Vwaza Marsh 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)
Proclaimed in 1977, Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve is all of 978 sq km (400 sq miles) and lies along the Zambian border north-west of Mzuzu. The reserve consists of forest and grassland, thin woodland and marsh plain, with a few rocky outcrops. In contrast to the Nyika National Park on the Nyika Plateau, much of Vwaza is located on the low-lying flat ground although the eastern side of the park is hilly. The Luwewe River runs through the reserve (draining the marshland) and joins the South Rukuru River (the reserve’s southern border), which flows into Lake Kazuni. The reserve remains reasonably well stocked because animals can move freely between the reserve and Zambia’s Luangwa ecosystem to the west.
A good network of driveable tracks in the reserve is easily explored in a 4WD or high-clearance vehicle; if you’re in a 2WD, ask at Kazuni Camp for advice on the condition of the tracks. The best driving route is along the southern edge of the reserve, parallel to the river, heading to Zoro Pools. A better way to witness wildlife is on foot – either around Lake Kazuni or on a longer wilderness trail – but you must be accompanied by a guide.
The best time of year to visit is in the dry season when large herds concentrate around Lake Kazuni; just after the rainy season, the grass is high and you might go away without seeing anything.
The government camp here closed down in 2007 and tourist infrastructure is still under-developed. There are several lodges just outside the reserve. MEOF Safari & Camp, a new budget lodge opened in 2016, set up by German charity with the intention to provide a sustainable income for the local community. The other one is the community-owned Chigwere Cultural Lodge, an initiative by the community under the guidance of the Department of Parks and Wildlife. At the cultural lodge, communities showcase the Ngoni and Tumbuka culture through dances and food.
Lake Kazuni near the main entrance to the reserve is filled with hippos and crocodiles, and the surrounding land is home to herds of buffalo and elephant.
It is inhabited by more than 500 hippos, and on most days you’ll see hippos popping their heads out of the water. Crocodiles are often seen basking on the sandbanks of the lake.
Around 2,000 buffalos are said to be present in the reserve, but their roaming habits make their sightings less easy to predict. Herds of 30 or 40 elephants are regularly to be seen.
There are few predators here but occasionally lions and leopards are spotted, as are wild dogs that sometimes pass through from Zambia.
A variety of antelope is also present, including roan, greater kudu, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, eland, puku and impala.
Birdlife in the reserve is also outstanding. There are nearly 300 recorded species and this is one of the best places in Malawi to see waders, including stork, heron and the white-faced tree duck.
Getting there and away
Kazuni Camp, at the main entrance gate, is about 25km from Rumphi along the ‘old’ dirt road that connects to Mzimba. To get there, follow the M24 out of Rumphi towards Nyika for about 10km, and then turn left onto the S109, which is signposted for the reserve. You can normally reach the gate in a saloon car, but a 4×4 may be necessary after rain. Internal roads are generally closed during the rainy season. For those without a vehicle, day and overnight trips can be organised through Matunkha Eco-Tourism Lodge outside Rumphi.
If you’re travelling by public transport, first get to Rumphi (reached from Mzuzu by minibus). From Rumphi there is plenty of matolas travelling to and from the Kazuni area. Otherwise, buses and minibuses to Mzimba might drop you at Kazuni village, which is about 1km from the park gate.
Visitors can also fly in through the grass surfaced landing strip.