Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve
(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)
Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is located at the southernmost tip of Malawi and is the country’s smallest wildlife reserve. The reserve started life in 1928 as the Thangadzi Game Reserve, set aside to protect an isolated population of nyala antelope. It was expanded in 1953 and renamed after the Mwabvi River. The borders of Mwabvi were further extended in 1975 and it now covers 340km² of rugged wilderness. Project African Wilderness (PAW) signed a management agreement with the Malawi Government’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife to take over the conservation and development of the park in February 2007.
The reserve is so remote and only accessible on foot or with 4×4 vehicles and will disappoint anybody seeking a pure game-viewing experience, but it is highly recommended to keen walkers as an opportunity to explore an untrammelled wilderness area that still supports a decent quota of wildlife. The scenery is spectacular, with views over the Shire River and the Zambezi river, and the magnificent sandstone outcrops that allow 360-degree views over the Mopani woodlands give an almost lunar feel to the landscape. Guided walks are in fact the only activity on offer.
Several types of accommodation are available, and it is now possible to stay at the Reserve. Chipembere Camp offers dormitory accommodation and camping just outside the Reserve. Migudu Campsite offers visitors the opportunity to camp inside the Reserve. Opened in 2010, Njati Lodge provides double or twin room ensuite chalets in a small lodge setting close to the Mwabvi River Gorge.
The reserve was once an important stronghold for black rhino, with a population estimated at 17 in 1959 and 15-30 in the mid-1970s, but it has not been seen in the reserve for more two decades owing to the increase in poaching.
Once regards as ‘empty’ of game, new roads have opened up and game drives or treks arranged by local reserve authorities have yielded sightings of sable, kudu, impala and other antelope as well as a variety of birdlife. There are also over 350 species of bird, including Rudd’s apalis, Woodward’s batis and grey sunbird, making it a paradise for avid birdwatchers. Buffalo still bathe in the Mwabvi river, and lion, hyena and leopard are still resident or occasional visitors from across the border.
Getting there and away
Coming from the north, the turn-off to Mwabvi is signposted two times to the right of the M1 approaching the small town of Bangula, roughly 1km and 5km after you cross the bridge over the Thangadzi River. Turn right onto either of these earth roads and follow the signs (and your nose) as you will need to take another right turn and then a left-hand fork. Look out for blank brick signs – the information has been removed, but there are the turning locations. (If you get lost, villagers along the way can usually point you in the right direction.) This track leads to the entrance gate of the reserve, where you must sign in. Ideally, you want to visit the reserve in a 4×4, though a saloon with high clearance should make it through to the camp in the dry season. Mwabvi is not a practical destination without your own transport.