​Expert Reviews – Majete WR

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Expert
Iga Motylska   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: April

As a freelance journalist, award-winning copywriter and guidebook author, Iga Motylska has chased stories across 47 countries and has bylines in over 70 publications.

Malawi’s ‘Big Seven’ – and a Porcupine
Overall rating
4/5

Majete’s biggest drawcard for me was that within a decade it had transformed from a wildlife reserve where key animal species had been poached to extinction to become a ‘Big Seven’ national park with endangered African wild dogs and cheetah. Under the watchful eye of non-profit African Parks, no rhino or elephants have been poached since their reintroduction in the 2000s. I saw so many elephants during my two-night stay that it came as no surprise that Majete is restocking other parks around the country – and not only with elephants.

Even though I was on a guided safari, all the park’s main roads (except for a few clearly marked offshoots) were accessible to self-drive visitors without a 4x4 vehicle. While most game drives congregate around the three lodges in ‘Majete main sanctuary’, as a hardcore safari-goer who appreciates longer drives, I explored the less-frequented southern section of the park along the 15km-long Masakara-to-Pende road.

The sparser vegetation creates a more open landscape for large buffalo herds numbering some 100 animals. I learned that at last count, in 2022, there were close to 2,000 at Majete. We watched them over sundowners near Mthumba waterhole – there are three waterholes within close range of each other in the south – as four lions waited for the late afternoon heat and light to dissipate. Before catching any action, we chased nightfall back to our camp. It was during this night drive that I had my first-ever porcupine sighting. Now you understand why Majete will always be one for my books.

Expert
Stephen Cunliffe   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: July

Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.

1 person found this review helpful.

Majete: Wilderness Restored
Overall rating
4/5

With two major rivers traversing its 700km2 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 the 1950s, Majete was plundered by the surrounding communities for decades before the arrival of the African Parks non-profit in 2003. By then poachers 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 3,000 herbivores, including Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, sable antelope, eland, buffalo, zebra, black rhino and elephant. The return of lion, leopard, cheetah and African wild dog has 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.

Expert
James Bainbridge   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: September

James is a travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guides, including senior author of the guide to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

1 person found this review helpful.

Malawi’s Big Five Reserve
Overall rating
4/5

An easy 70km drive from the southern city of Blantyre, Majete is one of only two Big Five reserves in Malawi, having seen its fortunes turned around and over 3,000 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.

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

1 person found this review helpful.

Resurrected Star of the South
Overall rating
4/5

Now one of Malawi’s two Big Five destinations, Majete has undergone a dramatic transformation since 2003, when a 25-year management lease was signed with African Parks, an admirable non-profit conservation organisation. 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 Big Five safari destination, though it is less compelling in terms of scenery and riverside ambience.

On my most recent visit to Majete, in May 2024, elephants were plentiful and I saw lions on a daily basis. I also undertook a longer afternoon drive to the little-visited south, where I encountered three large herds of buffalo, which are less easily seen on the main northeastern road circuit. I missed out on cheetah, leopard and African wild dog, but did see tracks of the latter close to camp. I was impressed by the variety of antelope: the handsome nyala and similar but smaller bushbuck are both common, and I also had good sightings of eland and sable. Birding was generally quiet, but I saw African golden oriole and white-headed black chat regularly in the camp, and was also treated to an excellent view of the gorgeous racket-tailed roller.

Although an overnight safari (ideally at least two nights) is recommended, Majete is close enough to Blantyre to be visited from there as a day trip. Boat trips and bush walks had been suspended on my most recent visits, but will hopefully resume in the not-too-distant future. Overall, Majete ranks as one of Africa’s great post-millennial conservation success stories.

Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Dry season

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

1 person found this review helpful.

A Rewarding Big Five Reserve
Overall rating
4/5

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.

Expert
Sue Watt   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Wet season

Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.

3 people found this review helpful.

A Story of Success
Overall rating
4/5

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 20-odd years ago, you’d have seen very little wildlife – it had almost been poached out. Now, thanks to the efforts of the 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 Mkulumadzi 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.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.0/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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