Lengwe National Park
(Entrance gate: early-18.00 daily, USD10 for international visitors, USD7 for international residents, USD1 for Malawians per 24hrs, and free entry for accompanied children under 12. Daily fee for private vehicles USD3 to USD15 depending on weight)
Lengwe National Park is 887 sq km (350 sq miles) and south of Majete, 80km (50 miles) from Blantyre, right in the Mozambique border. The park was established as a 120 sq km Game Reserve in 1928. This was aimed to protect the large mammals found in the Lower Shire Valley, especially the nyala, antelope and its habitat. The Reserve was given the national park status in 1970 and extended to its present size of 887 sq km 1975. The Park is managed by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). Lengwe National Park can feel a little underwhelming after a day or two in Majete. It is because the wildlife here all occur naturally, unboosted by any reintroduction programme.
Lengwe is quite dry outside the rainy season, and the only source of consistent water is from the rain. This assists game viewing because it forces the animals to use the few pools that are permanent supplies of water. Many man-made water holes have been constructed to attract and maintain the animal population in the eastern area of the park just a short distance from the main gate.
A heritage centre at the entrance gate to the park named ‘Tisunge!’. Meaning ‘Let us preserve’ in Chichewa, aims to preserve the Lower Shire Culture. Various artefacts are on display in the centre’s museum. Apart from game viewing, it is possible to hike all day in this majestic park with a ranger. Tourists can also enjoy birdwatching and canoeing between April to December as roads become impassable during the rains and normally the lodge goes on holiday from mid-January to March. The government tourist lodge was renovated and refurbished in 2003 and now operates as Nyala Lodge.
Game viewing is good during the dry season as you’ll see many of these animals visiting the waterholes. Lengwe National Park is the most northerly habitat to find indigenous Nyala in Malawi. 2,000-3,000 beautiful antelopes like the magnificent kudu roam the park. Guest on game drives can easily spot Livingstone’s suni, bushbuck and impala as well as aardvark, yellow baboon, blue monkey, warthog, bush pig, vervet and buffalo. There are also predators in the park in the form of leopards and hyena, the former often being very vocal, but neither is often seen.
The Park is also a paradise for birdwatchers, with over 300 bird species, and enthusiasts will be eager to see woolly necked stork, trumpeter hornbill, bearded scrub-robin, yellow-spotted nicator and all three species of snake eagle found in Malawi.
Getting there and away
The turn-off to Lengwe is on the west side of the M1, about 20km south of Chikwawa and 8km north of Nchalo. From the turn-off, it’s a further 9km to the park entrance gate – a straight and uninspiring drive through a busy sugar plantation, which makes it all the more surprising when you suddenly come to the trees of Lengwe National Park. Without transport, you could certainly walk to the gate, or catch a bicycle taxi, then rig the lodge to see if there is anyone who could collect you. Nyala Lodge and the campsite are only just inside, but you are not allowed to enter the park without a vehicle on account of buffalo and other animals. It’s also worth noting here that there is an airstrip at nearby Nchalo Sugar Estate should you wish to charter a plane.