Malawi’s most authentic safari experience

After arriving in Malawi we soon made our way to Lifuwu, the small village where we are going to volunteer for five weeks. More on that later.

What we want to share with you now is the very unique experience we had at a small safari lodge near Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi.

One of the staff members in Lifuwu asked us what plans we had for the weekend —and as we did not really have any plans, she started her talk about this little place. She could not really explain what was the attraction, just that it was a very special place that she really wanted us to go experience while in Malawi. So we went… And will now try to share with you what it is all about — as we really think you should go as well 😉

We have not in any way been asked or paid to share this — we just loved it, and want you to have this experience as well ❤

We arrived Friday around noon and were greeted by the happiest Malawian we have yet come by — and Malawians are really happy! This smiling guy was Billy, the owner of Shire Eco Safari Camp as the place is called. Billy opened the place in 2016 after having worked on the land for years, and is apparently the only native Malawian owning and running a safari lodge.

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Immediately he showed us the dorm to drop our packs, as he was eager to show us around. Here we got the first look at the site and to our surprise we had finally managed to find an authentic place! The 20 minutes on tiny dirt roads had indeed taken us out in the wild!

The first thing Billy wanted to show us was the makeshift museum where he vividly told us about how the former museum building had been torn down by an elephant entering the compound. Apparently, the elephant had been attracted by the museum’s main attraction: The bones and parts of the skin from an elephant that had been shot down years earlier by a ranger in self-defence. Billy had bought the skin and bones for his small museum with the intent to educate locals along with visitors — as he believes that only when you love and know the wild animals in the nature you will protect them. So there we went — each of us trying to lift the heavy bones and touching the dried ears all accompanied by incredible stories about elephants.

Next stop was the “Summer Hut” — a sheltered viewing platform at the far end of the compound down to Shire River and right at the edge of the national park. Billy made us all be quiet and crunched down to sneak onto the platform, and from here we got the weekend’s first encounter with the wildlife of Liwonde National Park.

Needless to say this became our favourite hang-out spot from where we could relax, drink a beer, and spot wildlife at the same time. We excuse for the weird pictures, but our camera is not good for safari. So we have learned ourselves a technique to take pictures through a set of binoculars 😀

At sunset we ventured back and had our dinner served by the lovely local cook Kingsley.

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However, the biggest attraction of the place comes in use after dark. It turns out that some volunteers years ago got Billy interested in astronomy, and that made him go through a whole lot of bureaucracy to have a telescope imported to Malawi and be set up at his lodge. Our bet is that you are not likely to come across one at any other lodge in Africa 😋 So we spent the evening in the company of Billy and his local helper — who has become an expert in handling the telescope — glaring at and photographing the moon, the planets as they came up over the horizon, and the different star constellations as well as listening to Billy’s amazing stories of elephants, crocodiles, Malawi’s presidents, and much more.

Unfortunately, the moon was really bright and we were too tired to wait for it to go down, so we were not able to see the milky way. Feed up with stories we all went to bed equally delighted and terrified in the silent Malawian night listening to the grunting hippos and the grazing elephants that occasionally sounded like they were taking down a whole tree — and tried not to think too much about the herd of elephants who had entered the compound a few days before!

Early Saturday morning Billy had arranged a game drive for us in Liwonde National Park and in the afternoon we went on a river safari on the Shire River.

We did not see as many animals as we did in Chobe National Park in Botswana a few weeks ago — but we had the whole place almost for ourselves and could enjoy the great views and the animals who did show up for a photo shoot without loads of tourists around. It was great! We ended the day with a cold Fanta in the Summer Hut watching a group of elephants crossing the river.

As always darkness comes early in Malawi, but unfortunately it got cloudy, and we could therefore not use the telescope to watch the sky again. Also, the elephants had again entered the compound, and all available personel were sent on the mission to drive them back into the national park. Luckily, they succeeded, and the park rangers with helicopters who were on their way could be cancelled.

With the peace of knowing that there were no more elephants on the compound we all went to bed. At 4 am Billy’s young helper woke us up: The sky had cleared, the moon was down, and we were now able to see the milky way. Amazing! We glared at the sky for around 30 minutes and then hurried back to our warm blankets.

Sunday morning offered one last trip to the Summer Hut to say goodbye to the animals, who had kept us busy with binoculars all weekend. After a last round of Kingsley’s lunches we were picked up to go back to Lifuwu and our volunteer lives looking back on a weekend full of surprises and enriching local experiences.

So if you ever find yourself in Malawi you now know where you should go 😉

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