we made our way to the camp across the river by boat, there was total silence. We all gazed out at the wildlife surrounding us in complete disbelief. Crocodiles sunned themselves lazily on the banks, jaws ready to snap close at any moment, and the hippos spied on us from the river’s surface. It was a surreal reminder that ‘this is Africa’.

Incredible sightings all along the river. Image credit: Nidha Narrandes

Mvuu Camp sits on the banks of the Shire River in the Liwonde National Park, with little more than a knee-high log fence to keep the wildlife out. A sign reads ‘Beware of the Hippos’ and its no joke.

‘Don’t leave the pool gate open if you go swimming,’ said the camp manager with a giggle, ‘or you will be swimming with the hippos in no time.’ Funny. Not Funny?

There are 14 stone and canvas tents in total – as well as a common area with a bar and restaurant where meals are served. It’s also a perfect place to watch scores of elephants crossing the croc-infested waters while sipping on Malawian gin – which is exceptional.

Fourteen camps sit on the banks of the Shire River. Image credit: Nidha Narrandes

Aside from the best realtime game, bird and nature-watching location, Mvuu camp is also a royal favourite – Prince Harry frequents the lodge when he travels to Malawi and it’s clear to see why. It’s a piece of Africa that you’ll carry in your heart forever.

There are few words to describe the untamed beauty that is the Shire River. Feared by many locals and revered by tourists, it’s brimming with hundreds of crocodiles, hippos and elephants. The banks are a photographer’s dream come true, alive with buck and abundant birdlife.

Grunting hippos in the river. Image credit: Nidha Narrandes

As we slipped down the river by boat for sundowners, I put my camera down and breathed Africa in. The sound of the tour guide’s voice faded slowly and in front of me I watched a huge hippo lunge out of the water while a crocodile lifted his heavy scales and sauntered slowly into the river. At the same moment, waterbuck galloped away skittishly at the sight of the croc and the birds nearby took flight. There was so much action in just a few seconds, I had to remind myself to breathe. Nature is amazing and if you love the wild, this is something out of a dream.

Who knew hippos can’t swim? That surprised me. Instead, they walk or stand in water that covers them to protect their highly sensitive skin. A yawn is also not a sign of tiredness, instead, it is a warning to steer clear – they are after all the most dangerous land animal on the continent. Take a back seat, king of the jungle.

Cruising the river at sunset. Image credit: Nidha Narrandes

As our captain killed the boat’s motor, a cacophony of sounds engulfed us. Hippos grunted in the water nearby, at least 20 birds competed for a solo and elephants cooling down at the water’s edge trumpeted the dipping sun. I’m convinced the saying ‘there’s nothing quite like an African sunset’ was coined right here on this body of water. I could could sit here for hours and be entertained.

We were ushered off the boat and into the dining area in time for a hearty meal of steak and potatoes. All around the tables international guests and locals exchanged exhilarating stories from the day’s outings. The banter didn’t end until dessert has been devoured and visitors were ready to turn in.

The chalets can easily be compared to glamping tents. The bathrooms are set in stone and the rooms come with king-sized beds with mosquito nets. There’s enough room to shuffle around the bed comfortably. The feature I most appreciated was the little porch with lounger and a table – the perfect place to sip on some java while listening to the birds in unison.

The tented camps at Mvuu. Image credit: Nidha Narrandes

Crunch. Thud. Crack. Was it a warthog? A hippo or an elephant? The very exciting game of  ‘what animal is it?’ kept my ears peeled for most of the night. With only a thin canvas separating me from the animal kingdom, I was more aware than ever of my place in the food chain.

The sleepless night was worth the exhilaration of being in the company of these wondrous beasts. When first light kissed the tent, my midnight companions were long gone. All that remained were paw and ellie prints on my doorstep and broken branches strewn on the grass. I didn’t expect anything less. African elephants are the largest land animal in the world – a fully grown male can reach heights of three metres tall and weigh between four and seven-and-a-half tonnes. My tent pales in comparison. Gulp!

Expect hippos, elephants and crocodiles at your doorstep. Image credit: Nidha Narrandes

We savoured the cool air on the 5.30am game drive, the heat has been unkind to us since we arrived in Malawi. However, the warmth is a small price to pay for the adventure of a lifetime.

Lilongwe National Park is world-famous for its conservation projects. Just two days before we arrived, 17 rhinos were relocated here from South Africa. This was one of the largest international black rhino translocations to date. The aim is to help secure rhino populations, which is a testament to the Malawian Government and the partners involved.

We kept a close eye out for the recent immigrants, sadly we didn’t run into them but the better hidden they are, the better their chances of survival.

Bumping around in the game vehicle, ducking tree branches and marvelling at giant baobabs, it’s hard not to be smitten by this largely untouched land. We stalked some cheetah tearing apart their prey under a bush and spied on four lions. The lush green landscape was teeming with wildlife and I wondered what it was like hundreds of years ago, when man lived in closer harmony with nature. It also made me sad that generations to come may never gaze upon this beauty. More reason for you to visit now.

An elephant herd on our game drive. Image credit: Nidha Narrandes

While everyone chatted excitedly about their morning sightings around the breakfast table, a stealthy monkey pounced and grabbed a banana muffin right out of someone’s hand. The mischievous creature left spilt coffee and wet shorts in its wake, which was followed by a grand clean up operation.

In its defence, it was a banana muffin – the temptation was no doubt too great.

We checked-out after breakfast and make our way down the river again to our next destination. As the camp disappeared over the Shire’s horizon, I felt a surge of gratitude for this incredible experience.

There are places that you’ll carry in your heart for a lifetime after visiting. Mvuu Camp, the Shire River and Liwonde National Park are without a doubt some of those places for me.






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