Expert Reviews – Majete WR
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
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Malawi’s Big Five reserve
Arriving late at the park in our own vehicle, we were keen to get to the lodge for check-in, but this wasn’t meant to be. Just a few hundred meters from the entrance gate we were met by a few young elephant bulls having a sand bath in the middle of the road. As much as we enjoyed watching them, we had to push on as it was getting dark, but any attempt to move our car forward was met by flapping ears, low grumbles and even a mock charge. Long after dark and well outside of permissible self-drive hours, we finally enjoyed our welcome drinks by a log fire in a stunning bush lodge. Majete is Malawi’s only Big Five destination and the excellent five-star lodge offers an experience comparable to private reserves in southern Africa.
Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.
A story of success
Majete, in southern Malawi, is beautiful with its gentle rolling hills, lush miombo woodlands and majestic Shire River forging its way to the Zambezi. But if you’d have visited 15 years ago, you’d have seen very little wildlife – it had almost been poached out. Now, thanks to the efforts of NGO African Parks, which manages the reserve, it’s home to around 12,000 animals, including the Big Five. Animal relocations, improved security and better standards of living, education and employment prospects for local people have all contributed to making this one of Malawi’s best safari destinations. It’s a small park, about 700km2, with good roads and signage for self-drivers. Although there aren’t many places to stay, they do cover all budgets from community campgrounds to the luxurious Mkumuladzi Lodge. I visited in the wet season and although the verdant vegetation and hilly landscape meant that the wildlife was tricky to spot, it was still worthwhile and we did in fact see several nyala: rare antelopes with strange devil-like faces.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Rising star of the south
Now Malawi’s only Big Five destination, Majete has undergone a dramatic transformation since 2003, when a 25-year management lease was signed with the admirable African Parks non-profit. Prior to that, Majete seemed like a conservation area in terminal decline, practically devoid of large mammals (its once plentiful herds of elephant and rhino were both poached to extinction) and visited by just a handful of tourists annually. Today, following an extensive program of reintroductions, it rivals Liwonde as the country’s top safari destination. It offers visitors a greater variety of big game than its more northerly neighbour and a better chance of seeing all the Big Five, but is less compelling in terms of scenery and riverside ambience. Close enough to Blantyre to be visited from there as a day trip, Majete now also offers a great range of activities including game drives, night drives, boat trips and bird walks. It’s one of Africa’s great post-millennial conservation success stories.
James is a travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guides, including senior author of the guide to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Malawi’s Big Five reserve
An easy 70km drive from the southern city of Blantyre, Majete is Malawi’s only Big Five reserve, having seen its fortunes turned around and over 2500 animals reintroduced since African Parks took over in 2003. Indeed, the elephant population grew to well over 400 by 2017, allowing the NGO to move 200 to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve as part of its historic ‘500 Elephants’ translocation. Not only is this Malawi’s premier wildlife-watching destination, but its miombo woodland and savannah alongside the Shire River are reasonably accessible, with 2WD-fit roads leading to and through part of the reserve. Accommodation ranges from a campsite to lodges in and around Majete, and a museum at the gate covers the conservation projects.
Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.
Majete: wilderness restored
With two perennial rivers traversing the 691km2 park and a variety of habitats to choose from, Majete is a small but diverse wildlife reserve. The riparian forests found along the Shire and Mkulumadzi rivers give way to mature mixed woodlands, while granite-topped hills dominated by Brachystegia woodland characterise the wilder west of the reserve. This vegetation diversity makes Majete a haven for wildlife and nature enthusiasts alike, but it wasn’t always this way.
Proclaimed back in 1955, Majete was plundered by the surrounding communities for decades before the arrival of the African Parks non-profit in 2003. By then poaching gangs had wiped out many of the large mammal populations, including elephants and lions. Money and expertise were pumped into the depleted park, providing a much-needed catalyst for its resurrection. An ambitious restocking project ensued, with the reintroduction of over 4000 herbivores, including Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, sable antelope, eland, buffalo, zebra, black rhino and elephant. The return of lion (there are plans for further lion reintroductions in 2019) and leopard completed the park’s miraculous rebirth.
Within a few short years, Majete has been transformed from a denuded wilderness area into one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories – not to mention one of Malawi’s premier wildlife safari destinations.