Liwonde National Park, covering 548km2, is considered the most prolific wildlife area in Malawi. The Shire River – the country’s largest river and Lake Malawi’s only outlet – forms the Park’s western boundary and harbours a dense population of hippo, crocodiles and large numbers of elephant. Antelope such as impala, waterbuck, reedbuck and bushbuck are plentiful along the banks. In the east, relatively dry mopane woodlands are interspersed with candelabra trees, an area favoured by buffalo, yellow baboon and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. Nearly 300 bird species occur here, with specials such as Böhm’s Bee-eater, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Pel’s Fishing-Owl, Lilian’s Lovebird and Brown-breasted Barbet.
Liwonde was proclaimed a National Park in 1973 and is considered one of the country’s premier wildlife destination. This is largely because the Shire River makes it a magnet for wildlife. The River provides an essential lifeline to the flora and fauna that exists in Liwonde and is a focal point of our safaris. Particularly in the drier months, it attracts large herds of elephant, antelope and an abundance of bird species. The vegetation of the Park is the result of the interactions of soil, water and historical factors (i.e. man, animal and fire). As a consequence, the vegetation is very varied, even within small areas. The central part of our property Mvuu Camp is located in what was once a riverine forest/thicket. Now all that remains are primarily the emergent trees. Almost all of the lower canopy trees (8 – 10m), large lianas and thicket forming shrubs (2 – 4m) are gone, having been removed by people (fishermen), elephant and fire many years ago. Even the emergent trees do not last forever. Only a few years ago, a tall Sterculia appendiculata fell over near what is now the duplex chalet. This was truly massive: 23m high and more than 3 metres in diameter at the base. Our more upmarket property on the other hand is located overlooking a peaceful lagoon that flows into the Shire River.
The downstream end of the camp declines into a large flood plain (or in years of higher water levels, a marsh). Upstream and directly inland along the access road, the vegetation quickly changes to a drier Mopane – acacia woodland with only scattered riverine shrub species along the roadside. Here too, the elephant have removed almost all the original trees and shrubs. Even in its original state, the forest thickets of Mvuu Camp and Mvuu Lodge were likely never as well developed as those found elsewhere. The high bank of Mvuu is probably an ancient levee and its soil is very compacted with nearly impermeable subsoil. Two other nearby types of riverine forest are much more luxuriant, principally because the soils are quite recent and permeable, wetter and of higher organic content. Up river on both banks of the Shire River, one can see beautiful small forests of mixed species of riverine forest. Some trees here reach a height of nearly 30 metres. After nearly 30 – 50 years of protection from elephants, low river levels allowed groups of elephants to cross, making the effects of their browsing very noticeable. The 548 sq km Park (which is named after Chief Liwonde who had championed its protection), harbours very diverse landscapes. It encompasses riverine swamps, deciduous woodlands, open grasslands, mopane and miombo woodlands as well as Palm savannahs and numerous baobabs. Game is abundant with a healthy population of elephants, hippos and crocodiles, who are best viewed on a boat safari along the Shire. Waterbuck wade in lagoons and marshes, while the open savannah and hills of the interior attract antelopes such the elegant sable, impala and bushbuck. Black Rhino were introduced from South Africa and can be found in the Sanctuary within the park. Predators include leopard, serval and side striped jackal and lion are also occasionally seen.
Liwonde National Park is the ideal place to enjoy a safari, holiday and expedition in Malawi.
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