Nkhotatoka 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)
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is one of Malawi’s largest at 1,802 km²(700 sq miles), and oldest reserves established in 1954, managed by African Parks in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife since 2015.
The rugged terrain spans altitudes of 500m in the east to 1,638m, at the peak of Mount Chipata, and it is intersected by the Bua, Kaombe and Dwangwa rivers. The vegetation is majorly miombo woodlands, riparian forests and grasslands, and the plateau is dotted with streams and waterfalls and there are great spots for fishing, canoeing and river rafting.
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve has had a difficult past. Decades of poaching and lawlessness saw a previously productive reserve, with over 1,500 elephants in the 1990s, reduced to fewer than 100 individuals by 2015. Game animals were hunted out.
By August 2017, over a two-year period, African Parks completed one of the largest elephant translocations in history with a total of 520 elephants successfully moved to the reserve from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve. Over 1500 animals have also been introduced into this park, meaning that there is no shortage of wildlife to see when visiting. A perimeter fence in under construction as well as stringent law enforcement to ensure the long-term survival of all the animals in this rapidly developing reserve.
Lacking in facilities for many years, new accommodation of international standards has opened in Nkhotakota including the Bua River Lodge and Tongole Wilderness Lodge. Both lodges offer a wide variety of accommodation types. You may choose from simple self-catering and camping to luxury 5-star treatment.
The park is a must for any walking enthusiast as it offers spectacular scenery and views from peaks across the reserve and adventurous walking along the rivers. It also provides several activities including fishing, canoeing and rafting. Although access to the reserve and lodges is possible with saloon cars during the dry season, any of the game drive trails within the reserve needs to be in a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Nkhotakota is one of Malawi’s most important bird areas, with more than 280 different species including half-collared Kingfishers, African finfoot and palmnut vultures.
The still pristine bush, with a dominant vegetation cover of Brachystegia woodland, once harboured a rich diversity of mammals, most visibly warthog, elephant, bushbuck, vervet monkey and yellow baboon, but also buffalo, eland, sable antelope, greater kudu, lion, leopard and spotted hyena, however decades of poaching and timber harvesting depleted many key mammal species and degraded their natural habitat.
The rivers boast healthy crocodile and fish populations, particularly mpasa (Lake Salmon), making catch-and-release fishing both an adventure and a rewarding endeavour.
Getting there and away
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is 115km from Lilongwe and 642 km from Blantyre. Access from the lakeside M5 road is via a clearly signposted turn-off 12km north of Nkhotakota Town and 800m north of Lozi trading centre. From here, it is about 8km to the entrance gate and a further 2km to Bua River Lodge. For Tongole Wilderness Lodge, continue straight along this dirt road until you come to a junction within the reserve. Turn left here, and after 22km, mostly uphill, you will drive into camp. There are signposts within the reserve, but they’re easy to miss. A 4×4 or strong pick-up is advisable for both camps, but a saloon car should be able to reach Bua River Lodge in the dry season.
For those without their own transport, both lodges will arrange pickups from Nkhotakota Town, or alternatively, you can take a minibus to Lozi trading centre, then hire a bicycle-taxi to the entrance gate/Bua River Lodge.