Well of course you’d choose to go the lake! We all do and it’s well worth it! .But it’s the big, well reputed locations that sometimes hog all of the limelight when in fact, there lies an undiscovered treasure only a stones throw away. Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve…ever heard of it? Probably not.
We’ve lived here in the southern part of Malawi for an entire year and have only recently made time to explore it – a reserve just 70 km’s down the road from us and a place that on arrival, spurred us to crack open a cold beer and say, “WOW, what took us so long?”
While driving on the dusty road to the reserve gates, things noticeably slow down, the locals are welcoming and the colours seem brighter.
We’d been invited by some friends to join them for a camping trip in Mwabvi. There would be no electricity, no toilets and no water. Just the open bush and probably not many animals – since most of them had been poached out during the Mozambican war, with Mozambique only a few kilometers from the reserve boundary.So what would there be?
It’s the kind of place that has hills of natural forest, ancient hard woods, giant Mopane trees and ungrazed grass that rustles with the afternoon breeze. It’s a place that is fast becoming rare in Malawi; with so many landscapes victim to annual burning and rampant deforestation. With a place like Mwabvi, I think hard before writing about it. Do we advertise a place like this, put it on the map for illegal hunters and poachers. Do we share our secret camp; breathtaking, isolated, abandoned and unknown? Do I talk about the trees; knowing there are people with machinery, eager to devour the forests for themselves? Will telling you about Mwabvi help Mwabvi?
I think of a friend who manages a wild life reserve in Africa. She spoke about the rhinos in their park. They are hesitant to advertise that the park they manage is home to the Big 5. Because with so few rhinos left in our world and so many poachers and buyers devoid of caring, putting rhino on the map seems like an invitation for yet another brutal killing spree.
But sharing a place like Mwabvi, I think, is very necessary. It’s a little gem, rare and beautiful, waiting to be discovered. A pristine place of utmost beauty, a place that needs looking after and protection. It’s had a tragic history. It was the first and closest place to 1 million hungry and destitute Mozambican refugees that entered Malawi during the Mozambican guerrilla war. Mwabvi’s animals were fast depleted as hunger and desperation prevailed in the region. Then a few years ago, a dedicated family started the PAW project, formed to protect and restore Mwabvi, a long with the rearing of 5 white lion cubs. But sadly, the private donor passed away and funds were unavailable for the continuation of the PAW project, leaving Mwabvi in the shadow of possibility once again.
Thankfully there are still birds! Plenty of them. If you turn off your engines for just a minute, soon the song of birds echo in the valley. And even for myself who knows diddly squat about bird calls and feathers, is hushed into silence by a sound I have not heard before. The abundant bird life should be of no surprise – not with the thick bush and a maze of drying up river beds that flow wildly during the rainy season, or the caves and sandstone gorges and if you look closely, the sprawling bug life!
We set up camp and made a fire before it got too dark, then went to explore the riverbed. Just upstream, while passing the drying up pools of water, bubbling with gulping barbel and fresh clams, we unexpectedly found the beautiful Njati river gorge and just as well. Because we’d not know when to stop and turn around with all that there is to explore and so little time before nightfall.
Mwabvi came as a surprise. While the game is not so much a reason to visit Mwabvi, the bird life and the scenery is spectacular. For kids, it’s paradise! With great big rocks to climb, river beds to explore and walks through forests. I see so much potential for this reserve.
It’s a bit of a trip to come all the way down from Blantyre just for the day, but it can be done. However, if you are up for some adventure and can bare the thought of camping in some of Malawi’s most pristine forest and bush, I’d definitely recommend a visit. But you need to come organised. Come with water, fire and a poop shovel! You’re pretty much free to set up camp wherever you like and you will be spoiled for choice. At night you will feel like you are the only people on this planet, faraway from everything. It will be quiet, all except for the comforting crackle of the camp fire and the calls of the bush babies, crickets and Nightjars. And best of all, no cell phone signal!
“When from our better selves we have too long been parted by the hurrying world, and droop, sick of its business, of its pleasures tired, How gracious, how benign, is solitude.” – William Wordsworth
Some tips and suggestions for Mwabvi:
– Visit during the Winter months when the roads are dry and the weather is bearable!
– Oddly when we camped there, there was not one mosquito! Not sure if this is the case all the time!
– Take a walk down the fascinating river beds. I believe you can ask one of the rangers for a guided walk.
– Take your bikes. Park your car at the entrance and go for a cycle…at least you will not need to be worried about dangerous wildlife!
– Pack a picnic and find a shaded spot in the dried up river gorge.
– Take your hiking boots. There are a number of trails to be explored.
– Birders and Tree lovers, bring your books and binoculars! You will be busy!
– Take plenty of water and sunblock!
Some more photos of Mwabvi:
“We need the tonic of wildness…at the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable we can never have enough of nature.” – Henry. D Thoreau