Liwonde National Park has hogged international headlines following the start of a process of moving elephants to Nkhotakota Game Reserve. Daily Star reporter MALCOLM TATTERSALL visited the tourist destination in August and he gives a different viewpoint through the eye of an adventure-seeker from abroad.
I do not want to sound like I am banging the drum for Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park, idyllic place though it certainly is.
A herd of timid impalas graze nearby, grunting warthogs wallow in the mud and a family of baboons sits in a tree, watching and waiting and hoping to nick my breakfast if I’m daft enough to turn my back.
Just a few feet away, a crocodile swims lazily along the shallow lagoon near enough for me to marvel at this magnificent predator, but fortunately far enough away to make sure I do not end up as his breakfast.
Africa is supposed to be an adventure.
In Malawi, a landlocked country dubbed “the warm heart of Africa”, it is exactly that from the moment you arrive at Chileka, a small international airport on the margins of Blantyre City, which doesn’t look like it has changed much since the colonial days of the 1950s.
First stop for me was the laidback Sunbird Ku Chawe perched on the edge of the magnificent 6 000ft high Zomba Plateau.
The views are so stunning, with eagles and buzzards swooping over waterfalls, that they were once described as “the best in the whole British Empire”.
Ramshackle shelters mark the spots where the late Queen Mother and Emperor Haile Selassie both stood to marvel at them.
But if Zomba was a splendid start, there was better to come when I boarded a little wooden boat for the short trip down the Shire River, passing monster crocodiles and wallowing hippos, to reach marvellous Mvuu Lodge.
They called my room a “tent”. But it was the most luxurious tent I’ve ever seen.
For a start, there was a comfy king-size bed. Then there was a huge bath carved from rock, a toilet and shower, plus a second outside shower, carefully hidden from public view, so you can bathe under the stars with solar panels providing hot water and lighting.
Every afternoon, expert rangers take guests on safari in four-wheel drive vehicles to explore the bush and marvel at the wildlife.
We spotted elephants, zebras, rhinos, giraffes, buffalo, all sorts of antelopes and some amazing birdlife.
Everything, in fact, except the elusive lions and leopards that do their best to stay out of sight.
Later back at camp, guests assemble in the open-sided thatched-roof restaurant to compare notes and tuck into dinner with wine at £1 a glass.
As dawn breaks, there are guided walks to see the bush come alive as the animals awake.
Then after breakfast, boat trips down the river take you so close to hippos and crocodiles that, if you were foolish enough, you could reach out and touch them. Unforgettable.
But the next stop at Lake Malawi, nicknamed the Lake of Stars by 19th Century missionary Dr Livingstone, is pretty amazing too.
Bordered by Tanzania and Mozambique as well as Malawi, it’s more like an inland sea than a lake.
The crystal clear water is home to more than 1 000 different species of cichlid fish, including colourful blue zebras and delicious chambo, cooked to perfection by the smiling chef at the lakeside Sunbird Nkopola where I stayed.
One afternoon I was conveyed 10 miles in a rickety boat to tiny Bird Island, where thousands of guillemots perched on the cliffs like a guard of honour to welcome us.
We had got drenched as waves splashed over the bow. But the soaking was worth it when we hurled chunks of fish into the air and then watched two sea eagles swoop to catch them.
Those in the know are tipping Malawi to be one of the hottest travel destinations of the next decade.
As yet, though, it is still relatively unknown, unspoilt and incredibly cheap, with some of the friendliest people you could meet anywhere. Go and have an adventure.n